Using To Save Money on Travel in China

by on January 4, 2012 · 15 comments

in Air China, 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 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 and 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!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Anon

    The St Regis Beijing kind of blows, you may want to rethink that one. I stayed there about a year ago and ended up eating at both the Grand Hyatt and one of the Ritz Carltons. Found myself wishing I was staying at the Grand Hyatt after seeing it.

    FYI I am taking my own advice in a couple of months and staying at the Hyatt this time.

  • Anon

    I should say that I also just used CTrip at the advice of a friend who lives in China. Worked great but never received an airline ticket number or confirmation number.

  • Anonymous

    A lot of Asian Frequent Flyer Programs plus Miles and More also have Ctrip as a partner where you can earn miles for their bookings, for example I just added new hotel booking bonus offers yesterday from CTrip for China Airlines Dynasty Flyer and EVA Air Evergreen Club.

  • JW

    Nice post. I’ve used Ctrip a lot during my past stint in China. Oftentimes you can find good airfare rates–in fact sometimes cheaper than train tickets!

    Another site I’d like to recommend is Elong ( It’s operated by Expedia, I believe, but they generally show a cheaper fare for searches compared to for the same flights.

  • JW


    Just checked. Elong is partnered with expedia, not operated by them…my bad!

  • Felipe Yang

    Yah Ctrip is the way to go in China, I have 34000 points with them now (not that it’s worth much…). I’ve bought the discounted first class for Hainan airlines and basically they don’t let you check in their VIP lines but other than that it’s pretty worth it. If you buy the discounted first class for Air China there’s no restrictions on ground service but their aircrafts tend to be older.

    As a tip, be smart about how you use your Chase Sapphire Preferred in China. I don’t know how their foreign currency conversion is calculated as it tends to vary by merchant. I bought stuff at Carrefour with it and it converted it slightly better than I would have gotten at the bank. At the airport however, the rate was quite a bit lower than the bank. I think there’s something iffy about how they do it to make up the lost revenue from foreign transaction fees but I can’t be sure.

  • Gens

    The plane tickets are heavily regulated in China, where full fare economy is a fixed rate for any city pair, and the first class is usually 1.5 times of Y…. They might have loosened up recently and offered the airlines more autonomy in setting their own prices, but I believe fares are still similar to what they used to be… So no matter where you booked in China, through travel agents or online portals, you would always get the same fare. In fact, you can book through the airlines’ official websites (their Chinese domestic websites, then choose English, rather than their global websites where you’ll be quoted substantially higher prices), they sometimes offer real discounts, and could be a little cheaper than booking elsewhere – 20 RMB in the case of China Southern ;)

    To avoid paying the FX fees, the only way I can think of now is to pay for your tickets at the ticket counter in the airport. So the next time you are in Beijing airport, maybe you can try to purchase your xian tickets at one of the Air China ticket counters. (the fares will be the same as what you see at ctrip)

    Also China Southern now offers premium economy for the price of Y, which is similar to United’s Economy Plus seating…

  • jjj0002

    For Beijing to Shanghai, you should definitely try high speed train instead of flight. It departs almost every hour and only takes about 5 hours to arrive. The trian is very comfortable considering your size, and even the first class of the train (which I recommend) is much cheaper than the price you paid for the flight ticket. You can also book business class (with flat bed) though I don’t know the price.

  • Jason Jeon

    I agree and I think i mentioned it in an earlier post. Stay in the WESTIN (Chaoyang)!

  • Anonymous

    I’m doing 2 nights Regis one might Westin. So far so good at the st Regis- nice platinum recognition including free breakfast, evening cocktails and comfortable suite upgrade. I like walking so I don’t mind that it’s not in the center of the action

  • llama

    Ctrip is nice and they have the best customer service. They will deliver your tickets in person as well if you wish to have that option. For the absolute cheapest I would search on qunar, but haven’t used them since they were sold to baidu. It’s essentially a search aggregate for all the airlines and finds the most discounted tickets as well as nifty graphs. I’m not sure about First/Business availability on it as I only used it for economy. :) Have fun!

  • Purcitron

    attempting to find a one-way from Beijing to Xi’an in early July. searched July 3rd & 4th.. “No flight found from Beijing to Xi’an, Economy Class, on 07-04-2012. Please search again.”

    thats kinda soft

  • matt

    As of October 2011, China has removed any and all regulation controlling the fare prices, and there is no longer a fixed rate fare structure, instead they have a max Y fare price, but limitless flexibility on C and F fares. For example in July of last year, a Y ticket from PEK-Qingdao was 1,080 RMB, F was 1,580 RMB, now the Y is the same, but I have found the first to be no lower than twice the Y. Ctrip will deliver the ticket to you and you can pay in cash. I highly recommend, it is the same prices as ctrip, but the reward points can be redeemed online.
    -The 20 RMB savings btw is that China Southern is not charging you the 20 rmb insurance for each flight which is standard(you can opt out) for elong and ctrip users. The insurance is useless as well, absolutely useless.

  • Nick Deng

    Ctrip does have its own loyalty program but the fortune wings program refers to hainan airlines frequent flyer program. To get discounted business class or firsts class fares on Chinese carriers, you could also now go to their official websites as every one of them (the big ones, CA CZ MU HU) is advertising about this. However, cross check with ctrip would always be a smart idea.

  • anonymous

    For those who can read Chinese, is often even cheaper than ctrip (flights and hotels)

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