14 Ways to Save Big on Your Travel Bookings

Gallivant Africa

Did you know? There is such a thing as booking your holiday flights and accommodation too early. According to research, prices begin to drop from 105 days in advance and are at their lowest approximately 70 days ahead of departure (before rising again as the dates draw nearer). 

That said, earlier is always better when booking for peak periods, such as school holidays or the festive season – especially considering the South African travel market’s unique, ever-changing landscape.

Planning a hard-earned and much-needed getaway? Whether local or international, read on for the tools, insights, and guidance you need to make informed, empowered, and saving-savvy travel decisions.

Timing is everything 

“South Africa’s travel market is a delicate balance of supply and demand,” comments Antionette Turner, General Manager, Flight Centre South Africa. “During school holidays and over public holidays, the demand often outstrips the available flights, resulting in a sudden surge in airfare prices.”

This is where early booking comes in. According to Flight Centre data, on average, the lead time for booking domestic flights in South Africa is 43 days. It’s typically 48 days when booking accommodation and 53 days when investing in package deals. Unfortunately, particularly when booking to travel during peak periods, these lead times don’t always allow travellers to secure the best options while ensuring they’re not overpaying.

“At Flight Centre, we recommend travellers book at least three to six months in advance to get the biggest bang for their buck,” says Turner. 

Many travellers planning their local holiday last-minute will opt for a road trip believing this travel switch will help them save. However, with the ever-fluctuating fuel prices in South Africa, self-drive holidays might turn out to be costlier than expected. Today’s exorbitant fuel prices (and the worries associated with poorly maintained roads) can often tip the scale in favour of air travel.

Shoulder season and supplier deposits: The secrets of strategic planning

If you can bend your travel schedule a little, Turner has a golden nugget of advice. 

“Consider the shoulder season. That’s the period just before or after the peak season. It’s often overlooked but offers immense benefits like lower costs and fewer crowds.”

However, she also notes that travel booking isn’t just about when to book, but also how to pay. Some suppliers allow customers to secure bookings with a deposit, particularly for larger packages (although this doesn’t usually apply to flights). The flexibility is especially helpful for travellers on a budget who can’t afford a significant once-off payment (and a big reason why advance booking for cruises is such a popular option!) 

“Just remember to keep an eye on the currency for payments,” Turner cautions. “If the invoice is in a foreign currency, each payment will be charged at the current rate of exchange (ROE) which will obviously fluctuate over time,” she explains.

Booking tips: Local vs international

There’s a distinct difference between booking local flights and holidays versus planning international travels. For local flights, travellers must consider early booking and the day of the week they depart and return.

“Mid-week flights can be more affordable than weekend ones,” Turner shares. “These are little patterns that, once recognised, can make a big difference in cost.”

When it comes to international bookings, the challenges increase. Some destinations, like Zanzibar, have limited air connectivity, making early booking essential to secure seats. The average lead time for booking flights to popular overseas destinations like Australia, New Zealand, the UK, and Canada varies between 70 to 90 days, according to Flight Centre’s data. 

Turner’s top booking tips

Here’s a summary of everything you need to know about advance booking to make the most of your budget, according to Turner:

  1. Embrace flexibility: If possible, travel during the ‘shoulder season’ to enjoy reduced costs and fewer crowds.
  2. Understand payment terms: Know whether the travel supplier requires full payment upfront or if a deposit can secure your booking.
  3. Stay aware of currency changes: The ROE will apply at each payment if invoiced in a foreign currency.
  4. Choose the right booking channel: While online tools offer speed and convenience for straightforward bookings, personalised assistance can be invaluable for complex fares and package bookings.
  5. Consider packages: Packages comprising flights and accommodation can offer better value and simplify planning.
  6. Take advantage of layovers: Longer layovers can often lead to cheaper flights. 
  7. Consider alternative airports: Major airports may be more convenient, but flights to and from smaller airports can be cheaper. Consider all your airport options within the region.
  8. Be aware of hidden costs: Look out for hidden costs while booking. For instance, some budget airlines might offer low fares but charge extra for luggage and meals (this is where a knowledgeable travel expert can be invaluable!)
  9. Think about travel insurance: It’s crucial to have travel insurance that covers not just health emergencies but also trip cancellations or delays. Make sure you understand what’s covered when investing.
  10. Mix and match airlines: Unless booking a package deal, don’t restrict yourself to one airline for round trips. Sometimes, booking two one-way tickets on different airlines can work out cheaper.
  11. Use a travel agent for complex itineraries: Travel agents are the way to go when planning multi-city tours, cruises, and bespoke travel. Their expertise could save you time, and they often have access to special deals.
  12. Book activities in advance: It’s not just flights and accommodation that require early booking. Popular tourist attractions can sell out quickly during peak seasons. If there’s something you absolutely don’t want to miss, consider booking it in advance.
  13. Don’t forget about transfers: Look into how you will get from the airport to your accommodation. Sometimes, pre-booking your transfer can save you time and help you avoid scams (note that transfers are often included in package deals).
  14. Climate considerations: It’s essential to research the climate of your destination. While off-season travel can be cheaper, it may also mean harsh weather conditions. The goal should be to save without negatively impacting your experience. 

Turner sums it up perfectly: “Informed travellers make the best travel decisions. A knowledge of the landscape, understanding the patterns, and knowing how to work the system are all key to creating a travel experience that is as rewarding as it is unforgettable.”


Flight Centre Travel Group (FCTG) SA is part of Flight Centre Travel Group, an Australia-based international travel company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange, with a market cap of AU$4.61 Billion and a current share price of AU$21.21 as at 1 September 2023. FCTG with three leading brands: Flight Centre, Corporate Traveller and FCM, of which Corporate Traveller and FCM are proud level 1 BBBEE Contributors. FCTG SA is wholly owned and has been recognised as one of Deloitte’s Best Companies to Work for in South Africa for over a decade. 

Gallivant Africa
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