Beijing bound!

On Tuesday evening, I plugged in my phone and went to bed early – like, grandpa early.  I hadn’t slept well for the past few nights and was extremely tired.  Then, as I was close to drifting off, my wife mentioned that my phone was making noises – people were Tweeting and texting me.  Curious, I shuffled downstairs to find my phone and see what was up.  I discovered that I had posted a Quick Deal regarding a $450-ish mistake fare on American Airlines in business class from DC to Beijing!  That woke me up!

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OK, obviously I hadn’t posted this deal myself.  One of the advantages of having Shawn Coomer on the team is that he lives in the Pacific time zone and so can cover what are, to me, late night deals (I live in Ann Arbor Michigan which, despite popular belief, is in the Eastern time zone).  Anyway, some were already reporting the deal dead, but I tried it anyway. I found several dates via Google Flights that were listed in the Flights calendar at around $450 and would work with my schedule, but when I selected those flights, the listed price rose dramatically.  Finally I found one that still showed a low price on Google Flights, but when I clicked through to book on AA.com I got an error message.  Then, I tried the same dates directly on AA.com, and it worked!  I had the option of putting the flight on hold or booking right away.  I booked it because I wasn’t sure AA would honor the on-hold reservations.  In total, I booked a round trip business class flight to Beijing for only $462.

It turned out that AA did in fact cancel most on-hold reservations.  So, it was good that I paid to book the ticket right away.  A smarter approach would have been to book the flight through an online travel agency (e.g. Orbitz, Expedia, etc.) because that would have made it possible to cancel within 24 hours, if needed.  In my case, I felt lucky that I got the fare to come up at all on aa.com and so I didn’t want to risk messing around with another web site.

Flight to Beijing

Map courtesy of Great Circle Mapper (gcmap.com)

In addition to the $462 for the ticket, I will, of course, also have to pay to position to DC for the flight, and for transportation and lodging in Beijing.  Overall, it is only a three day trip and I’ll only have one full day in China to be a tourist.  I’m hoping to find a good private or semi-private tour guide who can help me make the most of that one day.  I’ve heard that China has a good… no… great wall somewhere around there. Hopefully I’ll be able to go take a look.  And, I’ll need a visa too. Fortunately, China visas are now good for 10 years, so I expect to get good value from it beyond this one trip.

The flight I booked routes through Chicago and should net a total of 14,382 elite qualifying miles (EQMs) round-trip.  As to redeemable miles, I’ll earn a 100% bonus thanks to my elite status, plus a 50% bonus for flying business class, plus bonus miles for paid premium class tickets.  The last leg of my trip (Chicago to DC) was booked in coach, so it’s a bit tricky to work out the details, but I think I’ll earn around 43,000 redeemable miles (43,149 if my math was correct).  I’ll also earn 50% extra elite qualifying points (EQPs) on the premium legs.  These are different than elite qualifying miles in that the amount earned varies depending upon fare class.  Anyway, the extra EQPs could possibly open another route to top tier status, but only if I purchase a lot of premium or full fares this year.  Discount economy fares earn 100% EQMs, but only 50% EQPs.  Either way, it is necessary to earn 100,000 EQMs or EQPs in one year to reach or maintain Executive Platinum status.

AA_elite_requirements

In the post “10 Things You Need To Know About American’s Business Class Fare To Beijing,” Lucky answered all of the questions I could think of about these flights including “What kind of a business class product does American have to Beijing?”  The answer is that they fly 777-200s with crappy old-style 2-3-2 seating.  This means that, unlike most modern business class products, these seats neither lie fully flat nor do they offer all passengers direct aisle access (which means that either you or your neighbor may have to climb over the other to get to the bathroom).  Of course, it would still be leaps and bounds better than economy so I’m sure I’ll survive Smile.  That said, first class has lie flat seating and direct aisle access.  So, as soon as I receive my AA systemwide upgrade certs in a few weeks, I’ll call to see if I can apply two of them to these flights.

Do you remember my post, “Top tier AA status secured. Now what?” where I debated whether or not to chase top tier AA status for 2016?  Yeah, I decided.  I’m going for it.

Reader input

I’m curious who else got in on this great deal?  And, for those who know Beijing well, I’d love to hear recommendations for my two night and one day trip.  Where should I stay?  What should I definitely not miss?  Do you recommend a particular tour guide?  Please comment below.  Thanks!

About Greg The Frequent Miler

Greg is the owner, founder, and primary author of the Frequent Miler. He earns millions of points and miles each year, mostly without flying, and dedicates this blog to teaching others how to do the same.

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  1. I similarly had one day as a tourist in Beijing left over from a business trip. We (colleague and I) hired a great guide and driver. We started the morning at Tiananmen Square, toured the Forbidden City, then headed out to the Great Wall, stopping for lunch and a quick tour of a jade factory along the way. The Great Wall is one of those things that vastly exceeded my expectations. Truly awe-inspiring. On the way back, we stopped for a tea tasting somewhere near the Bird’s Nest Olympic site, and viewed (but did not tour) that as well. It was a long but really fun and interesting day.

  2. Greg, contact Stefan at rapid travel chai. He hooked us up with a great English speaking guide named Jenny that we used on both trips to Beijing.

    Sorry I no longer have her contact info but Stefan will

    Rick

  3. To me, this is the epitome of miles and points absurdity. You’re patting yourself on the back for getting a great “deal” on a flight to Beijing. But you’re only spending one full day there and then turning right back around. I don’t care how low the fare is, that’s a terrible deal (unless you’re a business traveller who happened to need to fly on those exact dates anyway). You’d have to pay me to make that trip worth my time.

    Also, consider this: because of this “deal,” you shoehorned yourself into a trip that nets you 1 full day in China. So, that’s $450 per full day in China (more, actually, since you also have to pay to get to DC). Had you booked a trip at your leisure, with dates and times that actually work for a real vacation, you might spend 10 full days in China, while paying, say, $1,500 for the ticket. That works out to $150 per full day, plus the opportunity to actually enjoy yourself while you’re there.

    This really falls under the “I just wanted a great ‘deal’ even if it’s not a great ‘deal’ for my circumstances” category.

    • Lon, getting almost 15k Elite Qualifying Miles and almost 35k Redeemable Miles for less than $500 is a great deal for those who value Elite Status and those who are our miles/points hobby.

      I already know I won’t have enough ‘real reason’ flying this year on AA to re-qualify for AA Plat for 2016. This would have been an awesome Mileage Run for anyone.. especially in Business. I had the itinerary all done on my screen but my work and family life would not allow me 3 days away during the week… so I had to pass.. but for the rest who took up this bargain.. who am I or you to judge? Good for them.. have fun is all i can say.

    • @Lon,
      You’re missing the point. I would have booked this trip even if I didn’t have any time at all to spend in China. I’m doing it primarily for the miles and status and because I enjoy flying. The fact that I’ll have a full day to sight see is a great bonus. I do wish I would have more time there, but I have little doubt that I’ll have other opportunities in the future.

      • But don’t you see the absurdity of doing this? I mean, nobody really enjoys flying as such. It is necessary to get somewhere, but even in a premium cabin it is never an enjoyable experience, it is just less bad than in economy. Let’s face it, you can have a better dinner at any average restaurant on the ground, and even a first class seat is about as comfortable for sleeping as a bunk bed in a youth hostel’s dorm room. So I don’t see why anyone would get excited about a three day trip to Beijing; I would literally pay for NOT having to fly your routing. But I guess at the end of the day some people just have different tastes…

        • Well, I guess I’m different in that I definitely have enjoyed flying premium cabins. But, yes, I understand how this would look absurd to many people. I’m OK with that!

  4. Is Redbird website down? I’m unable to login even after resetting my password. Password reset is successful but login fails.

      • Had the same problem. Called RedBird customer assistance. They couldn’t figure it out. They gave me a new password and that didn’t work. Then, late yesterday afternoon everything started working again. Go figure! Bill U

  5. I’m glad you were able to stumble into this great deal — although, as your story indicates, the circumstances did not lend themselves to well-thought out, carefully planned itineraries. 🙂

    I think the big story here, though, will be AA’s so-far refusal to honor all the “guaranteed” (but not ticketed) reservations on its website. The gov’t allows AA to NOT give customers 24-hours to changed their minds on ticketed reservations in exchange for offering guaranteed holds. Now we know that guarantee means nothing. It will be interesting to see what the DOT says.

  6. I’d say a day trip to the great wall is definitely in order! It was my favorite part of my trip. The most visited section is the Badaling, but I’d recommend a through hike of a section. These are a ton less crowded and you get to see more of the wall, and usually include sections of “wild wall” which are unrestored sections of the wall.

  7. Peking Duck! Yelp a good restaurant and try it, is super delicious. Of course everyone goes to the Forbidden City and you must go, but if you have time, the Summer Palace is also gorgeous, but for different reasons.

  8. Congrats on the fare Greg, for hotels you might consider the Hilton Wangfujing which is well located, good breakfast for golds, first night you could go to Donghuamen night market and see weird food stalls, Da Dong is nearby which I can recommend for Peking Duck. Grand Hyatt is also nearby, haven’t been, Park Hyatt which I have been has nice rooms but not near any tourist sites.

    Wangfujing has shopping nearby and Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City are walkable or short taxi away. A guide is probably a good idea for limited time, Badaling section of Great Wall is nearest although touristy. If time I like the Temple of Heaven- Hall of Harvest, also back lake district is nice. If your guide can take you to an interesting hutong or old alley district it could be nice as they are quickly being bulldozed for new construction.

    Have fun!

  9. I second the recommendation for the Hilton Wangfujing. The location is great for sightseeing, either on foot or via subway (the station is a block or two away). Hotel was pretty nice too and I was treated wonderfully as a Gold when I stayed there a few years ago. Definitely go for Peking Duck, my Chinese colleagues took me to a place called Quanjude which has a location in Wangfujing (although I’ve also heard good things about Da Dong).

  10. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt… about a 15 minute walk to Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City + they have one of the best restaurants in the city for Peking Duck (make a reservation well ahead of time). We were there for 4 days last April, so Club rooms were really nice. Not sure it is worth it for one day.

    We found a driver/tour guide via FlyerTalk… Simon who took us to The Great Wall, then dropped us off at The Summer Palace.

    If I was you, I would book with Simon to pick me up early. He got us at something like 7AM, which gets you to The Wall before the crowds. Have him bring you back & drop you off at the Hyatt. He took us to a place for lunch on the way back. You could just grab something from a vendor at the wall to save time.

    Back at the hotel…. walk to Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City from the hotel in the afternoon. Come back to the hotel for a Peking Duck dinner. There is a night market not far from the hotel. You could wander around there after dinner.

    Before your flight home, get up very, very early to get a good spot across from Tiananmen Square to watch the flag raising.

    The “Groovy Map ‘n’ Guide Beijing” by Aaron Frankel was priceless. I got it on Amazon.

    Very, very comfortable walking shoes are a MUST.

    Have fun! I hope AA lets you keep the flight.

  11. When I worked in Beijing and some exec came in and we all looked at each other for who would be the designated tour guide, the one we generally enjoyed most, and guests enjoyed most for the variety, is the Summer Palace. The city is big and traffic so awful, even with subways, that you can only cram in so much and have to make tough choices.

  12. Our flight to Beijing was Saturday. The seats were absolutely fine – marvelous even. The food was surprisingly edible. We slept great. Only issues were the AA agents at DCA and the online support who swore there was no 72 hour transit without visa – almost didn’t let us board. And the pollution is atrocious – the scale maxed out at 500 but it was 995 on Monday.

  13. When are you going to PEK? My flight is May 11th. I did the #30Ktonowhere and now I’m going to read on your 1.2MM Necker Island challenge. 🙂

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