Create your JSON string like this:
$data = [ 'plan_id' => $planID, 'start_time' => $startTime, 'application_context' => [ 'brand_name' => 'Sleep Happy Mattress', 'locale' => 'en-US', 'shipping_preference' => 'SET_PROVIDED_ADDRESS', 'user_action' => 'SUBSCRIBE_NOW', 'payment_method' => [ 'payer_selected' => 'PAYPAL', 'payee_preferred' => 'IMMEDIATE_PAYMENT_REQUIRED' ], 'return_url' => 'https://example.com/returnUrl', 'cancel_url' => 'https://example.com/cancelUrl' ], ];
Then you can check that the nesting etc is correct (please note I don't know if the above is correct, I just copied it from your question), and if you
json_encode it you will create well-formed JSON.
$jsonEncoded = json_encode($data);
Do not specify nor include a
start_time, unless you want problems with amounts not showing in checkout.
Your problem is you did not keep quotes around the variable values, which is necessary for JSON string syntax. Observe:
Using json_encode() to construct your string from an array object would be better.
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