In addition to wholesale cos-play gear, carbon monoxide detectors, gummy treats, and luxury toothpicks, China's biggest online retailer, Taobao, has travel tickets too. Their search engine finds deals from travel agents all around China on domestic and international flights, train tickets, hotels, package tours, tourist attractions, Airbnb-type apartments, cruises, and more. The site is only in Chinese but if you know basic characters for cities and transportation, this should be really easy. Failing that, there's always Google Translate…
Here are some advantages to using Taobao:
1) Sometimes it's cheaper than competitors' sites.
2) You can pay easily through AliPay, or with cash / bank card at one of the Aladdin terminals found in many of Shanghai's convenience stores — as we show in this previous tutorial — or even at the post office. Plus, you can easily book a flight for someone else, or have someone else pay for the flight.
3) Taobao shows round trip flight prices upfront, whereas a lot of competitors show each leg of the trip separately, so you can't see the full price until you've picked the "to" and "return" flights.
4) The website is fast and smooth.
Before you start, you'll need a Taobao account, which you can set up in ten minutes, using our guide. Also, be sure to turn your VPN off. Finally, if you're on a Mac, Safari will work best. You'll need Chinese text input turned on too.
I. Taobao Travel Home Page
Here's what the http://lv.taobao.com home page looks like. There are lots of options up top, and some package deals down below. Explore a bit.
II. Booking A Domestic Flight
It's cold. Let's go to Sanya. Select "国内机票" (that's "domestic tickets") and input your origin and destination cities and whether you want one-way or round-trip (往返)
On the next page you'll see a bunch of different flights and prices. If you've selected round trip, the price is for round-trip, not including tax. As usual, if your times are flexible, be sure to check similar dates, because prices can vary drastically.
Then you'll need to select a return flight. Note that the price may change a bit, depending on which airline/time you choose.
III. Choosing An Agent
After you pick the flights, you'll need to pick an agent. Different agents have different prices. Like anything on Taobao, it's important to pick a seller that has a lot of positive feedback, so take a look at their comments. Taobao does guarantee that your ticket will be issued. Note that the first seller here has only 10 comments, but the second has over 5000. You probably want to pick the latter. Once you pick an agent, click the blue button that says "打票".
IV. Passenger/Contact Person Information
Now you'll need to input the passenger info. This doesn't have to be you, but you'll need the passenger name (Last Name/First Middle Name), ID Type (choose 护照 for passport), ID number, and date of birth.
This info will stay in the system, so you can just check the box next to the passenger's name next time.
Scroll down and input the info for the contact person. This is really important, because the e-ticket info, flight time, etc. will get texted and emailed to the contact person.
If you want to add some insurance or join a rewards program, you can do that as well by checking the appropriate box. Otherwise, just click the blue button at the bottom.
V. Refund Policy
The next page contains important information about the refund policy. Be sure to read/translate that.
At the bottom of the screen, click the orange button to pay. Check the box if you want someone else with an AliPay account to just pay for you, and they'll get a message on their phone.
So, how do you pay for this flight? If you already have AliPay linked to your bank card, you can just do that, and then you're done. You can try to link a card, but this process can be time-consuming and confusing for foreigners. Luckily, if you're in Shanghai you can just pay at an Aladdin machine, which you can find at several Family Marts, Lawsons, and 7-11's around town. Click the "other payment methods" button to do that.
VII. Paying With Aladdin
After clicking "other payment methods", you'll need to select "Shanghai" to get the Aladdin option. Hopefully you turned off your VPN before you started this process, otherwise the system will get confused.
Just select Aladdin, then you'll get this screen below. Take a picture, go to the convenience store, and use the machine to pay by card or you can even pay cash. For detailed instructions on that, read this article, but it's really simple. Note that Aladdin does charge a transaction fee. The flight I booked was 1453rmb, and Aladdin charged me 29.10rmb.
And that's it. After you pay, you'll get a text message with your e-ticket information. Taobao 100% guarantees that your ticket will be issued, so no worries. Customer service will vary depending on the agent, so it's really a good idea to thoroughly read the refund/cancellation policy and choose an agent with a lot of positive feedback.
VIII. Paying At The Post Office
Another option, which I haven't tried, is paying at the post office. You can choose the "China Post" option on the "other payment methods" screen, then you'll get this ticket, which you'll need to bring to the post office. This seems like a good option for people who don't live in Shanghai and don't have AliPay linked to their bank card. They'll give you a form to fill out and you can pay by cash or card.
So yeah, Taobao Travel. Pretty good. Just bought a plane ticket there the other day, used the Aladdin machine to pay, and everything worked out fine at the airport. It's the closest thing to the good old days when you could book a ticket online and a few hours later some dude would roll up on an e-bike and hand you a ticket in exchange for a few thousand RMB in cash.
[If you like this article, check out our guide to Chinese apps]