Planning & preparation
Getting there by air
Air Botswana does not fly outside southern Africa, and there are relatively few other airline links to Botswana. The vast majority of visitors to northern Botswana fly via the gateways of Maun and Kasane, which is effectively serviced by the nearby airports at Victoria Falls (in Zimbabwe) and Livingstone (in Zambia).
Most common for many visitors to the region is to fly to Livingstone (three-letter airline code: LVI) via Johannesburg, and then leave from Maun (code: MUB), again routing via Jo'burg (code: JNB).
Botswana's capital, Gaborone (code: GBE), is relatively rarely visited if you're on your way to or from northern Botswana – although occasionally you might stop in Gaborone as you fly between Maun and Jo'burg.
Buying air tickets
However you arrange your flights, remember some basic tips. Firstly, make sure your purchase is protected. Always book through a company that is bonded for your protection – eg: in the UK this means holding an ATOL license (Air Travel Organiser's License) – or use a credit card.
Secondly, note that airlines seldom give the best deals direct. (The notable exception to this is some clever marketing by sophisticated airlines like the 'World Offers' periodically pushed by British Airways.) Generally you'll always do better through a discounted flight centre or a tour operator.
Thirdly, book the main internal flights at the same time – with the same company – that you book your flights to/from Johannesburg. Often the airline taking you to Africa will have cheap deals for add-on regional flights within Africa. You should be able to get Jo'burg–Livingstone flights, or Maun–Jo'burg flights, at discounted rates provided that you book them at the same time as your return flights to Jo'burg. Further, if you book all your flights together with the same company, then you'll be sure to get connecting flights, and so have the best schedule possible.
Never be talked into getting an apparently cheap return to Jo'burg on the basis that you'll be able to then get a separate ticket up to Maun; it'll cost you a lot more in the end.From Europe
Johannesburg is invariably the best gateway as it's widely served by many carriers. From Europe, British Airways, South African Airways, Lufthansa and Air France (to name but a few) have regular flights to Jo'burg. Generally these are busy routes which fill up far in advance, so you're likely to get cheaper fares by booking well ahead rather than at the last minute; this is a virtual certainty during the busiest season from July to October, and in December–January around the Christmas period.
For a return from Jo'burg to London with a decent airline, expect to pay around £500/US$750 for most of the year, and around £600/US$900 in the busiest period from mid-July to the end of August; for flights departing after December 9, you'll be lucky to pay less than £800/US$1,200. Unless there's some major international upset, these flights become progressively more expensive as you get closer to the departure. So as with most long-haul destinations, book early for the cheapest flights.
One-way flights between Jo'burg and Maun, with Air Botswana, should cost around £220/US$330. One-way flights between Jo'burg and Livingstone (with the South Africa-based Nationwide Airlines) or Victoria Falls (with British Airways or South African Airways) should cost around £100/US$150.
Booking all your flights at once should save a lot of money as good add-on rates between Maun from Jo'burg of nearer £100/US$150 one-way are possible through good tour operators who have access to special add-on rates for Air Botswana's flights.From North America
If you are coming from the US then you will certainly need to at least pass through Johannesburg. It's often easiest to also route via London or another European capital. There isn't much of a discounted long-haul flight market in the US, so booking all your flights in the US will not always save you money.
Investigate the flight prices between the US and Botswana bought in the US. Look especially closely at fares with Delta and South African Airways direct from the US to Jo'burg – and talk to 'consolidators' who are the nearest that the US gets to having discounted ticket agents.
Then compare these to buying a US-London return in the US, and London-Botswana tickets from a good source in London. London is Europe's capital for cheap flights, and increasingly visitors from the US are discovering that flights bought from the UK, as well as trips from UK tour operators, offer better value than those in America.From Australasia
Both Quantas and British Airways fly between Jo'burg and Sydney or Perth, whilst South African Airways services routes to Asia, including Singapore. From Windhoek or Lusaka
It is possible, although rarely either easier or cheaper, to approach Botswana from one of the region's other capitals, Lusaka and Windhoek.
Travel between Windhoek and Maun ought to be easy, as both Air Botswana and Air Namibia service this route about two or three times per week. However, in practice they both use small 19-seater planes, which are often full months in advance, and they both frequently change their schedules with relatively little regard to their passengers' pre-arranged plans. If you plan to use this route as part of a fixed itinerary, you have been warned.
Travel from Lusaka to Kasane is easier and more reliable, though slower. Think of it in two stages: between Lusaka and Livingstone, and Livingstone and Kasane. Lusaka to Livingstone is a long six-hour drive (though there is an efficient and cheap coach line for the more adventurous) or a short 90-minute flight. There are a handful of good, small Zambian charter companies that will organise a charter flight on this route, or seats on a scheduled charter two or three times a week. Expect a cost of around US$175 per person.
See below for options to get between Livingstone and Kasane, but note that now it's very, very easy to arrange to be transferred across by vehicle and boat for about US$55 per person one-way.