Chinese airline's group-buying flight is latest example of 'tuangou fever'

A Chinese airline is to offer a flight sold only to social media users, the latest symptom of China's group-buying craze.

Air China said this week that it will launch the flight from Beijing to Xi'an on July 1, marketing it through June on the popular Chinese microblogging site Sina.

The promotional flight, which Air China has named the "V-Flight", will only run if enough people sign up to purchase a seat on the flight between June 1 and June 15.

The airline says that a minimum of 150 Sina Microblog users must have signed up by June 15, each paying 680 RMB (€72), if the flight is to depart - it will announce the total number of seat purchases three days after the deadline.

Uniquely, Sina Microblog users can also select the members of the cabin crew members they'd like on-board, as well as the meal options to be served in-flight.

"As a tailor-made product based on the unique characteristics of Sina Microblog, the launch of the new 'V-flight' is a great innovation of Air China's in the new media era; and the first time we have customized a product based on Sina Microblog," said a spokesperson for Air China.

The flight itself is timed to coincide with the Xi'an International Horticultural Expo, a massive gardening show which runs through October 22 in the city (

China Airlines' group-buying experiment isn't unprecedented in the aviation world - KLM ran its own high-profile campaign to persuade visitors to '#fly2miami' on a specially-chartered music flight in March.

However, it's another example of a travel brand leveraging the popularity of group-buying, a practice known as tuangou in China, where it is hugely popular and becoming even more so with the rise of the internet.

Chinese travel site announced its entry into the group-buying market last month, promising prices 30 to 80 percent cheaper than usual.

In a further sign that traditional online travel retailers are beginning to evolve their business models, travel giant Expedia announced a partnership with discount voucher provider Groupon this week, to offer discounts of around 50 percent on travel products for members signed up to the limited-time deals.