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Airline FlySafair. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Airline FlySafair. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

Low-cost airline FlySafair has defended its hefty price surge after the grounding of Kulula and British Airways flights. 

Thousands of passengers around the country were left stranded over the weekend after the SA Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) suspended Comair’s operations indefinitely after it failed to convince the authority that its risk and safety management systems were up to scratch.

Comair operates Kulula.com and British Airways’s aviation business in SA. 

Many desperate travellers took to social media to criticise FlySafair flight prices in the wake of the Comair crisis, with many calling for the Competition Commission to investigate the matter. 

A glance at the airline’s website shows some tickets for flights this week ranging from R3,000 to R3,281. The cheapest fare is R1,532.

Responding to the criticism, FlySafair said tickets tend to get pricier the closer it is to their departure time.

“FlySafair uses a system called ‘demand based pricing’. What this means is that the first seats on a flight sell at the very lowest price, usually at a loss to the airline. As the seats start to sell out, they become incrementally more expensive,” the airline said. 

“What you’ll find is that prices rise quickly on popular flights, like those around holiday times. Flights also tend to get pricier the closer it is to their departure time because usually they’ll be closer to sold out at that time. The best way to get the lowest fare is to book in advance to ensure that you get those first cheap seats.”

How are pricing and availability of fares determined?

Pricing and availability of fares are determined using a system of “booking classes”.

According to the International Air Transport Association, these are different travel classes with a series of letters that define the fare level paid.

Some of the common letters are:

  • F for full-fare first class
  • J for full-fare business class
  • Y for full-fare economy

Aviation website Simpleflying.com said each airline uses algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) technology to set and change prices, and price setting is backed up by extensive data analysis.

“Airlines have always been aware of past sales and booking data and use this to influence prices going forward. But with the improvement of data analysis and artificial intelligence technologies, this data can be analysed and used much more precisely,” said Simpleflying. 

Why are last-minute tickets so expensive?

According to Air Advisor, the algorithm assumes more demand from business travellers who are usually booking travel at the last minute.

“Airlines also base their ticket prices on travel demand. Higher-frequented flights at the best times tend to be the most popular and therefore more expensive than those at 5am.

“Special events such as fair trades, sport events or public holidays are also considered. Travel demand increases for such events. As a result, the airlines can usually sell their flights to the relevant destinations at a higher price,” said Air Advisor. 

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