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Cost-Effective Road Trips vs. Flying in South Africa



With the soaring petrol prices in South Africa, it has been revealed that it is now more cost-effective for two or fewer individuals to fly from Johannesburg to Cape Town or East London than driving. However, for trips to Durban, George, and Port Elizabeth, it is still cheaper to drive when two or more people are in the vehicle as reported by My Broad Band.

The devastating impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the airline industry led to the closure of two major low-cost airlines in South Africa, Mango and Kulula. Kulula alone accounted for approximately 19,000 domestic flights, representing a quarter of the total, over seven months in 2022. Furthermore, the surge in oil prices due to the Russia-Ukraine war resulted in increased aviation fuel costs and higher petrol and diesel prices.

In light of the upcoming school holidays, MyBroadband conducted a study to determine whether it is more economical for individuals and families from Gauteng to travel to the coast by road or air. The study selected the Ford Ecosport Trend with a 1.0-litre turbo petrol engine as the car model for analysis. This compact SUV offers a good balance of interior space and fuel efficiency for long journeys, making it a popular choice.

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Considering the expected decrease in petrol prices in June 2023, the analysis factored in the fuel costs for the journey. Considering the price differences between inland and coastal petrol, it was assumed that the driver would refuel at least once on the coast at each destination. Therefore, the total two-way distances were adjusted accordingly, except for the journey to Durban, where only half the tank was assumed to be filled with coastal petrol.


The analysis calculated the cost per kilometre for the remaining distances based on the expected inland petrol price. The study also considered the cheapest days to fly, typically Tuesdays or Wednesdays, and selected suitable departure and return dates for a two-week family holiday.

Using an aggregation service to find the best flight prices, the costs of driving and flying were compared. The results showed that it is cheaper to travel by car to three out of the five destinations when at least two people are in the vehicle. However, for trips to Cape Town and East London, a minimum of three people in the car is required to make driving more cost-effective than flying.

Sars Travel logbook for 2022/2023

While cost is a significant factor, there are additional considerations to consider. For example, flying saves considerable time compared to a long road trip, especially for journeys between Johannesburg and Cape Town, which can take over 15 hours by car. However, the time saved benefit diminishes for shorter trips, such as to Durban, where the travel time by road is approximately six hours.

Having a car at the destination also provides added convenience, eliminating the need to rent a vehicle, which can be expensive. Rental costs for a comfortable passenger car for four people can easily reach around R1,000 per day, significantly increasing the overall expenses when choosing the flight option.


Ultimately, individuals and families should consider various factors, including time saved, convenience, and rental costs, when deciding between flying or driving for their coastal vacations in South Africa.

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Photo by Brett Sayles

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