*The writer paid their own way for the entire trip. Check out my shop, for stunning photographs, ready to print and frame.
If you just want to search and book the cheapest flights to China, you can here.
When I was a travel agent, I thought it confusing that there was an:
–Air China (CA, hub city: Beijing/PEK, Beijing Municipality)
–China Airlines (CI, hub city: Taipei/TPE, Taiwan)
–China Southern (CZ, hub city: Guangzhou/CAN, Guangdong Province)
But now there’s ten times as many Chinese airlines.
Ten Chinese Airlines You’ve Never Heard of
It seems every year there’s a new airline that pops up in China. Below is a list of the airline, the two letter code, their hub city and the province they are based in because often there is more than one city with similar names. Here’s a list of airlines you’ve probably never heard of:
- Hainan Airlines (HU, hub city: Haikou/HAK, Hainan Province)
- Shandong Airlines (SC, hub city: Jinan/TNA, Shandong Province)
- Xiamen Airlines (MF, hub city: Xiamen/XMN, Fujian Province)
- Sichuan Airlines (3U, hub city: Chengdu/CTU, Sichuan Province)
- Juneyao Airlines (HO, hub city: Shanghai/PVG, Shanghai Municipality)
- Lucky Air (8L*, hub city: Kunming/KMG, Yunnan Province)
- Okay Airways (BK*, hub city: Beijing/PEK, Beijing Municipality)
- Spring Airlines (9C, hub city: Shanghai/PVG, Shanghai Municipality)
- Tibet Airlines (TV, hub city: Lhasa/LXA, Tibet Autonomous Region)
- Urumqi Airlines (UQ, hub city: Ürümqi/URC, Xinjiang Province)
Why do these remote and seemingly random airlines matter? Well Air travel in China makes sense. The country is large, there’s many people travelling, there’s an ever growing middle class that can afford air travel and China has the space to build large airports. I remember landing in Xi’ian (famous for the Terracotta Warriors) and the airport was so big, the furthest baggage carousel was out of sight, because it was so far away.
Many of these airlines are domestic focussed, however as they grow and service other parts of Asia, expect some of them to expand to Australia and USA, and Europe. At the moment Hainan airlines flies to several USA ports and London, but as outward travel demand in China grows, inward flights to China, become cheaper.
Unlike the restricted China of years ago where it was only able to purchase aircraft from Russia. Global trade has allowed Chinese airlines to access aircraft from all the major manufacturers including Boeing and Airbus.
However China is also in the process of building their own aircraft, designed and built in China.
My last trip to China incorporated so many different airlines often I wouldn’t know which carrier I was flying until I was physically on the plane. However I had no complaints about any of them, including Xiamen Airlines, Lucky Air, Juneyao and Sichuan Airlines, all of which seemed to operate newer, modern airbus aircraft.
Yes but why should I care about Chinese airlines?
Knowing which airlines operate out of China is useful if you want to take advantage of cheap flights not only to China, but beyond, like Europe and the USA.
As more airlines are given rights to operate out of China, it means traveller’s have access to cheaper flights to China. The busier an airline route is with multiple carriers, the cheaper it will be for traveller’s. I remember it used to cost around AUD1200 for a return ticket from Sydney to Beijing, now you wouldn’t pay more than 1/3 of that!
Many Chinese airlines fly onto Europe, (though it’s early days yet, so they may only have rights to one or two ports) but they can be a fantastic and cheaper option to both break up your journey on the way to Europe, whilst scoring cheaper flights in the process.
When I was travelling in China last time, I regularly saw USD150 – USD350 flights to Europe advertised. Of course all the details were in Mandarin so I wasn’t certain when the travel period was, but as more Chinese traveller’s opt to leave China on their holidays and discover wonders previously inaccessible to them, it’s going to mean cheaper flights to China for everyone else, so knowing Chinese airlines and their hub cities is going to be crucial for future budget air travel.
How cheap are they really? Currently Juneyao Airlines offers Shanghai to Hong Kong (HKG) for USD69, Bangkok (BKK) for USD47 and Shanghai (SHA) to Helsinki (HEL) for USD427 one way. These work well to combine with other cheap one way fares to create a customised round trip, or mini round the world taking you to exotic destinations instead of the standard Singapore (SIN), Bangkok (BKK) or Hong Kong (HKG) on the way to Europe.Looking for a cheap flight to China? Find it now.
The other benefit is they will go via their hub city so Xiamen Airlines will fly via Xiamen, China Eastern Airlines will fly via Guangzhou and Chengdu airlines will fly via Chengdu giving you easy access to destinations in China besides the usual Shanghai and Beijing.
Some Chinese airlines have english websites whilst other’s are a little trickier requiring either a Chinese phone number or to be booked via a travel agent (who will issue the ticket via a consolidator on Hahn Air-travel agent talk). However there are apps like trip.com that can help you book Chinese airlines.
For more detailed information about utilising sector fares to create a unique and cheap round the world journey. I recommend checking out my other post:
Whilst Scoot, Jetstar and Air Asia may have the monopoly on budget travel from Australia to Asia, you can be certain that China’s national carriers will be seeking to take over that title.
- Betty in the Sky With a Suitcase (stories from a flight attendant)
- Cabin Fever (stories from a Virgin flight attendant)
- Secrets of a Sky Princess
For information about travelling around China without a tour, check out my detailed post about how to travel China independently. You may also be interested in my China podcast episodes:
Travelosophy #4 Travelling China without a tour
Travelosophy #5 Shanghai Disneyland or you can read my detailed review of the Shanghai Disneyland Grand Opening including the best new rides and shows.
Chinese Ferns, Xi’an, China (Digital Download)
Purchase a stunning photograph, direct from the photographer, Jade Jackson. Click on ‘add to cart’ to purchase a digital download.