Fly to China Roundtrip, Now for Less than $800 USD!

Posted in Business 'n Economics, Travel Log (Asia) at 1:23 pm by Benjamin Ross

The economy’s down, times are tough, and corporations across the globe are fighting tooth and nail for your expendable income.  With all the lost income and doomsday talk, people often overlook the greatest virtue of recession:  The cornucopia of steal-of-a-lifetime deals on everything from resort hotels to toaster ovens.  Case in point…plane tickets to China.

Whenever I shop for a plane ticket to the Middle Kingdom, my first step is to check United Airlines’ website for a rough gauge of ticket prices.  On first shot, tickets usually price anywhere between $1400 and $4500 for a round trip ticket  (does anybody know who actually purchases those $4500 tickets?).  After searching around online, finagling with the dates, and consulting with various travel agents, I’m usually able to come to a deal somewhere in the range of $1100 to $1300…Which is why it took me completely off guard when I did the old United Airlines cold check last week, and the first round trip fare that came up was $790.84!  Yes, that’s $790.84, United Airlines, tax included, direct flight, round trip O’Hare to Pudong, leaving 2/17 returning 3/19.

After a little tinkering around with the dates, I was able to find fares as low as $720.  Since my travel dates for this trip are not flexible, (and since I’m not paying for the ticket myself anyway), I ended up booking the $790.84 ticket.  For comparison sake, my roundtrip flight this summer from Chicago to Beijing came to a walloping $1850, granted this was a) summer b) when fuel prices were considerably higher, and c) around the time of the Olympics.

As of now though, it seems the earlier the reservation (in other words, the more last minute) the cheaper, generally speaking.  There are still fares in the $700s and $800s for February, and March, but move up to April and it jumps up to the $1400 range.  My best guess is that what’s probably happening is that the airlines know the economy is in the crapper, and that people aren’t buying plane tickets to China.  In a last ditch effort to fill up the planes, they are offering seats at ridiculously low prices.  This also probably means that most flights will be half empty, thus enabling passengers to sprawl out across multiple seats, an invaluable luxury on a 14 hour flight.  I would also imagine, that prices for flights later in the year could drop considerably as well, provided no miraculous economic recovery occurs within the next few months.

So for anybody in search of  an international vacation but not wanting to cough up a lot of dough, right now may be the best time to head over to China.  And for anybody planning a trip for later in the year, it may be advisable to wait and see if fares continue to drop.  Then again, the pricing for US airline tickets has never really had much rhyme to reason to it anyway, so take anything I’m saying with two grains of salt and a heaping teaspoon of MSG.  I’ll be in the Middle Kingdom from February 18 until March 19.  See y’all on the other side.


  1. Sean China said,

    February 15, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Round trip from Chicago to Guangzhou is over 14,000 RMB. Not sure where you found those deals. I checked United website.

  2. 尼克 United States said,

    February 15, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Yeah I am still getting $1400 for May, but I am in the unfortunate place of needing to get flights first, so I can get my new visa.

  3. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    February 15, 2009 at 3:18 am

    I don’t think United is flying to Guangzhou (yet), so I’m guessing the fare you found is either on a code share (or whatever it’s called) airline or it’s for the summer when (according to wikipedia) service to Guangzhou is supposed to start. Also, it seems as if you book your departure and return farther apart than 30 days, the prices go up as well…by about a factor of 2. Try searching for flights to either Beijing or Shanghai.

  4. Benjamin Ross United States said,

    February 15, 2009 at 2:41 pm


    This summer when I applied for my visa around the time of the Olympics, they had the same requirement where you had to show them your itinerary in order to get a visa. The thing is, you didn’t actually have to have booked the reservations yet. You could just print out an itinerary online (or get one from a travel agent) and include it with your visa application. Then wait until the visa gets approved before actually buying the ticket, or a completely different one altogether. Really a pretty silly regulation if you ask me.

  5. Justin United States said,

    February 15, 2009 at 9:51 pm

    I just got a one way ticket from Beijing to Los Angeles from eLong for around $700…and it was VERY last minute. The plane was about half empty – and I managed to sleep across 3 full seats! :)

  6. meredith United States said,

    February 18, 2009 at 6:10 pm

    Thanks for sharing your travel tips!

  7. gswafford United States said,

    February 18, 2009 at 7:04 pm

    $1,400 – $4,500 is the usual going rate? Is that for business class? Must be.

    I’ve never paid over $850 for coach (Chicago – PVG or PEK).

  8. DANIEL United States said,

    July 28, 2009 at 3:24 am

    When I go to Shanghai from Beijing, I often book tickets through http://www.bamboobookings.com, and every time I’m surprised to find such discounted prices for china domestic flights.

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