Are You Paying Too Much For Flights?

Travelstart recently commissioned Synovate, a well-regarded multinational market research firm, to do some research around the travel agent industry in South Africa. The aim of the research was to find out how Travelstart’s online offering compared to those of traditional bricks and mortar travel agencies in South Africa.

The results of the survey have been graphically represented in a snazzy infographic showing flight price comparisons per person from Johannesburg and Cape Town, difference in flight prices quoted within one travel agency group as well as tips on how to shop online for travel going forward.

Travel Infographic

Click Infographic for Full Page View

What we found

  • Traditional South African travel agencies overcharge customers for international flights
  • Flight prices, for the same dates, vary by as much as 87% between travel agents
  • It seems traditional travel agents sell the flights that earn them the highest margin – even if it’s not the cheapest deal for the customer
  • Nearly 40% of the surveyed traditional travel agents either refused to offer quotes over the phone or did not bother to get back with a quote at all
  • Flight prices to Amsterdam, Frankfurt and London were the most inconsistently quoted

Online Travel Agents vs. Offline Travel Agents

The findings of this research show that offline travel agents in South Africa aren’t always transparent when quoting fares to their customers. Travelstart CEO Stephan Ekbergh believes the breakdown in transparency occurs when traditional travel agents:

  • Quote airfares with exorbitant markup fees
  • Lead consumers to believe they’re the cheapest with clever marketing campaigns like the ever popular ‘price beat’ guarantees
  • Force agents to mark their prices up by offering modest base salaries

The concept of an online travel agency in South Africa is still in its infancy when compared with mature markets in America and Europe. Currently 50% of all flight bookings are made online in the States compared with only 5% in South Africa.

However, as small as a 5% market share might seem, the shift to online travel shopping in South Africa is increasing as an ever expanding web savvy audience turns to the Internet in an effort to gain control over their own travel arrangements.

Booking flights online allows consumers to see all the relevant options on one screen – enabling them to compare routes, airlines, times, stops and to choose which flights they want. They can also choose how much they want to spend on potential add-ons like insurance.

How was the research conducted?

Synovate contacted 50 branches of 6 travel agency groups in South Africa on behalf of Travelstart. The mystery callers’ common goal was to find the cheapest available prices for return economy class flights from Cape Town and Johannesburg to 10 international destinations that are popular with South African travellers.

The survey measured flight pricing, consistency in pricing and the level of customer service offered.

Keep an eye out for more travel infographics right here on the Travelstart Blog.

Our Readers Comments

  1. Interesting report, and it’s heartening to see that online agents only have a 5% penetration of the market, as it means there’s still plenty of upside!

    • I have always thought that a small number of travellers are a little gullible when it comes to ticket price but if 95% of the SA market is still buying their tickets off-line, and this survey concludes that they are being seriously ripped off, does that mean we have a very very uninformed market place OR……?

  2. I used Travelstart for my flights this year and was very happy with the service I received and look forward to using you again next year when I book for my holiday Aug/Sept.
    Many thanks

  3. As above

  4. Travelstart, as a member of ASATA, why dont you inform the public of ASATA’s view? See below!

    Naturally, Robyn Christie, chief executive of the Association of SA Travel Agents (Asata) – of which Travelstart is a member, incidentally – has a different view.

    “Turning survey results into intelligence is always an interesting exercise and obviously Travelstart have interpreted a version that reflects kindly on their online travel business,” she said.

    “But it is harmful to an industry to create a perception that all travel agents other than themselves are rip-offs.”

    She cautioned against underestimating the intelligence of travellers. “South Africans are sophisticated travellers; they know what they want and neither traditional travel agents nor online agents are smarter than them, so to indicate that they are being ripped off to the extent of 85 percent is sensational and perhaps a little insulting.

    For the past eight years, she said, travel agents had been charging service fees, as a result of airlines moving away from paying commissions to agents.

    “Therefore the survey is not well informed as to its assumption that the agent will move business in an attempt to maximise their earnings.”

    • I must say,I’ve had more than one experience that when I simply ask for a quote,that I’m given expensive flight prices automatically!(@ traditional agents)Only when I then ask them to look for the cheapest fare will they search for it, sometimes reluctantly?When I became a more confidant traveller I sat and really made the agent sweat for the cheaper fare.So yes, I prefer online searching and have been doing this for a few years now!

  5. I used Travelstart a few years ago between London and Cape Town. Then it was good. However,this year in April I found it impossible to get past their switchboard to my consultant. This was in CApe Town. It was a shambles with the poor person on the switchboard unable to cope. I had to use a ‘BRICKS & MORTAR’ TRAVEL AGENT IN THE END. i WOULD LOVE A REPLY TO THIS. I bet silence will be my only answer.

    • Hi Chris! Thanks for your feedback and for taking the time to put it our here on this public forum. Much appreciated!

      Your experience seems spot on with issues we were experiencing in April. Travelstart had experienced extremely rapid growth during 2011, much more than even we had anticipated. The call numbers we were experiencing far outweighed what our number of staff could cope with. Since then we’ve almost doubled the call-centre staff which has made things a lot easier for both them and our customers trying to get hold of them. We’ve also concentrated on making sure we have staff with the best experience possible so that we’re able to get customers the best rates, the best advice and the best response times.

      With us, you can now either book online at or with our consultants on 0861 878 278 (option 5) or email them on .

      Thanks once again for giving us the opportunity to respond to this concern, I’m sure others were wondering the same thing as you, so this info will no doubt come in handy.

      Please shout if you have any queries further!

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