I like the convenience of booking airline tickets in my office, whenever I want, without announcing to the general area when my travel dates are (because sometimes I need a day of rest when I return). So I started using elong.com because… well… I saw it on TV.
The first thing I discovered is that although they have an English-language booking page, you may as well just forget it, because when you enter your address in pin yin (no character support here) a local Chinese staff calls you, doesn’t speak ANY English, and asks you where you need the tix delivered. This isn’t a problem for me, other than the fact of the whole point of ordering a ticket online is that you don’t have to talk to anyone. But for people who are ordering tix in English because they DON’T SPEAK CHINESE, I feel bad for them.
The second problem is that you have to take delivery on the tickets right then. If, for instance, you are travelling or working in a rural area, I’m truly sorry, because they won’t actually book the ticket until they are about to deliver it to you. Soooo if you want to book it now but can’t pick it up for a week, just give up. Alternatively, you can pay even more to put it on a credit card. But again, this must be done on the phone in Chinese, because you can’t do it on the web in any language. And they don’t offer this option freely, you’re gonna have to talk them into it.
The third problem is that sometimes (often) they don’t even have the tickets at the price you booked. This happened to me yesterday, as I was booking a ticket to Beijing on really short notice. Relieved to have it over with, I went about my business for the rest of the day. Then, 40 minutes before my ticket was to be delivered, they called me to announce that the cheap ticket I booked was, in fact, gone, and that I could pay a few hundred RMB more for a different ticket. Thanks guys. That was great. If I wanted a more expensive ticket or one at a different time, I would have booked that in the first place. Further, now that I’ve wasted half a day assuming I’d already booked tickets, it’s going to cost me even more to book with someone else. This is not an isolated incident, as a friend who booked VERY EXPENSIVE INTERNATIONAL ROUND TRIP TICKETS had this same thing happen… except that time, their price jumped by a couple hundred US DOLLARS.
Once, I ordered tix from elong at the same time as the same friend booked on ctrip. The tickets were to the same destination and were basically the same price. His were booked on the Chinese language booking site; the tix were delivered promptly and with no hassle. I, on the other hand, booked on the English page of elong, and had to play phone tag with a number of people, including the website and their local Kunming delivery people, in order to get them to show up in the right place. Some of the personnel were horrified that I was a foreigner and telling me I couldn’t understand their slow, over-enunciated Mandarin (thanks guys), others spoke incredibly quickly in Kunming local dialect. Woe unto the beginner who tries to book tickets with this company.
It may be kind of annoying, but honestly you are better off in the long run if you just get your tickets from a local travel company. You can book on the phone, they’re pretty patient and they deliver to your door. If your name is English, you usually need to text it to them, along with your passport number. I also don’t have anything bad to say about ctrip.com.