HOLY SITES: An Indian holy man, or sadhu, prays on the banks of the Ganges in Allahabad in northern India.

With passenger numbers rising while airlines are struggling with high costs, cut-price offers are less easy to find at the moment.

But the Star Alliance of international airlines, to which SAA belongs, is celebrating its 15th anniversary this month by offering a 15 percent reduction in its round-the-world economy class fares on tickets sold between now and Tuesday, May 29. The reduction applies only to the fare, and not to taxes and surcharges.

But it’s still worth having if you are planning such a trip. There are several routes available – the 25 airlines belonging to the alliance fly to 1 293 airports in 190 countries – and you can choose where in the entire network you want to go. But the route must go in one direction, either east or west, include a trans-Atlantic and trans-Pacific crossing, 24-hour stopovers must be made in at least three cities and you can choose between two and 12 additional stops.

The number of stops you can make depends on the fare level you choose. There are four, for travel up to 26 000 miles (41 800km), 29 000 miles, 34 000 miles or 39 000 miles, and you transfer from airline to airline according to which alliance members fly to the cities you want to visit. You must also end the trip in the country you started in.

Even if you start in this country you can get your ticket from any of the other Star Alliance airlines flying into South Africa other than SAA, and start and end your trip with one of them. These include German airline Lufthansa, Egyptair, Ethiopian Airlines, Singapore Airlines, Swiss International Airlines, Mozambican airline TAM, Portuguese airline TAP, Turkish Airlines and Thai Airways.

Lufthansa flies to Cape Town only in summer but to Johannesburg all year round. Singapore and Turkish Airlines fly to Cape Town as well as Johannesburg all year round. Other alliance members with whom you may find yourself flying one or more sectors include Adria Airways, Aegean Airlines, Air Canada, Air China, Air New Zealand, All Nippon Airlines, Asiana or Austrian Airlines, Blue1, Brussels Airlines, Croatia Airlines, Scandinavian Airlines, United Airways and US Airways.

Destination Dubai

Julius Baumann, communications manager at Dubai Airports, tells me that passenger numbers between SA and Dubai grew by nearly 40 percent to 307 132 in the first three months of this year.

Emirates, based in Dubai, is so far the only international airline flying to all three of our main cities. It is the only international airline flying to Durban in addition to Cape Town and Johannesburg, and it increased the number of flights to this country in the first quarter of this year to 42 compared with 35 in the same period last year, as it took delivery of more new-generation aircraft.

One of Emirates’ attractions, of course, is that it offers a choice of destinations in most of the countries to which it flies, instead of one as is the case with most national airlines.

According to Baumann, Cape Town was one of the airline’s biggest growth markets in the first quarter of this year. He said demand to fly to and from SA lifted this country into the top 20 fastest-growing markets for Dubai Airports.

Both Emirates and Etihad, the other and newer airline from the United Arab Emirates, offer a choice of direct flights to a number of cities in India in particular. Emirates countries had been trading with India for centuries before Europeans discovered it. But in spite of this there has been growing demand for seats on SAA’s flights between Johannesburg and Mumbai – so far its only destination in India.

As a result SAA is increasing the number of its flights from four a week to five on June 16, and is also using a larger aircraft on days when demand is heaviest.

Two-way holiday travel between SA and India is increasing, and so is business travel.

According to the latest figures, tourism from India grew by 26.2 percent last year. - Weekend Argus