Where can I find good deals on flights within China?

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Answered by: Maggie, An Expert in the China - Chinese Destinations Guide Category
If you are looking to book domestic flights within China, you'll want to toss aside some of your trusted sources for air ticket information. U.S.-based carriers or online travel agencies like Orbitz and Expedia don't have the best deals on flights within China.

Instead, you'll need to learn a few new names — Qunar.com, Ctrip.com and Elong.com. But fear not -- each of these sites has a reputable company behind it, and each can be navigated in English. Qunar.com is the Chinese equivalent of Kayak.com, a site built for research, not booking. Here you can get comparative pricing from a number of sources. You can even use it to look into train travel, which is becoming a better option every day as the Chinese government lays high-speed railways all over the country.

For actual booking, your two best options are Ctrip.com and Elong.com, which are China's answers to Expedia -- in fact, Expedia purchased Elong about a year ago. Both sites have English-staffed call centers you can use to help you with the booking process. Ctrip even has a Skype account you can add to your contact list and call for free. Purchasing your tickets through either site is simple. As recently as four years ago, it was nearly impossible to book a flight with a foreign credit card in China, but now it's as easy as any other online or over-the-phone purchase.

There are some things you should keep in mind when searching for flight reservations in China. One is that prices tend to fluctuate less than they do in the United States. Prices are fixed, so airlines are less likely to unload inventory at the last minute at deeply reduced prices. To get an idea of what the high and low prices are for any route, check back a few times with the above-mentioned websites, and pay attention to weekly patterns and to what happens to prices two weeks, one week, and two days ahead of time.

Another thing to be aware of is heavy travel times in China. The Chinese New Year, May Day and the Autumn Golden Week are peak travel periods, with much heavier traffic than we experience around Thanksgiving and Christmas in the United States. Flight reservations around these dates will be expensive and hard to get, so if you are traveling during one of these holidays you need to book early and plan to spend more.

Finally, as with travel anywhere, you can often save money by being open to alternatives. As mentioned above, train travel is becoming a more attractive option within China. For some routes, taking the train is now comparable in time investment to flying, as well as being cheaper and more comfortable. One example is Beijing-Shanghai -- the high-speed train on that route takes just over four hours. Unfortunately, rail is behind air travel in terms of online booking. If you want to go by train, you may need the assistance of a travel agent or of your hotel in China.

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