Although not widely known, there are some great travel hacks to help you find cheap China flights. Whether you’re looking for international flights to China or domestic flights to China, reasonable ticket prices can seem difficult to find. However, if you follow these 5 simple steps, you’ll be shocked at the kind of deals you can find on Chinese airfare!
Over the past decade, I’ve logged tens of thousands of miles flying across the ocean and across China. There are times that’s I’ve spent thousands of dollars on these flights and others when I’ve only spent hundreds.
There’s a big difference between “thousands” and “hundreds”, and after a while I finally decided I’d had enough.
There has to be a method to finding cheap China flights, right?! I was determined to figure out how to do it. Fortunately, I came to understand that there are plenty of creative ways to save on airline travel in China.
I recommend using this 5-step process to make sure you’re getting the best deal.
Note: Some of the links in this article are affiliate links, which means that at no extra cost to you, I may be compensated if you choose to use some of the services listed. Rest assured, use every service I recommend and appreciate your support of this free website!
Step 1: Check China’s Domestic OTAs vs International OTAs
The first thing you need to do is get a baseline airfare for comparison before moving to the next few steps. The best way to do this is through Online Travel Agencies (OTA). These are the sites like Priceline, Kayak, and Expedia that you’re probably familiar with back home.
The problem is that although it’s a good idea to check with your favorite international OTA, chances are they will have higher prices than China’s domestic OTAs.
The cheapest China flights are usually found on domestic Chinese platforms like Trip.com (English version of the Ctrip website). Trip offers a familiar search engine as well as 24/7 customer service in English – even from within China. They are also useful for booking hotels and buying train tickets online.
Note: There are other domestic OTAs like eLong and Qunar, but I don’t list them here as a recommendation because the website either aren’t secured (eLong) or they are only in Chinese (Qunar).
To get an idea on what prices you can expect, I’ve provided two one-way itineraries below for an international and domestic flight. Overall for international itineraries, rates are generally competitive on all websites, but on domestic flights, Chinese platforms often save you loads more money.
Int’l Flight Example
Air China Flight CA 990 from New York to Beijing
Domestic Flight Example
China Southern Flight CZ 3901 from Beijing to Kunming
Step 2: Check China’s Low Cost Carriers
As with almost all OTAs anywhere in the world, they often don’t list prices for the low cost carriers (although there are exceptions). Did you know that China has its own set of low cost airlines?
There are a number of budget airlines in China you can look for cheap flights. The most popular are Spring Airlines, 9 Air, and China United. On these budget airlines, you can save 25-30% on average for domestic flights.
However, as with any budget airline, you can anticipate little-to-no cabin service and extra fees for checked baggage. Carry-on space is also extremely limited on these airlines, so be prepared to check your bag if it is too large to fit in the overhead bins.
Here’s a quick list of low-cost carriers in China and a direct link to their website. The airlines marked with an “*” have websites in English, while all others are only available in Chinese.
- *Spring Airlines – Based in Shanghai; great English website
- *West Air – Based in Chongqing; great English website
- *9 Air – Based out of Guangzhou
- China United Airlines – Based out of Beijing’s smaller, Nanyuan airport
- Jiangxi Air – Based out of Nanchang
- *Ruili Airlines – Based out of Kunming
Once you have a base price from Step 1, check all or just a few of these low-cost carriers in China to see if you can find anything cheaper.
Step 3: Consider Using Travel Points to Purchase Tickets
Travel rewards programs through an airline or a bank are an additional way to earn free money to apply toward airfare. Obviously you can use your own points for cash back towards any airfare you like, but that’s not what I’m referring to.
Many people forget that their favorite airline back at home is probably part of an alliance of global airlines that honor each other’s member status and miles. For example, I am a Medallion member with Delta back in the U.S., an airline that is partnered with China Airlines, China Eastern and Xiamen Air through the Sky Team Alliance. Why does this matter? Well, it matters a lot because:
- Every time I fly with these Chinese airlines, I give them my Delta member number. Not only do I get miles credit on my China flights, they also honor my Medallion member status so I get access to the lounges!
- I make all my online purchases using my American Express Delta card to earn even more miles.
- I can use these Delta miles to purchase China tickets if I like.
Consider this (U.S. only): When you sign up for an American Express Delta Skymiles credit card using that link, you’re eligible for between 40,000 to 60,000 bonus miles (after you spend $3,000 in 4 months). If you pay for your China flight using your credit card, that’s takes a big chunk out of this spend requirement. Plus, if you take Delta, you’ll earn 2 miles per dollar spent. Right there, you’re almost up to 70,000 miles, which is more than enough for two round-trip domestic flights in China!
Playing the “bonus miles game” isn’t for everybody. If you already have status with an airline, though, or if you’re buying international round-trip tickets anyway, you might as well take advantage of the airline alliances.
Step 4: Check Unconventional Cost-Saving Options (AirMule)
Did you know that there are a few unconventional ways to save money when flying internationally to/from China? Wouldn’t it be amazing to save $600 on roundtrip flights to China? That’s what’s possible with a service called Airmule (see my review of Airmule here).
When you fly with Airmule you can earn up to $600 per trip as an onboard courier. How is this possible? Airmule’s goal is to dramatically reduce the cost of international express shipping by utilizing an often wasted resource – checked baggage allowance. By devoting one or both of your checked bag allowance, you get paid to deliver items to your end flight destination in China.
The process is also incredibly easy. You pick up the shipment at your departure airport and complete the delivery once you arrive at the arrival airport. Travelers receive earnings deposited directly to their bank account following arrival.
Airmule only partners with TSA certified shipping companies to guarantee that 100% of all shipments meet all international guidelines to guarantee your safety. All shipments also include a digital manifest with photos and descriptions so you know exactly what is being shipped. You are also encouraged to check the shipment before departing.
I’ve personally used Airmule and had a great experience. Plus, I saved $300 on my $600 round trip tickets between Los Angeles and Shanghai – that’s 50% savings! Check them out and give it a try:
Bonus! If you use the code TCC10 when signing up with Airmule using the link above, they’ll give you an extra 10% earnings on all baggage!
Step 5: Off-Season & Non-Holiday China Flights
Like in your home country, airfare to China differs from season to season as well as during the holidays. If you have flexible travel plans, you are likely to find cheap flights to China from January to February as it the low point in the tourist season.
I once flew from LA all the way to Urumqi (far western China) for a bargain deal of $500 in January. If flying to China during the height of winter doesn’t sound appealing, consider heading to southern China. It’s here where you can enjoy warm temperatures and still capitalize on cheap airfare.
For those flying to China in the summertime, you can anticipate higher rates as the summer is the highpoint of the tourist season (click here to learn about the best times to travel to China). Still, you can try to find good rates by flying on non-busy days like Tuesday and Wednesday instead of weekends.
The primary time of year you want to avoid flying on domestic flights in China is Spring Festival (check when Chinese Spring Festival is this year) With hundreds of millions of Chinese heading home to celebrate the week-long holiday, you would be better off staying put rather than experiencing larger than normal crowds and sky-high rates on airfare.
Final Thoughts | Buying Cheap China Flights
If you’re one to scroll to the bottom, here’s a quick recap of the 5-step process to buying cheap China flights:
- Establish a baseline price through online travel agencies like Expedia or Kayak and then compare these prices against China’s domestic OTAs such as Trip.com, which is often much cheaper, especially for domestic flights;
- Check China’s low-cost carriers to see what they might have to offer, keeping in mind that these prices don’t include carry-on luggage.
- Consider using your airline points or at the very least, earning points on this big flight purchase;
- Look into Cost-Saving Measures like selling one of your checked in bags with Airmule; and,
- Look at off-season pricing, which can often save you hundreds of dollars.
It IS POSSIBLE to get amazing deals on China airfare, you just need to know how to look for it! Do you have any other suggestions you’d like to add to this list? Leave a comment below to let me know about it!
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