Destination unknown: cheap ‘blind box’ plane tickets become trendy choice for travel in China
Published: Apr 14, 2021 11:03 AM
destination blind box. Photo: Sina Weibo

"destination blind box". Photo: Sina Weibo

A promotion offering 98 yuan ($15) domestic plane tickets is being advertised by Chinese online travel platform LY.COM. While such a low price sounds amazing, there is just one catch: The purchaser is not told where the flight is heading, nor when it will take off. 

The promotion has become a trending topic on Chinese social media as some netizens have been attempting to book them ahead of the upcoming May Day holiday, which is expected to be a major travel period now that travel restrictions in China have almost completely lifted. 

Labeled as a "destination blind box" on the site, tickets are purchased through a rather hassle-less booking procedure, in which passengers provide their travel information, select a departure airport and then pay their 98 yuan. If the randomly chosen date and destination are unsuitable, users may ask for a refund, but once they "lock in" their tickets, there is no going back. 

"Plane ticket blind box" is now a hot topic on China's online platforms such as Little Red Book, a lifestyle-sharing online app, and Douyin, the Chinese regional version of TikTok. 

"I believe young people are a big target demographic for this promotion, because they not only enjoy the thrill of the unknown, but also like to show off their lives through these types of commercial activities. Like this one for instance, it doesn't matter if they finally go or not, booking a ticket and posting about it on social media can still suggest that one has "adventurous" and "life-loving" qualities. That's why it is on Little Red Book, a lifestyle-sharing community," said Fan, a marketing expert who has worked with civil aviation clients, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Many netizens not only shared the screenshots of tickets they drew, some even came up with a tutorial to teach the booking procedure under the free cancelling policy. Some others claimed it is too rare to draw a ticket that is ideal.  

"If it wants to be a profitable activity, the release of the tickets must have been planned ahead and is not as random as it seems. It will not have popular airlines. The marketing campaign may also be aimed at the fast sale of some tickets from less popular airlines that were originally not that expensive. If they sell a large quantity of tickets, the company may still earn a profit even though the price is 98 yuan," an expert in tourism told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

Similar campaigns have been introduced before, such as a controversial special package called "Wild Your Weekends" that allowed passengers to book an unlimited number of domestic flights to most cities in the Chinese mainland within a specified period. The service was launched by several major airlines such as China Eastern Airlines in 2020, but it soon became the target of criticism as passengers complained about issues such as frequently canceled flights and "poor ticket changing and canceling services."  

"Though it is odd, I take a risk for fun for the holidays. And I don't have to go somewhere special, I'm excited to see just what I will get for my May Day holiday in the post-pandemic period when life has returned to normal," Qin, a resident of Wuhan, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

A previous promotion was launched by LY.COM close to the three-day Qingming Festival holiday in April. The next promotional event is set for late April, almost a week before the upcoming May Day holiday.