Travel agent for travel within China?

Old Aug 20th, 2003, 08:49 PM
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Travel agent for travel within China?

There are some pretty good fares to Hong Kong from the US, so I'm OK getting to Hong Kong. But when I research intra-China airfares (e.g., to get from Guangzhou, where I'm going for business, to Shanghai or Beijing), the fares seem awfully high. There must be local travel agents or consolidators in the US who have access to cheap fares within China. Any suggestions anyone? Optimally I want to go from Guangzhou, to Beijing, to Shanghai, and back to Guangzhou.
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Old Aug 20th, 2003, 09:56 PM
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Although there 'must be', I'm afraid there aren't. The system loves to take foreigners for a ride, and in addition to charging you the full published fare (which almost no one in China ever pays) you may have to pay a mark-up. Some of the on-line agents (who should be avoided) even have Web pages with lower prices for Chinese than they do for foreigners. In China itself discounts are the norm, and you'll get the same price as everyone else. You must just do what everyone else does, and buy just before you fly (or, at least buy within China itself). As long as you are not planning to fly out of Guangzhou right at the end of one of the two major exhibition periods, this should present no problem at all.

To get the best fares once in mainland China (you cannot get good deals on mainland fares in Hong Kong either):

Talk to a ticket agent rather than the airline

Whatever first price you are given, ask for a discount (as all Chinese do--you'll almost always get one of between 10% and 40% of the published fare, sometimes more)

Stick to agents away from your hotel. I happened to be buying a ticket from Guangzhou late last year, and the agent inside my five-star hotel swore that she could get nothing lower than about 10% off the ticket, but at an agent next to the railway station, I got 30% off

Try and book a few days in advance. Although that's not essential, it increases your chance of getting a good price. But I've had 40% knocked off a flight leaving three hours later before now

Book your flight from Guangzhou in Guangzhou, from Beijing in Beijing, etc., in order to get the best prices.

There are plenty of flights between these cities and with a choice of airlines. There's very little chance of you encountering any difficulties.

I've only bought tickets from Guangzhou once, but the best price I found after enquiring at half a dozen agencies was (surprisingly) from CITS (020/8669-0179) to the right of the main railway station as you face it. This branch is unusually helpful, with some English spoken.

In Beijing, despite being close to the Jianguo Hotel (between the hotel and McDonald's), Airtrans (010/6595-2255) has the best prices I've found anywhere central.

In Shanghai, just go into any agent away from your hotel, two or three if you can, and always (as with those above) ask politely for a discount. There's nothing like walking out regretfully to get you the lowest price.

Peter N-H
http://members.axion.net/~pnh/China.html
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Old Aug 27th, 2003, 02:14 PM
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Peter,

Thanks for the great advice. Maybe what I'll do is get cancellable hotel reservations for 4 nights in Hong Kong, after my two days at the Canton Fair Phase I. When I train from HK to Guangzhou, I'll check the travel agent you mentioned for tickets to Shanghai or Beijing. If I can't get a good price (esp. since it will be Fair time), I'll just go back to Hong Kong until Phase II of the Fair.

You said I should buy each segment separately in each city, but is it cheaper to buy a R/T ticket?
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Old Aug 27th, 2003, 03:57 PM
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The period of the fair forces prices for just about everything up as far away as Hong Kong. But even the full price of a flight from Guangzhou to Beijing isn't a huge sum, should you have to pay it. You can't by a return ticket exactly because you discussed a circular route: Guangzhou to Beijing to Shanghai to Guangzhou again. Return tickets are always double the one-way price, so there's no financial benefit in buying one, but yes, if you were flying Guangzhou-Beijing-Guangzhou you'll get a good price in Guangzhou for the round trip. You could have all these legs put onto a single ticket for convenience but usually the Guangzhou agent cannot give you as good a price for flights from other cities as he can from Guangzhou, and the same applies to Beijing and Shanghai agents with flights from their own cities. If you are flying at the time of the fair, you'd be better to buy your next ticket in Beijing, away from the fair's inflationary effect, even if you buy Beijing-Shanghai-Guangzhou when there. Don't forget that there are many airlines, and while probably (I haven't looked) Air China could do all of that route, you usually have a chance for better prices by being flexible as to which domestic airline you are on.

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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 12:54 PM
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Peter,

Thanks for the continuing advice. When you say the even the full-fare price of a CAN-PEK ticket isn't a huge sum, I guess it's all relative. Online, the cheaper r/t fare I can find is $422, but I'm paying only $520 for SFO-HKG, so on a per-hour/distance basis, the intra-China flight is something like 5x as expensive. I'm concerned that whatever air fare savings I might get for waiting until I get to China might be more than offset by high last minute hotel costs. Do the Chinese travel agents who can offer the cheap airline ticket also offer great deals at nice hotels? Or do hotel rooms in China often become scarce?
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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 01:46 PM
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Guangzhou's fair is a special case. In general, for most of the year, for most of China, there is a substantial oversupply of hotel rooms at every level. On-line agents NEVER have better prices than you can get for yourself, although they either lie outright or misrepresent the situation to try and demonstrate they have fantastic discounts, and agents on the ground will often do this, too. Any discount they offer on a Chinese hotel you can beat. Any discount they offer on a Sino-foreign joint-venture hotel is usually fictitious, in the sense that you'll either find the same price for yourself on the hotel's own Web site, or they are not offering like with like. For instance, at the moment, there appears to be on some booking Web sites cheaper rooms at The Palace in Beijing than can be found on the hotel's Web site. But The Palace's policy is to have the cheapest publicly available price on it's own site. The apparently lower price on the Chinese booking site is for a lower grade of room, at a lower level in the building, not yet completely refurbished, and at a rate open only to local residents (Chinese or foreign) with the paperwork to prove it.

If you're on the ground in China, make a call to the hotel yourself, although again, you'll often find a cheaper price on the hotel's Web site. Unless demand is particularly high, you can often slightly undercut the Web price for that day over the counter. But don't forget that the better hotels are managing their prices with great care, and some link their inventory database directly to their Web sites. Prices can vary hourly at some, according to demand. Unless demand is particularly high, they tend to drop nearer the time, as inventory looks like going bad on the shelves. On the day walk-in prices are often the best you'll get. But then, that particular hotel may have no rooms left...

October is fairly busy in Beijing and Shanghai because the first week is a national holiday, and October is a fairly popular month for foreign visitors (although the numbers of these are negligible compared to Chinese travellers). If you must book in advance (and the convenience of not having to put your head round the door of two or three different places is the main reason to do so) go straight to Sino-foreign joint-venture hotels' Web sites. If you want to stay in a Chinese-run hotel, you are far better not to book in advance at all. You'll always pay a great deal less over the counter at the hotel.

There's plenty of pleasant, straightforward, clean, unsophisticated, centrally-located accommodation in Beijing and Shanghai for under $40 or so, even in October. So unless you insist on familiar names with four or five stars, you shouldn't worry about hotel prices.

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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 01:55 PM
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So it sounds like you're saying I can get the best rates by going to the hotel's website and bypassing local travel agents or online travel sites. How do I figure out whether a hotel is a Sino-foreign joint venture?

Any advice on getting cheap rates for hotels in Hong Kong?
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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 02:25 PM
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For advance bookings with joint-ventures, yes: Their own Web site is usually the best rate, often called a 'Web rate'. Although it's supposed to be an 'insider tip' that a direct call to the property is better, for serious upmarket multi-property hotels, with sensible yield management, it's increasingly the case that the Web rate will be the lowest you'll get in advance (and often better than the 1-800 call centre, either).

For joint-venture names look in guide books. Look for familiar names--Hyatt, Hilton, Holiday Inn, Sheraton, etc. are all in Beijing and Shanghai, not that all of them are any good. Add to that Asia luxury names you may not be familiar with, mostly Hong Kong companies: Shangri-La, Marco Polo, Harbour Plaza, etc.

Booking a hotel in Hong Kong is largely like booking anywhere else in the West. See what you can find on the Web sites.

Peter N-H
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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 03:13 PM
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Though my experience is limited to the foreign chains (what Peter refers to as sino-foreign JV's) like Hyatt, St. Regis, Sheraton, etc., I've never found an online travel agency offering lower rates than the hotel directly. Calling the hotel can sometimes produce a lower rate than using the hotel chain's web or 800 number. A recent call to the Hyatt Shanghai produced a rate that was about $80 lower than what was available at hyatt.com. Normally I don't think the difference is that great but they were sold out of standard rooms for those dates and the website was only showing availability for club floor rooms.
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Old Aug 28th, 2003, 03:29 PM
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Just to clarify, the room that the hotel offered was the same club floor room as on the hyatt.com site. A direct call couldn't produce a standard room either in this case.
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Old Oct 1st, 2012, 03:17 PM
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In preparation for our December trip, I came across this old thread. Have the last 9 years changed anything, in Beijing especially, or does this advice still ring true? It's a bit nerve-wracking to think about a trip without reservations/tickets in hand but I'll go through a lot to save some money! Those who have been to China recently: would it be wise to get a room for night #1 and then fly by the seat of our pants for the rest of the two weeks? (we'll be getting there on Dec. 26th)
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Old Oct 1st, 2012, 03:22 PM
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Please start a new thread rather than posting on this 2003 thread. Note that there have been literally hundreds of threads about traveling to China since this ancient post. And yes, things have changed in China in 9 years, just like they have everywhere else.
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Old Oct 1st, 2012, 08:13 PM
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Why Kathie? It has great advice and these people may no longer be around to say the same thing over and over again. And as far as the info I want goes, this is by far the most informative thing I've found in the travel advice forums. Telling me things have changed doesn't really answer my question on whether the advice in this thread is still valid or not, so your sarcasm is not exactly helpful in discussing travel. Why post at all if you're not interested in sharing helpful advice with fellow travelers?

Sorry if I'm not up to date on forum etiquette but I don't see the point in starting a new thread when the information in this one seems so well thought-out, and especially when my question pertains directly to this issue, as I have heard some of this advice many times and would like to know the validity of following it now.
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Old Oct 6th, 2012, 08:47 PM
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In China what was true in 2003 is totally irrelevant in 2012. It is like reading advice from 50 years ago in a western country. Everything changes super fast.
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Old Oct 7th, 2012, 07:03 PM
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Hi, partmtn -

From what I've read, some things have changed quite a lot since this once very informative thread.

For example, booking for rail tickets has apparently changed dramatically in the last couple of years, so you can now book in advance without being in the city from which you plan to depart. I've read about that on this board, but can't direct you to a specific thread. I encourage you to search. JPDeM may have been the poster.

When I travelled in northern China in 2010, I believe it was still the case that one saved on Chinese hotels by showing up and negotiating. I did, in fact, successfully negotiate my room rate several times. But doing so entailed some adventures. I was NOT looking to stay at western-style hotels while in China, and as I recall, negotiation was not an option (or at least was rarely one) at them at that time, though I can't say for sure. If you are certain that you are not going to stay at western-style hotels and are willing to step outside your comfort zone for the possible (but not guaranteed) price savings (and the experience), it is probably an option. But check on-line booking options first - things in China are changing, and you may have some reasonably priced options that weren't available even a few years ago.

As for tour guides, while many people enjoy them, I think you will find that you can generally manage without them if that is your preference.

If you search this board, you will find trip reports by several of us who have travelled independently, without travel agents and generally without guides. If you haven't already seen it, you might find my report helpful - I went in 2010, booked all but my first few nights after reaching China, and used guides only rarely. And I had a trip that far exceeded my expectations and hopes! Just click on my screen name and then click on my trip report.

Hope this information helps!
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