anyone used China Spree Tours?

Apr 7th, 2008, 01:05 PM
  #1  
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anyone used China Spree Tours?

Has anyone ever used China Spree Tours - they seem to stay in better hotels and more centrally located than the other company i was looking at - Help!
flycatcher06 is offline  
Apr 8th, 2008, 07:40 AM
  #2  
 
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My wife and I used China Spree in April of 2007 and I can honestly say that I doubt that any other company could have done what they did for the same money. The hotels were all at least four star, the meals very good and plentiful although fourteen days of Chinese food was challenging. The itinerary was well planned out and the guides excellent. Wilson Wu is the owner and a pleasure to deal with.China Spree requires a cash payment ( no credit card) and some people were concerned about this but the company is very stable and there is no reason to worry about this. If you go to Frommers travel talk you will be able to read at least 200 threads on this company all of which are positive!
twelveoaks is offline  
Apr 8th, 2008, 07:51 AM
  #3  
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Thank you - did you venture off on your own at any point and any tips you could share - I was also worried about the long flight because it looks like you do not get seat assignments until you get to the airport.

Their hotels look much nicer than the other tour we are looking at and also they look more central so that you can walk to things - is this true?

Any help would be greatly appreciated! THANKS
flycatcher06 is offline  
Apr 8th, 2008, 08:02 AM
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The itinerary is so full that you will have very little time on your own. You will be going from eight am until eight pm every day. As far as money there are ATMs readily available and you can also use credit cards and travelers checks although travelers checks are the least best choice as the Chinese are paranoid about counterfit checks and their own currency. You are correct about seat assignments so you should get to the airport about four hours prior to your flight and even then you will not be alone. Air China is a very good airline.China Spree uses both national and local tour guides but only provides national guides to groups of about eleven or more so you may want to work with Wilson Wu on that. When you call China Spree you will get an asian women who is hard to understand so I always asked to have Wilson call me back which he did quickly. He is very busy but very pleasant and concerned about pleasing the customer. Again, go to Frommers travel talk and read all of the reviews.Have fun. You will enjoy China Spree. I have used travel companies to Egypt, Turkey, Italy, etc. and China Spree was as good as the best of them.
twelveoaks is offline  
Apr 8th, 2008, 03:26 PM
  #5  
 
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One more thought about money. First, if you go with China Spree you won't need much as virtually everything is included in the cost of the trip but a word of caution that at times the ATMs in China are out of money so I would convert a couple hundred USD to Yuan at the Beijing airport if you can.
twelveoaks is offline  
Apr 8th, 2008, 06:29 PM
  #6  
 
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> I can honestly say that I doubt that any other company could have done what they did for the same money.

This is a claim made by very many people who have only taken one trip to China with one tour company. Clearly they cannot all be right, and very clearly none of them have had any experience of real costs in China. Independent travel is considerably cheaper than tour group travel. That's of no interest of course if you prefer to take a group tour, but all claims of providing better value for money by bottom end tour companies in China are bogus.

Everything you need to know about the mind-set of China Spree can be found on its 'Know Before You Go' advice page:

>Tour Director: $2.5 per person per day
Local guide: $2 per person per day
Coach driver: $1 per person per day
Porters : $0.5 per person per day

There is no tipping in China except that forced by this kind of sleight of hand on hapless tour group members, and it has become common practice by apparently low-cost companies to appear to charge a low price but slip in these extras through the back door.

So expect to have your pocket picked for a further $100 or so per person effectively delivering a monthly income that's stratospheric in Chinese terms and utterly inappropriate (assuming all the money actually reaches the parties listed). Details of other 'gratuities' are promised in the materials you receive once you've booked.

This is good, too:

> Since your China Tour Director will accompany you throughout the trip, and is responsible directly to you, you may choose to give all gratuities to your China Tour Director entrusting him/her dispense them along the way on your behalf.

And how much of this do think will actually trickle down even supposing tipping were appropriate in the first place?

And:

> A supply of one dollar bills is very handy when shopping with street vendors.

If you haven't already become convinced that you are going to be ripped off, then this positively offensive advice should clinch it. The currency of China is the ¥RMB, at currently around 7 to the US$. The US$ is not legal tender in China and anyone willing to take it is someone specifically aiming to rip-off naive foreign visitors and get enough $1 bills to make collecting them worth their while. Even supposing this was a proper activity, what would be the point of reducing the flexibility of your bargaining power by a factor of 7? There's no special black market higher exchange value to a single US$1 bill for heaven's sake. What on earth do you think is going on here?

Finally:

> Purchasing an item in the area where it is "noted for" has proven to be the best value. Your China Tour Director and local guides will be glad to assist you with detailed shopping orientation.

That is to say they will encourage you to shop at places giving them the largest kick-back, and their advice on price will be bearing that in mind.

Dealing with the Chinese tour industry, which is quite jaw-droppingly corrupt, needs great caution. Restaurant and hotel choices are made according to the kick-back given rather than what's best for the traveller, and food is at best unexceptional, and often poor (although those not familiar real Chinese food often don't notice--it comes in such variety that 'challenging' is unlikely to be the word used.) Free time is restricted partly to ensure that your expenditure all goes to vendors with which the company has a relationship.

Not all tour companies try to cheat you on tips, and some keep their shopping stops (a major source of income) to a minimum. Ask questions on tipping policy, shopping stops, free time, and the provision of a foreign tour manager who keeps an eye on things, and be prepared to pay more for the companies that give the right answers. Sit out the shopping stops (these are the very last places you should shop), abandon some of the evening meals and using advice from guide books or here set out to find some of your own.

Bear in mind when looking at Frommer's board that it is very poorly moderated indeed, and that a great deal of what is posted there is nothing but concealed advertising by tour company employees.

Peter N-H
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Apr 9th, 2008, 06:03 AM
  #7  
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Thank you so much 12 oaks for all your helpful information. We re looking at the November2, 12 Middle Kingdom Tour is anyone else looking at that with China Spree?

I m worried about the seats as we will be coming from Boston so i am not sure how much time we will have in NY before the flight but I have enough time to talk myself into going with the flow!!!

Did you bring anything for the kindergarten class or the teacher?

Thank you
flycatcher06 is offline  
May 8th, 2008, 04:13 PM
  #8  
 
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I don't really agree with much of what Peter N-H says, though his cynical nature appeals to me. Maybe I'm a sap, but I didn't feel at all ripped off by ChinaSpree.

We travel all over the world on our own... usually 4 weeks over the summer. We never, EVER, thought we would take a tour. But I took a vacation from vacation planning (I get really OCD about the planning) last year. About a month before summer, my husband was clearly unhappy about staying local. Someone mentioned China-- it was too late to plan-- and Chinaspree was so very cheap that we just thought we'd try it.

Ok. It's a tour. They do not give you time to breathe deeply and just enjoy where you are standing, but we got to see the highlights in 15 days. I believe we flew 5 times within the country... it's obviously too huge to see the major historic sights without flying here and there. Each time we flew, I thought to myself, "If I miss my plane-- it's not my problem." There's lots of good relaxation in those words!!

The hotels were mostly fantastic and way above our usual standards. The guides were amazing in each area. Our national guide was just a doll. I think we were lucky, because there were only 10 of us in the group. Very, very personal attention.

The food was usually really bad. Think below average neighborhood Chinese restaurant in smalltown USA. That was our only real complaint.

I thought that the guides worked really hard for the "tips" which probably was actually their salary. The tour was so inexpensive, that I assumed they did not pay the guides, but gave them the tips instead.. or something in-between.

I had heard that in order for tour groups to be licensed, they need to stop at the government shops. But... Maybe they are just making extra money, but few of us bought goods, sometimes it was vaguely interesting, and we usually got in and out in under an hour. It happened about every 2 or 3 days. It just gave us something to laugh about.

The stack of dollars thing is weird... but we had some dollars and it was sometimes handy. Street vendors (with the fake olympics goods, etc.) loved the dollar bills.


We will not be running out to take another tour until we're too old to run 100yards for the trains... but we had such a wonderful experience on the tour. I know we didn't see the "real" china, but we saw so many amazing sights! It comforted us that we might not hate hate hate tours when we are too old to do it all alone.

kawh

kawh is offline  
May 8th, 2008, 08:28 PM
  #9  
 
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Other than the deviation into commenting on another poster's 'nature', rather than sticking to the facts of the case, there doesn't in fact seem to be disagreement here. The remarks on Chinese tour companies were not cynical, but merely a description of the reality, as was extensively admitted to be the case:

There was a massive rip-off with 'tips'

There were shopping stops (at which no doubt tour group members who did shop were massively overcharged)

There were shenanigans with US$1 bills

The food was bad.

The salesmanship on these tours is slick, and they are sold to people who for the most part have no knowledge of how China works, and are presented in terms adapted to (in this case) American views of how things are done (the national obsession with tipping and the universal power of the almighty dollar being two fine examples). So no one is suggesting that anyone is a 'sap' for having fallen for the pitch. The tours are also designed to keep you busy and seal you within a bubble that preserves the view of how things are done that suits the company. So many come home very satisfied, loaded with overpriced souvenirs, having tipped the equivalent of a month's salary or more, completely unaware of what has been practised upon them, and more than happy to recommend their experience to others.

The point is to make sure that others thinking of taking tours fully understand what they are getting into, and that they realise that even if they choose to take the rough of the rip-offs with the smooth of the price (which won't turn out to be the true price, however), knowingly travelling with a company (whichever company) guilty of misrepresentation from the start, they are willing parties to fraud.

As mentioned briefly earlier, when weighing up which company to travel with it's best to ask questions *before* making a down payment, including:

What is the tipping policy? There is no tipping in China, and yet the budget operators in particular will do everything they can to persuade you there is, and heavy pressure is often brought to bear to make sure you pay what, if there truly was tipping in China, should be an entirely variable and indeed optional sum. Better tour companies manage to avoid this problem or at least to keep it under control. Any sum you find you have no option but to pay should simply be added to the quoted tour price.

How many shopping stops will there be? Not all companies will actually tell you a truthful answer of course. With some it's one a day or more. With others none at all.

Will there be a foreign tour manager? It's always a good idea if there is, and worth paying more for.

If they do advise bringing US$1 bills, just blow very large raspberries and shop elsewhere.

Be most cautious of the companies with the rock-bottom prices, whose tours are entirely kick-back driven, and that have many hidden costs. The sweeter your guide is the more cautious you should be (of course they work hard--the money's fantastic!--but just about everyone else in China in fact works harder in less favourable conditions for a fraction of the same income), and you should never take advice on shopping or the 'right' price.

In short, walk into this with your eyes open, and not your wallet.

Peter N-H
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