I appeared on this week’s Do-Goodery podcast. The show, aside from being really fun, goes into a great deal of depth re: this deal, and my larger strategies for traveling efficiently.


My 24th birthday seemed like a good time for a quarter-life crisis moment: I decided to book a flight to Japan.

This was Feb. 19, 2016, and I was to fly to Tokyo less than two months later.

When I told my executive producer (known as Mom among us young reporters), my decision shocked her. “You’re really going to Tokyo by yourself?” she asked. “Isn’t that dangerous?”

Never mind that Japan’s famously low crime rate meant I was far less likely to suffer bodily harm in Tokyo than I would in Youngstown, Ohio (or any other place in America).

When I told her I had booked a solo ticket to Tokyo, she mostly just laughed (her that’s-my-son kind of laugh).”

Of course I was.

I’ve save the full trip report for another day, but I did knock a couple items off the ol’ Bucket List:

  • Attending to a baseball game in Japan
  • Seeing Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea
  • Checking out the cherry blossoms
  • Eating Japanese ramen
  • Going on a Tinder date in another country (I wonder what Ayaka is up to these days…)
James Santelli Yokohama DeNA BayStars

The author, loving life after his first Nippon Professional Baseball contest.

Altruism, engage!

The cost of my flights?


I flew from the U.S. to Tokyo and back for little more than the cost of an average domestic ticket. 

And now, so can you, to get to China(!).

So, What’s The Deal?

For much of February and March 2019 (and a bit of April), you can fly from the U.S. to Shanghai or Beijing for…

Under  $400 round-trip.

That’s not for a specific date, and it’s definitely not an error fare. Look at the Google Flights chart for round-trip fares from Pittsburgh to Shanghai:

Pittsburgh Shanghai

The fares are real. And they’re spectacular.

Furthermore, these fares are not on budget airlines (like when I took WOW Air to Paris for $300 round-trip). You don’t need to spend some of the flight serving drinks to other passengers or hawking duty-free items.

Though you can if you’d like.

See for yourself. Here’s an example PIT-to-Shanghai search in March:

Pittsburgh to Shanghai Flight Examples

Air Canada, United, Delta, American… these are full-service carriers, babyyyyyyyyy. With the meals and free bags and everything.

So, what’s going on here?

As far as I can tell, these too-good-to-be-true-but-indeed-they-are-true fares started with Air Canada.

These fares started to pop up in late December as part of an Air Canada sale. I checked it on Google Flights every couple of days to see if the cost would shoot back up. It still hasn’t.

And it’s not just out of Pittsburgh. I see similarly-cheap fares to Beijing and Shanghai from cities like:

  • Austin
  • Boston
  • Baltimore
  • Cleveland
  • Cincinnati
  • Columbus
  • Hartford
  • Indianapolis
  • Milwaukee
  • Nashville
  • Philadelphia
  • Pittsburgh
  • St. Louis

The common denominator? All of these cities have Air Canada flights to Toronto, opening up the connection to China. (I searched other cities that don’t have an Air Canada flight. The $400 deal was not there.)

Shanghai, China

The city more formally known as Shang-Hello (Photo: Peter K Burian/Creative Commons)

A few days after I saw the Air Canada fares, Delta started matching them. Then United. Then American.

As I write this, the big 3 U.S. airlines are competing to get your butt into a seat to China for Spring Break, seemingly because Air Canada started it.

While most of the flights are on your standard Boeing 777, Delta is flying its flagship A350 from Detroit to Beijing and Shanghai, and it looks NOICE. 

How It Works!

How Do-Goodery Works
Delta Airbus A350

Is it just me, or does the front of this A350 look like a raccoon? (Photo: Alex J. Berliner/ABImages)

Should I book it?

Should you book it? Brother, that’s the same question I’m asking myself.

In no particular order, here’s what has stopped me from jumping on this fare.

  1. Will I be able to get the time off to spend at least a week in China?
  2. What’s that 15-hour flight going to be like?
  3. Can I afford everything around the awesome fare (e.g. hotels, spending money, visa)?
  4. If I go by myself, will I get buy with no more Mandarin than a friendly nǐ hǎo?
  5. Who can I trust to keep my apartment as messy and unkempt as it is now?

Concerns abound.

You may be asking yourself a lot of the same questions, especially #5 if you’re as slovenly as ol’ JimJam.

But, oh the possibilities.

Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony

If you go to Beijing, they may put on another Olympic Opening Ceremony just for you! (Photo: papparazzi/Creative Commons)

Seeing China always seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But it doesn’t need to be! Getting over there for only $200 would definitely take the pressure off from feeling like I need to pack in all the sites. I’m sure I’ll make it back at some point.

Beijing is a city with incredible history. Shanghai feels like the future (and hey, it has a Disneyland too!). And I can fly to either of those places for around the same fare as a flight to Cheyenne, Wyoming.

(No knock on Cheyenne. But when you search it on Google Images, the fourth image that pops up is actually Calgary.)

Take it from quarter-life crisis James, who decided to book that flight to Tokyo on his birthday because the deal was just too good. If you have always dreamed of visiting China, check Google Flights for yourself. Then book it.

If the deal is gone by the time you’re reading this, just be on the lookout for the next one.

As for me, I’ll just be hovering over this “BOOK NOW” button a little while longer.