Flying is a necessary part of travel, so in order to save money you’re probably going to want to buy cheap flights to China as well as cheap Chinese domestic flights. You’ve probably prepared yourself for the fact that it’s going to be expensive, but if you follow these tips to buying inexpensive China tickets it might not end up being as bad as you think.
Below are a few “insider tips” from somebody who has lived and traveled around China for the last decade.
#1 Try Chinese Booking Sites (Not International)
I’m starting with this tip since it’s the most critical, in my opinion. Most people begin their search for Chinese flight tickets by logging onto a travel portal that is popular in their country. For some people that’s Expedia, Kayak, Orbitz, or one of a number of others.
Here’s the thing: as a general rule, Chinese companies tend to favor other Chinese companies. Nationalism at its finest. In this case, airlines seem to offer better rates to Chinese booking sites over international booking sites.
This is true mostly for domestic flights, but I’ve seen cheaper international flights as well using this method. One of the easiest and most popular Chinese booking portals is Ctrip. Best of all Ctrip even has an English language version.
My recommendation is to check and compare your favorite flight booking site with a Chinese one like Ctrip. I think you might be surprised at the price difference.
#2 Don’t Book Your China Flight Too Early
A common mistake that people make when purchasing China flights is that they want to get their tickets half a year to a year in advance. Although this may work in countries like the UK or the US, in China things are a bit different.
The best deals are usually found about 1-2 months in advance of your trip, when the Chinese airlines publish their discounted rates. If you’re not comfortable being so “last-minute” for your international flight, at least wait to purchase any domestic tickets until you’re about 2 months out.
There are plenty of flights in China, so don’t worry – you’ll get a seat somehow! And if not, there’s always the option to take a train in China, which is – believe it or not – quite a fun experience.
#3 Be Flexible with Flight Dates
This tip applies pretty much anywhere you travel in the world, but even more so in China. While some flights to China are jam-packed with passengers, I’ve been on many that are quite empty. If you’re willing to be flexible on your departure and arrival dates, you’ll often find that cheaper tickets can be found.
Many online booking websites offer a “flexible dates” option when you’re searching out flights, so don’t be afraid to use it.
#4 Avoid the Major Chinese Holidays
There is no worse time to visit China than during their two major holidays – National Day (Oct. 1-7) and Spring Festival/Chinese New Year (usually in late January/early February). During these holidays everybody in China is trying to get back to their hometown and very few discounts are given.
If you must travel during these holidays try to book at least two months in advance. These won’t be cheap flights to China, but at least you’ll have a ticket!
#5 Consider a China Agency
Although you feel like you have more control to shop around on the internet, the truth is that travel agencies have bulk-buying power when it comes to cheap China tickets. Often you can get just as good a price if not better through a travel agency located in China.
Find a local agent that deals with international travel and compare their rates with what you’ve seen on the internet. They know the best times to travel and the best ways to get discounts – if they didn’t they would be out of a job.
Traveling or moving to China? Many of your favorite internet sites are blocked by what is known as the “Great Firewall”. Consider these low-cost workarounds that will allow you to access the entire internet while you’re away.