Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Simon saved R1.2 million in 5 minutes

On Monday the National Youth Development Agency released a statement in response to a Sunday City Press report detailing the specifics of just what was spent on its World Festival of Youth and Students; a breakdown of the R106 million spent on the bash. And just so you’re aware, the funding for this nonsense came through the National Lotteries Board (R40 million) and the Presidency (R29 million).

I may not be an expert on balloons (which for which festival organisers paid R100,000), entertainment (R5.3 million) or confetti (R60,000 – for, erm, paper), but I did see that the NYDA spent R5.6 million chartering a plane to fly the 227 delegates from Havana direct to Johannesburg as no commercial airlines operate that route. And I do know travel.

The thought that all delegates should be flown direct annoys me, purely because it is, without a doubt, the most expensive way to fly in economy class. It is complete snobbery to assume that flying 1-stop is anything more than slightly inconvenient. To assume a divine right to be able to fly anywhere without stopping is rude to those of us who don’t have access to millions to just jump on an expensive route. Just think about how is reduces your options and therefore competition when flying direct: usually it limits you to two airlines; the one in the country from which you are flying and the one from the country to which you are travelling. Think of how many people fly the Arab airlines (Emirates, Etihad, Qatar) to the UK, or fly via Hong Kong or Singapore to get to Australia. These are cheaper alternatives to flying with SAA, British Airways, Virgin Atlantic or Qantas. So one-stop is a very acceptable manner in which to travel long-distance, and a lot of people do it. Mostly to save money.

Not so the National Youth Development Agency who, as I said, threw R5.6 million at a chartered aircraft. So I did a little digging. Five airlines, from what I can tell, have flights, or aircraft through alliances, which operate between Havana and Johannesburg. These are Virgin Atlantic, Iberia, TAAG, Air France and Air Canada.

As the World Festival was held from 13-21 December 2010, I did a search for a two-week stay in South Africa, departing Cuba for around that time in 2011, bearing in mind that this is peak holiday season in South Africa; the time of year when airlines charge the most for travel.

The only conceivable way one could have used more money to get delegates from Havana to South Africa is to have used TAAG, the Angolan national airline. Fares to Luanda (the website wouldn’t connect me from Havana all the way to Johannesburg) were US$4149. At 227 tickets that’s R7,450,030.

However, Iberia, Spain’s national airline, services that route for a fare of US$2,399, meaning the entire fare for all delegates would have totalled R4,307,892, a saving of around R1.2 million. A full percentage point of the total expense of the festival. Around R4,500 of each ticket is tax, meaning that the average fare is around R16,000. And if one approached an airline asking for 227 tickets, there is a chance that fare could be negotiable. By chartering a plane this opportunity was lost.

So a few quick airline searches resulted in a saving of R1.2 million.

Now, who knows how much balloons cost?

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