Travelstart asked me to write a blog post about the cheap domestic flights it offers in South Africa. Of course I agreed — blogging assignments are easy when the thing you’re asked to blog about is actually useful. And every traveler in South Africa knows Travelstart is the best place to book domestic travel.

The last time I booked a domestic flight — a round trip from Joburg to Cape Town — I used Travelstart. The process was seamless and the fare was, as promised, cheap.

I just made one mistake: forgetting to pay attention to which airport I was flying from. I normally fly out of O.R. Tambo, Joburg’s main international airport. But I accidentally booked this flight out of Lanseria.

travelstart screenshotOn Travelstart, flights from Lanseria are clearly marked “HLA” and flights from O.R. Tambo are “JNB”. Somehow I missed this.

I noticed my error a day or two before the trip and cursed my stupidity. It was a 6:30 a.m. flight and now I would have to drive myself all the way out to Lanseria at 4:30 in the morning. I didn’t even consider Ubering because I figured it would be too expensive.

Because Lanseria is so far, I thought. Woe is me.

I climbed wearily into my car before the crack of dawn and drove to Lanseria. When I got there, I looked at the clock. It took the same amount of time it normally takes me to get to O.R. Tambo. And I checked in much faster, of course, because Lanseria is a much smaller airport.

So now I know: Flying out of Lanseria is easy. Travelstart, I have you to thank for this epiphany. You’ve motivated me to write a Jozi airport comparison post that I probably should have written five years ago.

Sunrise at O.R. Tambo, one of Joburg's two major airportsAn early morning flight from O.R. Tambo.

Comparing the Airports

Here’s a quick comparison of O.R. Tambo vs. Lanseria using the factors I find most important when flying.

1) Distance

I live in Melville, a centrally located Jozi suburb. O.R. Tambo is 34.6 kilometers and 35 minutes from my house by car, without traffic. Lanseria is 33.3 kilometers — actually closer! — and 39 minutes away without traffic. There are no major highways between here and Lanseria, hence the slightly longer driving time. But I personally find the drive more pleasant, trundling up Beyers Naudé with interesting things to look at along the way.

Uber fare from here to O.R. Tambo (at a non-peak time) is R285 ($23). Uber fare to Lanseria is R292 (also about $23).

O.R. Tambo is northeast of central Joburg; Lanseria is almost due north. So O.R. Tambo is definitely more convenient for those living in Joburg’s eastern suburbs and the East Rand. Lanseria is the clear choice for those in the Randburg and Fourways areas. For me, it’s basically a tie.

2) Transport and Parking

O.R. Tambo beats Lanseria when it comes to public transport: You can catch the Gautrain to O.R. Tambo — a huge advantage because traffic between Joburg and the East Rand is horrific at rush hour. (Plus riding on the Gautrain is fun.) Lanseria has no public transport options, although traffic out that way isn’t quite so terrible (but still bad).

It’s easy to park at Lanseria: The long-term parking area is close (there is also a new parkade under construction), and the airport provides a free golf cart service to ferry passengers between the parking areas and the terminal. I found the long-term parking expensive — R452 ($36) for four days. If I’d known how affordable it is to Uber to Lanseria I would have done that instead.

I’ve never used the long-term parking at O.R. Tambo, because I’ve never been able to figure out where it is. (Also it’s just easier to take a taxi or the Gautrain). But according to the O.R. Tambo website, long-term parking costs only R205 ($16.50) for four days. This is a great price if you succeed in finding the parking lot.

I give the edge to O.R. Tambo in this category.

3) Ease of Use

Lanseria is a small airport with only domestic and regional flights. Thus Lanseria is a much less stressful place than O.R. Tambo, which is huge and overwhelming. That said, as far as huge, overwhelming airports go, I’ve always considered O.R. Tambo to be a relatively nice one.

Lanseria has a couple of restaurants, a Vida e Caffe (essential for morning flights), and a SLOW Lounge. O.R. Tambo obviously has all these things and more. But I choose Lanseria’s small size and easy navigation over O.R. Tambo’s more extensive dining options.

Bottom line: O.R. Tambo and Lanseria each have their pros and cons, but overall I give them equal scores. From now on, I will simply book whichever airport is cheapest. And I’ll do my comparisons on Travelstart.

This post was written in collaboration with Travelstart. Opinions expressed are mine.

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