You've decided that you want to a flight to South Africa, but where do you start? It's a long way - the other end of Africa, whether you are starting from America, Europe or Asia.
You might flirt briefly with not flying. Going overland is fun but truthfully it gets rugged in places and requires lots of time. It's definitely a specialist gig. There are very occasional cruise ships that will take you there but again, these take more time than most have and become the holiday in themselves. Realistically, for all but the very fortunate few, it all boils down to which airline and which route is best.
If coming from the US, there are only two options if you want a non-stop flight to South Africa. The national carrier, South African Airways flies non-stop from New York City to Johannesburg. Delta already fly non-stop from their hub in Atlanta, but of course you have to connect to Atlanta first.
The considerations come down to the three Cs - convenience, comfort and cost. Obviously flying direct is ideal but it may not always be possible. So if you are going to break your journey, which airline will smooth the passage, give you a comfortable ride on a long, long journey, great movies and edible meals. Can you avoid getting stranded for seven hours through the night on an uncomfortable airport bench? Does the airline have the network connections to handle any onward internal flights?
Above all, there is cost. The ticket price can vary hugely and frighteningly little of it is the actual cost of the ticket. Countries across the globe are piling on departure and arrival taxes and carbon taxes while the airlines are slapping on fuel surcharges to cope with the soaring costs. These can make a huge difference and some websites quote the headline prices with taxes included, some don't, so be cautious.
The UK currently has massively high Airport Passenger Duty. The Netherlands has been persuaded by the industry to abolish theirs altogether. The USA and South Africa are both still considering whether to create carbon taxes. If they do, you can bet two things. One - the cost of your airfare will go up again. And two - the tourist industry will be lucky to see a cent from the proceeds.
However, the UK probably has the best connections. South African Airways has excellent services from London to South Africa, as do British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, all of which also connect across the Atlantic to multiple destinations with the USA.
If you fancy stopping in Paris en route, from November 2011, Air France are starting a Paris-Cape Town route three times a week to add to their daily Johannesburg flight. KLM, routing via Amsterdam, operate daily flights to Johannesburg and five flights a week to Cape Town in winter, with daily services in summer. There are also flights via many other cities in Europe and the Middle East that connect with North American cities.
Once in the country, there's a wide choice of low-cost airlines and small charters to get you between major cities and out to the game parks. The three largest domestic carriers are SAA Express, the domestic wing of South African Airways, British Airways and kulula.com, both operated locally by Comair. Airlink cover many smaller cities. In the charter market, Wilderness Air fly into game reserves across the country.