China for $299–Is It Worth It?
You may have seen the ads or gotten the links in travel emails like TravelZoo. China, all inclusive, for $299 from New York or Los Angeles. It sounds too good to be true.
I took the bait, and this is what I found.
It’s true. Flights, hotels, breakfast/lunch, entrance to parks, English-speaking guides, and lots and lots and lots of salesmanship. It’s like the time-share model. They get you there cheap, and once you sit through the sales pitch, you get to go play. The China for $299 deal is no different.
The Fine Print
The fine print. There isn’t any. Really. It truly is $299.
For us, it was more like $599. We were flying from Denver and routed through Vancouver, so we had to pay an additional add-on. We could have flown from JFK or LAX and used our mileage points to get domestic tickets, but we flew out on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving…and getting a free flight on that date is impossible. So, we paid the extra $300.
We also had to buy Chinese visas. They were about $140 a piece. Thus, out of pocket our $299 Chinese trip cost about $740 each. Add in a few meals that weren’t covered by the trip, and the total cost was about $800 each for a 10-day trip that included flights, transfers, transit, hotels, breakfast/lunch, entry fees, and guides.
What to Expect on $299 China Trip
Here’s what to expect. We booked our trip through Nexus Holidays.
We were met at the Beijing airport with a sign. Because we were the first couple to arrive, we had a private car to the hotel. Others were in a bus.
Group size was 42.
All the hotels were western style and nice. Beds were hard. Showers hot. Rooms clean.
Breakfasts were at the hotel buffet and were extensive. They served eggs, grains, cereals, fresh veggies, salad, sweets, dim sum, seaweed, pickled veggies, gruel, coffee, tea, fruit juices, bacon, potatoes, and other things I couldn’t identify. You will be filled and happy with breakfast.
The bus. A comfy coach with reclining chairs and overhead storage with individual air vents. Bottled water was readily provided. No restrooms.
Each day’s itinerary basically consisted of a cultural event, lunch, and a sales pitch. During the evening, you could attend the optional dinner or have time on your own.
The optional dinner/entertainment was expensive. We found that we could do the same thing as the optional item on our own, but for cheaper and without the crowds. For example, in Shanghai, the optional night was a cruise on the river to see the Bund. We skipped paying $59 each (I’m sure it had food, drinks, and music), and took the Shanghai regional transit ferry for $.50 and saw the same thing. Ditto for the Peking Duck Dinner in Beijing, the canal cruise in Wuzi, and the acrobatic show in Shanghai. If you’re a bit adventurous, do some googling and do the suggested items on your own.
The cultural events are top notch. They included the Forbidden City (if you do this on your own, pay for a guide), the Great Wall, the National Museum, China’s China Town, The Bird Nest, and The Lingering Garden. The tour includes these entry fees and having a guide with you is a benefit.
The sales pitches. Hold on to your seats. While it is interesting to learn how silk, pearls, cloisonné, jade, herbs, and tea are made, the pitches are all formulaic and designed with high pressure for you to buy. They will tell you that you are at the highest quality site for purchasing the items, if you try to buy them elsewhere they could be fake, and you’ll get the best wholesale price. They also remind you that the China Department of Tourism provided you a cheap way to get to China so you’d spend your money there. And people do. Entire busloads would leave the factories with bags and bags of stuff they couldn’t live without.
We didn’t buy anything.
The hubs did buy some green tea, and I did buy a jade ring. We came on this trip to specifically buy those things. But we bought nothing else and readily saw many of the same offerings as we ambled during our free time at dinner. Were they the same quality, etc, as what they had said at the factory? I have no idea.
Lunches were mediocre and often “sponsored” by the factory we visited that day. It was all poorly cooked Chinese food fashioned in the way the Chinese think Americans would enjoy Chinese food. Therefore, it was greasy, fatty, and super salty. Vegetarians choices were overcooked.
Our trip provided an option of taking the high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai for about $79 each. If you didn’t take the train, you were put on a plane to Shanghai. Somehow we got selected for the high speed train–perhaps there was a cancellation or something–and we got to go for free. We really enjoyed it and got to avoid the melee at the airports. We arrived to Shanghai faster and avoided the 2-hour bus ride from the airport to the hotel. If I do this trip again, I’ll pay for this option.
What Not to Miss (What We Really Enjoyed) in China
The things I really enjoyed: The Great Wall, the Lingering Garden, the Magnetic Levitation train (do it on your own for $4), walking the canals in Wuzi, walking around the lake in Hangzhou, the ferry ride in Shanghai along the Bund, Yangping Garden behind the Forbidden City (more interesting and way less crowded), the high speed train ride from Beijing to Shanghai and the City God Temple Bazaar (China’s China Town.)
Recommend $299 China Trip?
Would I do it again? If I wanted to return to China, this would be a good way to do it. But after two trips to Beijing, two to Hong Kong, and one to Shanghai, I think I’m done for now. I would recommend the trip, though, if you haven’t been to China. It’s an easy and cheap way to do a lot of things very easily and without a lot of risk. You do have to say “no” a lot, though. And don’t forget your face mask. The smog is unbelievably bad. Awful.
Thus, is a $299 trip to China worth it. Yes. See above.
Have you been on a $299 China trip? What was your experience?
Footnote: I was able to use Facebook, Google, Instagram, etc, via my Pixel 3 phone and using Google Fi. I had unbelievable service, was not blocked on any websites as long as I was on cell, and only paid $20 for all the data I used for 10 days. See my post about Google Fi in China.
Very thorough blog and straight to the point! I enjoyed reading very much. I’m eyeing the $399 /person deal as others have mentioned, but I have no intention of going along with the entire tour, I actually have family in china and I’m wondering if I can get the package for the cheap flights but go on my own itinerary upon arrival. Do you by chance know of anything like that?
I really don’t know. They keep a pretty tight leash on you, but I don’t know if that means that they would cancel your return flight if you didn’t do the whole tour. If you were’t worried about your return, it might be worth investigating…but I wouldn’t mess with China immigration. They’re pretty strict, starting with the visa process!
Hello Chris /Steve
Good to know your life. It looks alike Ibn Abu Battuta. My question is about the package, UTOvacatin is offering us 399/pp for the China trip. There might be unhidden expenses. Is it safe ? or are they ok. They have other packages for China/Thailand for 16 days trips for 399, I went into (itinerary)detail further, saying pay here and there for extra services. Well, ending up to 1000 dollars /pp, or more. I am going with my family of 4, I am the only man of 77 years. Give me some advice. Thanks/ California
Yes, these packages certainly try to grab you for the add-on stuff. I think what’s important is to remember what you want to do and what you want to pay for. A lot of the extra stuff–like a boat cruise to see the city lights–can easily be done on your own through transit or through a local tour operator at less money. Same with dinner, etc. Using the operator can be convenient, but it won’t be cheap for any of the extras. Use Google to your advantage before you go and research your destinations. I’m sure you’ll be able to find all the add ons at a cheaper price.
I did a similar trip six years ago (May 2016) for $1,700 US for 14 days. We went to the same pearl, silk, jade, and tea stops. That is a given. But the hotels were excellent, the guides knowledgeable and the transportation comfortable.
You will have a 10-11 hour flight from the west coast of the US, which isn’t bad. However, you lose two days from the eight days advertised. My suggestion, if you want to see China, which is amazing in many ways, is to pay a little more and stay longer. By the way, you can get the visa at a much lower cost directly from the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., or through Chinese Consulates throughout the US. You don’t have to pay a company to facilitate this. And, it lasts for 10 years, in case you want to return.
Great advice all around! You can certainly spend a lot more money! Great tips.
Best Greetings to you. I am from California and wanted to go to China with a family of 4. The discounted price of 399.00 pp, Is really worthed or not, it looks like there are hidden expenses, where they are not mentioned here. How safe are the places there? Please advice. Thanks
Hi Helena. Yes, they will certainly try to add on extra things, so be sure to read the fine print. But all of these trips that I’ve seen, they do truly include the air, hotel, etc. Just watch out for the extra dinners, excursions and such. Read the fine print and use google to your advantage. Research the destinations and see if there are other ways to do the things they want to charge you extra for.
Great report. Could you walk around outside or sit on the bus during the shopping trips?
How about the optional trips like the theatre, river cruises. Could you go back to the hotel instead?
Yes, you could sit on the bus or get out and walk around. But if there was a “required” shopping trip, you did have to go inside. The hook was always the lunch was inside. But once you were done with lunch and/or the sales pitch, you could leave and be at the bus at a designated time once the shoppers were finished.
As for the optional trips, it depended on the day. Often there wasn’t time to take the non-participants back to the hotel, and they had to kill time while the participants ate the optional dinners, etc. It was no problem; we just walked around the lake or grabbed our own dinners while everyone ate/enjoyed the optional items.
Awesome blog! Looking forward to the trip.
Was the jade ring expensive?
It was about $85 and included a small 14K X on it (for a kiss.) It was purple jade.
What airline did you fly on with the tour?
Great review. I took a $5000K + trip and heard the same pitches – for pearls, jade, silk, art, etc. (and ate the same bad lunches). This sounds like a deal! Btw, I bought silk comforters while there and have never loved any bedding more. Well worth it and they shipped it back.
So glad this blog helped you; it’d be worth it do to the trip again just to get another set of comforters!
Where did you buy the silk comforters?
I didn’t buy any. It was in Wuxi.
Great travel review!
Thanks so much Leslie!