Using CTrip.com To Save Money on Travel in China

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By the time this post goes live, I’ll be in Beijing and for the next week I’ll be traveling to Shanghai and Xi’an as well.  When booking my intra-China flights, I initially searched the American booking sites like Orbitz and Expedia and got pretty steep prices for tickets. Several savvy TPG readers Tweeted me to check out Ctrip.com and I’m glad I did!

What I Loved

Most of all I was anxious about flying in economy on a local  carrier since there’s no way I fit in coach seats, so I was desperate to find some good business class alternatives. Enter C Trip.

I had searched Expedia for a one-way business class ticket from Beijing to Shanghai–a fairly well trafficked route–and the lowest I could find was $387 on Air China. I searched for that same exact flight on C Trip and it came to 1660 Chinese Yuan, or $263, basically a 30% discount!

Expedia found me a business class fare on Air China from Beijing-Shanghai for $387.
Checking C Trip for the same exact flight, I found a business class ticket for 30% less at just $263!

On my Xian-Beijing leg for the return trip, I scored a business class seat for a mere $196 on a new Hainan Airlines A330 with this note on service: “Notes: Super Economy Class: First Class services with an Economy Class ticket (First Class seat and meal), Economy Class ground service standard with 20kg free baggage allowance; 125% more miles awarded to Fortune Wings member. Inapplicable to infant.” So I basically get a first class ticket with an economy price. So what if there’s economy ground service and baggage allowance? I doubt there’s much difference in service anyway, and I would still get a 25% bonus on points if I were a member of C Trip’s Fortune Wings (love the name) program. More on that later.

I do have a slight problem because C Trip is telling me that the flights between Shanghai and Xian are sold out, which I know not to be true, so I might have to book that leg through another service, but I’ll keep checking C Trip just in case.

On the hotel side of things, I’ve already booked myself at the St. Regis Beijing and the Park Hyatt Shanghai in order to start earning my way back toward elite status for 2012, and got pretty reasonable rates through SPG.com and Hyatt.com. I was just curious, though, so I checked C Trip and found the same rates, so nothing gained, but certainly nothing lost booking through the site either.

What I Didn’t Like

I sort of resent the 3% booking charge for using a credit card, which the US booking engines don’t charge. But then again, I’d saved so much money, I didn’t really mind. To be safe, though, I booked my tickets using my Chase Sapphire Preferred, which will give me 2x points on travel and doesn’t levy a foreign transaction fee since I didn’t want to risk using my Amex Premier Rewards Gold Card (which gives 3x points on airfare) and getting hit with an additional 3% foreign transaction fee if the charge is processed in China.

Fortune Wings

Perhaps the most interesting fact of all? C Trip has its own points program! Now, it still looks a bit wonky since you can redeem points for everything from a Dairy Queen ice cream cake (no joke, for 20,000 points!) to suitcases to free airline tickets (starting at 150,000 points) and hotel rooms (starting at 100,000 points), but at least it’s a good start. Here are the rules:

Earning Points:

Every time you book with Ctrip online or by phone, you earn Ctrip Points which can be redeemed for great rewards, from free hotels stays and domestic flights to mobile phones and tour packages. Check our FAQ for details on how Ctrip Points are accumulated.

Using Points:

1. All rewards are subject to availability and we often update our reward selection. Ctrip must confirm all reward requests.

2. All rewards must be sent to addresses within mainland China.

3. You can check out the latest reward online at Ctrip’s English site, but at present you cannot redeem points for rewards on the English site. There are three ways to redeem your points:

4. If you have any problems with your reward or the redemption process, please contact Ctrip at 400 820 6666 (Mainland China).

Future Trips

Sure, there are some kinks, but next time I have a trip to China, I’m definitely checking out C Trip first to find the deepest discounts and start earning some points for future travel! I’m a China travel newbie, so please feel free to suggest any other sites or tips for saving money when in the Middle Kingdom!

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