Q. I have been trawling the internet for weeks now, searching for the best and cheapest time to fly to Cape Town. When's the ideal time before the end of the year? Name withheld, Manchester
A. Simple: November or early December. There are two good reasons for this recommendation. The first is purely aesthetic. Early winter in the north corresponds with early summer in the southern hemisphere, and Cape Town is at its best in the final two months of the year. November is the month with the lowest rainfall, while average humidity reaches a low in December. The mean daily high in late November is 24C, more comfortable than January to March.
The city looks at its best, too, after the refreshment of spring. And whether you are staying in Cape Town, or venturing out to the Winelands or along the Garden Route, crowds will be thin and prices reasonable, as the local schools don't break up until 11 December.
The second reason is that air fares from the UK are at their lowest in November – a month that has no school holidays. So long as you return no later than the first week of December, you will safely avoid the pre-Christmas rush and accompanying fare hikes.
You can also keep a lid on costs by travelling midweek. Flying out from Manchester on Tuesday 4 November, returning three weeks later, the best deal appears to be on Turkish Airlines via Istanbul. The cheapest fare is £716, and involves a two- or three-hour stop in both directions. To cut the fare: build in a 24-hour stopover in Istanbul on the outbound journey. This reduces Air Passenger Duty from £97 to just £13, and even though extra airport fees are payable, you still save money: typically £30-£40, which in low-cost Istanbul goes some way to the cost of your short break.
Finally, don't rush to book; there is no prospect of all the cheap seats selling out. And it may be that, with a month or two to go, airlines such as Emirates or Qatar Airways come out with discounts from Manchester via their hubs to Cape Town.