When I first moved here in 2006, one of the most stressful life events here was trying to purchase China airline tickets online – especially because at the time I couldn’t speak or read Chinese very well. I wanted to be able to shop around for the best prices online while still paying for the ticket using my foreign credit card.
Sites like Orbitz, Travelocity, CheapoAir and others are great for booking international flights, but when it comes to domestic flights in China their tickets are always far more expensive than what they should be.
Thankfully, over the past few years, buying China airline tickets on Chinese websites has become easier and easier even for those people who don’t speak or read a lick of Mandarin. Below I want to share with you four of the most popular ticketing portals that are used all the time among expats here and what makes them good.
Although Ctrip offers services covering hotels, tours, trains and a whole bunch more, among the expat community they are primarily known as the go-to place to buy flight tickets in China.
There are a few reasons for this, not the least of which is a well-designed website that is available in perfectly-translated English. It feels like any other booking website you’re already used to using.
In addition to the English-language site, however, I really enjoy using CTrip because:
- They accept foreign credit cards
- They have a free mobile app
- They have English-speaking customer support
When you’re looking to buy flights in China, make Ctrip one of the first websites that you visit.
I rate eLong at the same level I do Ctrip. Both are excellent companies that have served the English-speaking expat community for over a decade here in China. If you ask anybody who’s been in China for a few years where they buy their tickets, chances are they’ll say either Ctrip or eLong.
What separates eLong from its competitors is that aside from flight tickets, you can also book helicopter tours of the Great wall and even rent a car and driver directly from the site.
US-based Expedia.com has seen so much value in eLong that they’ve even bought a large stake in the company. Now when you search for domestic China flights on Expedia, eLong results will show up.
I’ve used eLong before and can confidently recommend them because:
- They’ve been around for more than a decade
- 24×7, English-speaking customer support available
- A very useful “Fare Calendar”
That last one is pretty cool, I think. You can type in the two cities you want to fly between and they’ll show you a 30-day calendar with all the prices. In this way, you can see which days are the cheapest to fly.
#3 China Highlights
Although not as popular as Ctrip and eLong, ChinaHighlights has been serving the online community with flight and hotel booking services for quite a few years. At the very least, I recommend using their service to price check the above two options.
What I like about using ChinaHighlights is that they offer instant currency conversion next to each flight option that they give, so whether you plan to buy in Chinese Yuan, the US Dollar, the British Pound, Australian dollar or the Canadian dollar – you’ll know exactly how much you’re spending.
ChinaHighlights accepts Visa, Mastercard, AmericanExpress and even Paypal – which has been incredibly convenient, particularly when one of my credit cards decided that the flight purchase I was trying to make was “fraudulent.”
Finally, ChinaHighlights boasts a “Personal Trip Advisor” which is basically a specific customer service individual who is specifically assigned to your booking to make sure you have all your questions answered.
#4 Individual Airline Websites
If all else fails, I’ve found it helpful to check out the websites for the individual China airlines. Nowadays they all have an English version of their site and although it may not always look pretty, at least it can give you an idea of what they’re charging for flights.
In addition, there are times when you can actually find your flight on one of the above sites and then check to see if it is cheaper on the specific airline website. You never know!
Below are links to the English-version websites for the most popular Chinese airlines:
I hope you’ve found this helpful! It’s also worth considering looking into traveling by train, in which case I’ve written an in-depth guide to purchasing Chinese train tickets online.