Buying plane tickets for flights within China
In China, the typical method of buying a plane ticket is to call a travel agent or go to a website and input a reservation. If the reservation is confirmed, a deliveryperson brings the ticket from some central office to your address. If that address happens to be a University, you typically meet the deliveryperson at the gate (no matter how far away that might actually be).
Until very recently, cheap eTickets within China were rare. Apparently the cost of sending somebody on a bicycle was less than the computer cost of making an eTicket. It was just as well, since tickets were typically paid cash on delivery. In the past, that limited purchasing tickets for itineraries within China to people living there.
Recently places have begun taking UnionPay payments online. This is something like Visa, though most UnionPay cards can’t actually be used online because they require a PIN to be entered during the transaction. So even for people outside China with a Chinese bank account, it would still be inconvenient. Overseas cards (Visa, Mastercard, AMEX, etc) began to be accepted recently at two of the major internet ticket sites: eLong and Ctrip.
Traditionally, I have preferred eLong when buying tickets because they had the lowest prices. Their overseas credit card acceptance is a huge hassle though. One has to fax or email scans of the front and back side of a credit card as well as a statement with a signature. The name on the credit card and the plane ticket has to be exactly the same (so if your credit card omits your middle name or only has your middle initial, you still can’t buy the ticket).
Ctrip just requires the 3 digit code on the back of a card as well as the billing address. I found tickets to be cheaper on Ctrip as well.
If you are wondering why I don’t just buy a ticket off Expedia – it is much more expensive. For example, this Thursday from Guangzhou to Beijing will cost 580RMB (84.31USD) on Ctrip compared with 176USD for the cheapest flight on Expedia (both including all taxes and fees).