The holiday season can be a stressful time: Just think about all the money spent on travel and gifts. In the US, shoppers can use layaway to buy toys and electronics at big-box stores. In China, millennials are increasingly turning to installment plans to pay for air and train tickets, too.

It’s hard enough to snatch a ticket during Chinese New Year, with hundreds of millions of people all traveling at the same time. But even for those who manage to grab one, tickets don’t exactly come cheap. One-way travel from Beijing to the southern city of Guangzhou on a high-speed train costs around US$130. That’s roughly 15% of the average monthly pay for a college graduate.

Travelers at the Hengyang Railway Station in central China's Hunan Province during the 2018 Lunar New Year travel rush. (Picture: Xinhua/Cao Zhengping)

One delivery driver, aged under 30, told state broadcaster CCTV that he spent nearly 10,000 yuan (US$1,484) buying tickets for his whole family: His wife, parents, and three children. His solution? Spread the cost using Alipay.

This Lunar New Year, the Alibaba payment app let users split their train tickets into three interest-free installments.

(Abacus is a unit of the South China Morning Post, which is owned by Alibaba.)

Another app called Fenqile, or Happy Installment, provides a 12-month installment plan for air tickets. A white collar worker in Shenzhen told Economic Daily she’s paying for her US$445 ticket back home in monthly installments of US$19.

But layaways aren’t just for the holidays. Fenqile also offers payment plans for apartments and cars, as well as much cheaper products like snacks and makeup. Two pounds of Snickers candy can be paid for at 79 US cents a month for three years. There’s even a limited Fenqile edition of the DJI Mavic 2 Zoom drone that sold for around US$1,180 in 15 monthly installments of US$78.

Unlike the Lunar New Year deals though, some of these loans aren’t interest-free. It may feel more affordable to come up with less than a dollar every month instead of paying US$19 in one go. But that also translates to a heavy annual interest rate of 28%.

Still, there’s no lack of interested users. As of September, Fenqile boasts 32.6 million registered users. Around 30% have taken loans through the app.