The first thing you need to know is that the airfares for USA domestic flights and for international flights are totally different. There is no strict regulation to the domestic airfares, which means the airline companies can sell the tickets at any price they want. Because of this, the best deal you can get is through the airline website.
For the international airfares, it is another story. The international airfares are still regulated both by international treaties and IATA (International Air Transportation Association). All sales of international tickets at lower price than the official fares are made through travel agencies,not directly by the airline companies. The price you can get depends on rebating of commissions by travel agents to clients. Here are some Chinese travel agents I recommend (I was satisfied with the discount they helped me to get and their services were not bad):
Currently, you can book the non-stop ticket from U.S. to China through UA (United Airline), AA (American Airline), CA (China Air), CZ (China Southern), MU (China Eastern). The connection flight from Tokyo to China is provided by NW(North West) and AA.There is a good website for the traveler to learn more about the airline routes: ITA Airfare Search Software. (you can google it for the details)
When to buy the ticket?
The ticket price is changing every hour or minute.Usually the peak seasons are June to September and December to January. It is not easy to get a very good deal if you are booking you ticket during these peak seasons. The best way is to book it in advance. You will have a better chance to get big discount if you book your ticket 3 or 4 months in advance. I bought my tickets to China for about 800 dollars last year by using this strategy.
What is the lowest price?
Usually the lowest price you get get is about 600-700 dollars for the ticket from L.A. , S.F. , NYC or Chicago to China(1 stop). It is about 700-800 dollars for other big cities in the United States(1 stop). The non-stop ticket is a little big more expensive than this. You don’t need to hesitate to buy the ticket if your travel agent is selling the ticket at this price and maybe you will lose this good opportunity if you wait for just 1 or 2 hours.
There are many airline companies in China. The big three are Air China,China Eastern, China Southern. Now the best way to get your air tickets is from their web sites. Usually, you can get a good deal if you book your tickets 30-60 days in advance. You will find it impossible to get any discount if you wanna book the tickets 10 days earlier. I once bought a ticket from Beijing to Shanghai at 80% off and the main reason is that I booked my ticket 60 days in advance.
Many people have this kind of experience: when they called the Chinese travel agents to book the airline tickets, the price is usually more expensive than the price in the airline companies’ own web sites. This is because the electronic tickets have lowered the costs of sales for the airline companies and they are encouraging the customers to buy the electronic tickets from their web sites.
Here is some useful information about the electronic tickets in China:
1. How to pay?
The most convenient way is to pay by credit card (they accept visa, mastercard, discover cards, etc. I will recommend the discover card because it has no foreign transaction fees). If you are booking your tickets by phone, you can just provide your credit card information(card number, exp date, owner name, etc) to the airline companies. For the online booking, it is also very convenient and all you need to do is to follow the web sites’ instructions and input your credit card details. If you do not have a credit card, you can choose to pay cash (get tickets from the airline companies’ offices in the downtown. Sometimes they can deliver the tickets to your home).
2. How to get the flight schedule (invoice)?
The flight schedule is acting like the invoice and it can be used to get compensations for your business travel. If you do not need this flights schedule, you can just get your boarding pass using your official ID and you don’t need to waste time in this flight schedule. If you need this for getting compensations from your company, you can get it in 4 different ways:
(a). Get it from the airline company’s counters in the airport.
(b). Get it from the airline company’s offices in the downtown.
(c). Ask the airline company to send it to your home if you are booking your tickets through a travel agent.
(d). Ask the airline company to mail it to you. In these 4 options, I think the best way is to ask them to mail it to you.
You can just provide your mailing address online when you are booking your tickets and the airline company will mail the flight schedule to you in 1 or 2 weeks.
3. How to get a refund?
(a). If you did not ask them to send you the flight schedule, you can get the refund immediately (you will need to pay for the refund fees of course).
(b). If you already got the flight schedule from the airline company, you will need to return this to the airline company. They will process your refund request after they receive your flight schedule.