With 14 nonstop routes now available from seven U.S. cities (Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C.), travelers are booking flights in record numbers. Last year, passenger traffic between North America and China jumped by 20 percent, and that number continues to grow.

Best New Routes

In 2007, United introduced a 13 1/2-hour Washington, D.C.-to-Beijing route; in March, Delta started the 15 1/2-hour Atlanta-to-Shanghai flight; and this summer, Hainan Airlines (China’s fourth-largest) launched Seattle to Beijing, with an 11 1/2-hour flight time. More options are on the way in 2009: Chicago to Beijing (American Airlines); Newark to Shanghai (Continental Airlines); and Detroit to Shanghai (Northwest Airlines).

Where to Find Value

If you’re willing to forgo customer service for considerable savings, consolidators are a good choice; economy seats are often discounted an average of 10 percent below fares found on search engines like Expedia and Orbitz. Finding a reputable consolidator can be a challenge, since most advertise only in Chinese newspapers, if at all, and business is generally conducted solely over the phone. The best option we found: FlyChina.com, a website that includes deals found via consolidators and other sources, as well as customer support via phone.

Airpass Advice

If you plan on taking domestic flights within China, save money by using the new Star Alliance China Airpass (staralliance.com). With the Airpass, you can use any Alliance-member airline, such as United, for the international leg and then transfer to either Air China or Shanghai Airlines for domestic flights. Best of all, the pass lets you rebook your internal segments at any time—without penalty.