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China Domestic Flights - Cheaper to wait until in China to book?

China Domestic Flights - Cheaper to wait until in China to book?

Jan 9th, 2010, 01:25 PM
  #1  
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China Domestic Flights - Cheaper to wait until in China to book?

Hi, My husband and I are traveling to China in March. we are doing a couple days in Beijing then train to Xi'an for a couple days. We want to fly to Chengdu for a couple days and then fly back to Beijing to catch our flight home to the US. I was planning on having the hotel concierge help with the train tickets but I am stumped on what to do for the domestic flights.

I have read a bunch about buying tickets for domestic flights but I am getting confused. Is it cheaper to buy the tickets now through a website like Ctrip.com or wait until we arrive in Beijing to book the airfare through a travel agent? (As of today the two flights for the two of us totals $440.00 USD which is not bad but if we can save a buck or two..)
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Jan 9th, 2010, 02:36 PM
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Yes, it is cheaper to buy the air tickets in China. If your timing is right, then the price with Ctrip may be little different, although it is frequently possible to undercut that site, and simply booking with a local agent avoids problems sometimes encountered with the Chinese on-line agencies, namely bait-and-switch, problems with using foreign credit cards, and difficulties with refunds, all frequently documented.

But right now your timing certainly isn't right. Ctrip actually doesn't know what the price of tickets is going to really drop to in March, but does its business partly with people who simply won't adapt to how things work in China, where no one buys this far in advance, and in fact most purchases are very much last-minute (even walk-up purchase is very common). True discounts won't even start appearing until about three weeks before the flights, and if you are buying two or three days in advance your chances of getting a substantial discount on the (entirely notional) full price are very high, and your chances of meeting difficulties very low. March is not a busy period and there are plenty of flights between these cities. Generally speaking, the best prices for flights are found in the cities from which they depart.

As for train tickets, you also want to work with a local agency, although that might include one in your hotel (although in general, and for air tickets, you should be a little sceptical if you are staying in up-market hotels, and look to shop away from them). If an agency has the railway system's logo on display (look also for characters 火车票) then chances are it has a terminal on the railways' system, and the ticket issuing fee will be merely ¥5. If you want to use someone at the hotel to run around for you and get the tickets, then don't pay more than about ¥20 per ticket, ¥30 if the journey you're purchasing starts within the area of the local railway bureau, but not from the city where you are purchasing it.

Peter N-H
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Jan 9th, 2010, 03:27 PM
  #3  
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Peter, your answer was exactly what I was looking for. Thank you, thank you very much. We will wait and enjoy the adventure.

Same question but for hotels? Any suggestions? I am a bit apprehensive about showing up at a hotel and bargaining for a room after a long flight so I want to book the Beijing hotel from here (US). Shi Jia House has caught my eye...would you recommend contacting them directly? (I do not speak Chinese.)
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Jan 9th, 2010, 04:59 PM
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I don't know this property, but it seems to be part of a new wave of courtyard conversions/rebuilds/creations-from-scratch targeting the deeper-pocketed, and it is normally possible to undercut the rates quoted in this many quite dramatically. You can try calling--there should be someone who speaks at least a little English--but doing so in English may not produce the same results as having someone call in Mandarin. Try it, and simply be firm and polite in asking for a discount, and in a manner which suggests there obviously will be one. This is exactly how booking conversations usually go in China, where at Chinese-run hotels is it very rare to pay the published rate, which is more of a positioning statement than a genuine expectation of revenue.

Peter N-H
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Jan 10th, 2010, 10:15 AM
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Thanks again, bargaining is new to me but I am excited to figure it all out. It won't "ruin my life" if I don't get the absolute lowest price, I just don't want to pay the most if I don't have to. I have a co-worker that is Chinese...maybe I will ask her to call this place for me and see how it is done...humm.

I couldn't tell from your response if you were a fan of the courtyard conversions...please point me in the right direction...the courtyard hotel seemed to give a bit of the Chinese "experience" with the western goodies I want (en suite bathroom). I started stumbling upon these courtyard style places because the more we travel the more we prefer smaller hotels/renting apartments/homes/B&B's. (They are often cheaper too!) Our goal is to pay under 100USD a night in a place with some character and still get a clean room with an en suite bathroom. Do you have any recommendations?

One more thing, just to clarify my question, would you wait to get to Beijing using the travel agent to book the hotels in Xi'an and Chengdu or just show up where I want to stay when we get there and try my hand at bargaining?

BTW, looking forward to your hutong walking tour email!!

Thanks, thanks, thanks,
Chantale
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Jan 10th, 2010, 03:00 PM
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> I couldn't tell from your response if you were a fan of the courtyard conversions...

In larger terms, yes. While I like a comfortable hotel as much as anyone else, I'm not sure why I'd come to China to pay Western prices to stay in an hotel that's doing its best (never with 100% success) to be anything but Chinese. The new breed of courtyard hotels (really a recent expansion of something that's been available for at least 15 years) at least offer a certain Chinese flavour, even if that is an odd mixture of pretending-to-be-old-but-made-in-Shunde-yesterday fittings and the latest unconsidered fad in global hotel interior design (e.g. bowl basin), and a fictitious promotion of a supposedly glorious past. Better to be down at hutong level rather than locked away in a modern tower, yet not without the ability to shut out and take a rest from the usual Beijing bedlam.

What I object to is that the latest rush (over 30 of these places) seem to have a 'me too' business model selling ersatz (but still enjoyable) Chinese charm to foreigners for prices they don't need to pay. It is standard procedure to ask for a discount at Chinese-run hotels, and indeed one is often offered even before you ask (so you ask nicely for a deeper one). Chinese know this, but foreigners will often pay the price on the website or brochure. As a result these prices get fatter and fatter, and the 'discounts' (which are really just the real market price) get deeper and deeper for those who ask. The same forces are at play as the are a markets where you bargain for souvenirs.

> One more thing, just to clarify my question, would you wait to get to Beijing using the travel agent to book the hotels in Xi'an and Chengdu or just show up where I want to stay when we get there and try my hand at bargaining?

If you want to pay a fair price, most certainly the latter. If you can't bear to wait, and want to pay something close to a fair price, then use a Chinese on-line booking engine such as Ctrip. There are drawbacks to this, but you can also learn what price you should be aiming for yourself, and, in fact, to beat.

As evidence in support of the account of pricing above, I quickly chose some random March dates and looked up Shi Jia's prices on Ctrip. A standard room that's supposed to be ¥4588 can be had for ¥1000. The purpose of having a rack rate so high, and one which no one will ever pay, is simply to make the 'offer' rate of less than one quarter of that look good value, and you don't have to go through anyone else to get that rate (or better) yourself.

As for other properties in this line, this one is only half the price (and that's *before* you ask for a discount):

http://www.jihousecn.com

But please don't let everyone flock to this particular one. Look around! What's Google for? There's lots of choice in this area with new properties opening all the time and the current pressure on prices is significantly downwards.

Peter N-H
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Jan 15th, 2010, 01:18 AM
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Just as working example on the hotel bargaining business, I went into one hotel of sprawling tastelessness today, which wanted ¥4000 for its deluxe room (which actually has, believe it or not, gold-plated bath taps) but immediately offered it for ¥1530, which means that probably a still lower price might be obtained. That's US$508 down to US$198, or a (notional) discount of over 70%.
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Jan 19th, 2010, 06:39 PM
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Chant:

Just had a look at the Shijia: Brief notes because I'm in a hurry.

The place is on a courtyard scale and occupies a courtyard site but the buildings are new (this is commonplace) and perhaps do well not to mimic the old buildings as many do. Rooms are pretty much as pictures, with wooden floors, modern bathrooms, traditional (newly made) furniture, free wireless and wired wi-fi, breakfast not included, no English TV channels (except the awful CCTV9, but who cares?). Foreign credit cards are accepted. No restaurant. Only 7 rooms. A standard room (no bath, but modern glass-walled shower cubicle), which Ctrip imagines sometimes costs Y4588, but offers for Y1000, I easily obtained for Y800 without trying, so a further 25% off, and there's no reason to believe that price won't be obtainable in March, too. Breakfast is overpriced (I expect) at Y88, but there are plenty of places in the surrounding hutong. Shi Jia Hutong is largely redeveloped, but central and only a short walk from Deng Shi Kou metro stop.

Certainly the attempt to get you to commit cash up front arises from the small number of rooms.

The same owner is opening a new hotel opposite from March, which has a full-scale restaurant and bar. Not all rooms will be available, and there'll probably be a bit of construction, but if the Shi Jia was full this wouldn't be a bad choice, depending on what prices it offers. Modern (and up to four storeys) but fitted out in much the same style (I saw three partly-completed rooms). They were speculating that a nice little place with a sitting room downstairs and bedroom upstairs might be Y1500, but there's absolutely no way in the early weeks of opening, when no one even knows the place exists, that that price cannot be substantially bargained down.

In contrast I stopped in at another courtyard place just off Wangfujing and their standard room, not as glitzy as the Shi Jia, is currently down from Y1000 to Y480 including breakfast. That's the Qingyuan, home of a famous Qing minister, and now belonging to the YWCA (http://www.ywcagardenhotel.com.cn).

Peter N-H
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Jan 23rd, 2010, 09:36 AM
  #9  
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Peter, again you amaze me with your knowledge and your thoughtfulness to respond with the tips. Thank you.
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