I hope that spring is treating you well. It’s been absolutely beautiful here in Portland, OR. Truly, there’s nothing like the seasonal changes here in the Pacific Northwest.
We are taking a moment to relax after getting back from our 10 day adventure in China and I wanted to tell you all about it. This trip was quite an adventure so I will be writing multiple blog posts to give each leg it’s respective review.
First up, I wanted to tell you how we came across the opportunity to take this trip on Groupon. Below I will tell you all about the purchasing process and the true cost. Then stayed tuned in the next couple of weeks for details on the actual trip itself!
Did you know that Groupon hosts travel deals from a ton of national and international agencies!? It’s probably one of my favorite things to peruse on Groupon and you can get some great deals. Just go to Groupon and click the “Getaway” link from the menu.
Even before looking at Groupon we have both always wanted to go to China, but it is expensive and the logistics can be complicated (more on that part later). So Erik (the husband) was scrollin’ and trollin’ – as he so loving refers to his internet lurkings – and came across a 10 day trip to China on Groupon. I almost couldn’t believe it when he told me that the 10 day trip, including flights, hotels and most meals was only $999 per person. Like, what??
I told him to jump on that ASAP and we bought it the day that the deal expired. Now, I would recommend doing a little bit more research on the country you’re going to before just buying a trip there on a whim, but it all worked out in the end.
Once you purchase the trip Groupon sends you an email with the website you need to go to to officially reserve your spot on the trip. The window to submit your reservation and provide your passport details is really short, I want to say a couple of days, but as long as you have your passport handy you can fill everything out.
Rewards Travel China
Our particular trip was hosted by the Chinese travel company Rewards Travel China and the office assisting us with our reservation was actually out of Ontario, Canada.
Groupon sent us a link to reserve our trip with Rewards Travel China and we went on their site to follow the instructions and set up our trip. You will just need your passport at this point of the process.
We went to the site, picked our travel dates and entered our passport information. As we got toward the bottom of the reservation details we were asked if wanted Visa assistance. Visa assistance? Yea, China requires a Visa for leisure travel, so keep that in mind if you’re planning to make a trip there at some point. We went ahead and bought the Visa assistance ($158 each) and moved along with the reservation.
We were asked if we wanted to book any additional tours at this point. With only a vague understanding of the itinerary we decided not to book any tours at that point. And do not feel obligated to book them at this point. You will have several more opportunities to book them as well as the option to pay for them while you’re in China.
We submitted our reservations and then waited to be contacted by Rewards Travel China to move forward with the rest of the process.
The Visa Process
Rewards Travel China contacted us within a couple days of our reservation submission and gave us some details on the Visa process and what they needed from us. They told us that their Visa assistance (which we already paid for) could only be used if you were flying to China on a Chinese airline. The catch is that they book all of your flights a couple weeks before your trip, so how are you supposed to know that?
They told us our other options were to work with their partner, CIBC to get a Visa or go directly through the consulate. With only 7 weeks until our trip we were nervous that if we weren’t on a Chinese airline we wouldn’t be able to use their assistance and then it would be too late to get Visas on our own. So we decided to get a refund from Rewards for the $158 each we already paid and work with their Visa partner, CIBC, to get our Visas.
I would say that this was the most frustrating part of our experience with Rewards Travel China. How were they to expect us to wait until two weeks before our trip to see if they booked us on a Chinese airline? With that amount of time left we wouldn’t have been able to get a Visa on our own. Surely this would be an issue with every reservation they get so I couldn’t understand why they weren’t more helpful. That’s why we decided to move forward with getting our own Visas.
The benefit to getting our own Visa’s is that they are valid for 10 years, whereas the group Visa that Rewards would help with was only valid for the 10 day trip. The downside with these is that they were more expensive. A typical Tourist Visa, purchased through the Chinese Embassy in America, is $140. The problem for us what that these take up to 6 weeks to get back and we were at exactly the 6 week mark. We didn’t want to chance having our passports getting delayed and missing our trip.
We chose to get our Visas though the partner, CIBC, because they took most of the hassle out of the process and they did it all really fast. I sent in our paperwork on a Thursday and we had our passports with Visas back in hand by the next Wednesday. Super fast! However this ended up costing around $600. The price was not made clear to us ahead of time, but we paid for the convenience and assurance that we would have our travel documentation on time. Honestly there was a lot of paperwork required and it got overwhelming so I was more than accepting of the help.
Once we got to China we found out that most every other group had chosen the group visa option from Rewards (the $158/person option) and they had no issues. Some people even booked their trips about the same time that we did. Honestly if you pay and wait you shouldn’t have any issues with Rewards doing the group Visa for you.
Once we had our Visas in hand it was time to wait. Rewards Travel China sent us the preliminary confirmation and additional package options about two weeks before our date of departure. At this point there were options to upgrade our tickets to first class for a cool $3,000 each (no thanks), to have seat selection for $140 and to add on tours before leaving.
We did choose to pay $140 so that we could pick our seats and sit next to each other. The catch here was that you don’t really get to pick your seats. You just tell Rewards that you want a window and middle next to each other and they pick them for you. You can probably get away with not paying this and just make sure you’re sitting next to each other when you check in, but we wanted the peace of mind to sit by each other on the 11 hour flight.
They never asked us about dietary restrictions for in flight meals, but once we knew our airline I did my own research. We were flying on Hainan Airlines and they have a vegetarian, no egg, no dairy option. Woo! I just emailed our contact at Rewards Travel China to ask that we get this meal plan and they got it taken care of, no issues. I will say that the food wasn’t good (I mean it’s airplane food) so maybe just pack something good or at least some snacks for the flight.
About one week before we left we got our final confirmation with flight and hotel information. All we had to do was make it through the week, pack our bags, remember our Visas and get on the plane. You are allowed to take 2 pieces of checked luggage (1 piece each) and additional carry ons with you.
If you have any last minute questions or concerns make sure to contact Rewards now because they won’t be able to do much once you’re in the airport.
A couple days before we left they gave us the option to book the entire tour package for $400/person. If you’re wanting to do most of the tours this is your opportunity to snag them at a discount. We didn’t purchase the tours at this point because we thought that we would have more free time to do some things on the list, but we really didn’t. I recommend just getting the full tour package at this point. It’s the best offer.
If you wait to get tours when you get there you will just pay face value for each tour. Still not a bad option and you can pick and choose which tours you go on. Sometimes if you don’t do a tour you might be stuck on the bus (lame) or you might end up having free time. Either way it’s only any hour or so. In my posts to come I will give recommendations for which tours I recommend that you join in on.
The final cost of the trip for two, excluding some meals and souvenir money, is $2,783. That’s a great deal for flights, hotels, breakfast, lunch and tours for 10 days!
Some things to consider. The rooms are booked on a double (two person) occupancy and if you book to go solo it costs more. It’s dumb, but that’s the way it is. Another thing to consider is that there will be an extra cost if the Groupon doesn’t leave from your home airport. They typically leave out of major airports like LAX, SEA, etc. We got lucky and ours was leaving from PDX so we didn’t have the additional expense of the connecting flight.
Other expenses will include dinner and souvenir shopping. All of our breakfasts and lunches were included with our trip.
Review of Purchasing Process
The purchasing process was fairly smooth. Rewards Travel China communicated all of the steps to us during the process. My only complaint is that they are very hard to get ahold of. They never reply to emails (a complaint I also read on other reviews) and it’s hard to get someone on the phone. We had three different people handling our account so there must have been a lot of turnover. They were still able to pull through and get all of our requests handled and got us on the plane.
Purchasing a trip from Groupon was pretty easy. You just buy it from them and confirm with the travel agency that is hosting the trip. Super simple! And you get a great deal. Just the hotels alone for 10 days would have been over $1,000 so the value is amazing.
I hope that this review of the trip purchasing process was helpful. If you have any additional questions please leave me a comment below.
Stay tuned for the reviews of the rest of our journey in China!
Review of Days 5-10 on the trip