It’s a cheap time to travel by air in China, if you are willing to deal with the risk of coronavirus.
Flight tickets from Beijing to Guiyang, 1,076 miles away, where you can take a bus to see the 255-foot-tall, 331-foot-wide Huangguoshu Waterfall, are listed at 80 yuan on Ctrip. That’s $11.53 US dollars, and it’s less than one-tenth the price of a high-speed rail ticket from Beijing to Guiyang.
Across the country, airline ticket prices are descending. Fifty-nine yuan for a one-way flight from Guangzhou to Chongqing (US$8.60), 150 yuan from Shanghai to Ningbo, 180 yuan from Yantai to Dalian, 190 yuan from Changsha to Chengdu, 200 yuan from Zhengzhou to Tianjin.
These prices are fractions of the prices of rail routes that take longer. A flight from the business hub of Shanghai to Guangzhou in 2.5 hours costs 120 yuan, while a second-class high-speed rail ticket costs 793 yuan and takes 7-8 hours. A flight from Hefei to Beijing takes two hours and costs 300 yuan, compared to 4.5 hours and 436 yuan for a second-class seat on high-speed rail. Even the flight from Beijing to Guiyang costs less than it would to sit for 31 hours on a slow train.
Tickets to Chongqing, a self-administering city in the southwest known for its mountainous terrain and mouth-numbingly spicy cuisine, are among the lowest in the country. China Youth Daily cited prices of 30 yuan for Shenzhen to Chongqing, less than the price of a meal at McDonalds. Chongqing is still suffering greatly from coronavirus; verified cases in Chongqing increased by 80 on March 3, and total cases there are close to 600.
“I am attracted by the low prices. But it’s not a good time to take risk,” a friend says.
Domestic media is calling those low rates “cabbage prices.” Demand is down by 80 percent for the month. Demand for cargo shipping is down by 12%, according to numbers from China’s State Post Bureau.
Globally, airlines are getting decimated by coronavirus. The International Air Transport Association estimated possible losses at over $100 billion, a loss of almost 20 percent of business. “The turn of events as a result of [the coronavirus] is almost without precedent,” IATA CEO Alexandre de Juniac said.
Forbes, citing travel agencies, reported in late February that net ticket sales were down 13.4 percent internationally and 1.3 percent within the United State. Since then, coronavirus cases in Korea have skyrocketed, and cases have begun to rise in the U.S.
As U.S. confirmed cases passed 140, American providers began cutting some prices and waiving fees for domestic flights, too. Delta, JetBlue, American, and Alaska Airlines have all waived change fees for tickets purchased in March.
Flights to Seattle, which is 20 miles from King County, where over 50 cases and 11 deaths (mostly in a nursing home) have been recorded, are cheap. Delta and United have non-stop flights in March from Denver listed at $29. Flights from Los Angeles to Seattle dropped by 25 percent in price last week, according to Google Flights price history.
J. Whitfield Larrabee, a lawyer in Massachusetts, tweeted, “Prices for airline tickets and luxury cruises are forecast to be much lower for the next 6 months. … Good time for low budget travel.”
Airline stocks are nosediving. United Airlines and American have both lost over 40 percent of their value since mid-January, the decline being especially steep since coronavirus landed in the U.S.
Should you take advantage of these deals, or stay home? Coronavirus in the U.S. does not seem bad enough to call for abrupt cancellations. But it might not be a good idea to fly to China or another high-risk country right now. Besides the heightened risk of disease, there is the possibility of new policies being enacted at anytime in China or your home country.
Just this week, China announced a policy of mandatory quarantining of anyone arriving from other high-risk countries at government-approved facilities.
If you do want to fly from, say, Korea to China, make sure you have enough books to last 14 days!
Currently based in China, Mitchell Blatt is a former editorial assistant at the National Interest, Chinese-English translator, and lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong. He has been published in USA Today, The Daily Beast, The Korea Times, Silkwinds magazine, and Areo Magazine, among other outlets. Follow him on Facebook at @MitchBlattWriter.