Relaxed Visa Rules for Beijing & Shanghai Starting January 1st – Up To 72 Hours Visa Free Transit

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There has been quite a bit of news lately about the relaxed transit visa rules for Beijing and Shanghai starting on January 1, 2013. Up until now, residents of certain 45 countries could have had 24 hours transit in Beijing and 48 hour transit in Shanghai without need to have a visa.

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First, Beijing announced that visitors could stay in Beijing for up to 72 hours starting on January 1st when they are in transit to a third country.

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Then, Shanghai announced few days later that they are upping the transit time to 72 hours as well.

Thing to note here is that we are talking about TRANSIT. Neither Beijing or Shanghai should be your final destination. You must be en route to some other destinations and rather have a stopover of less than 72 hours at either of these two cities. You are not allowed to visit other Chinese cities during this visa free transit time.

The countries that are included in this 45 country list are:

Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Japan, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, United Kingdom and United States.

You can always use the Star Alliance’s Timatic service to check the entry requirements. This is the same system that is used by airline employees to check the entry requirements. I wrote a piece about it earlier this year.

china-transit-visa-beijing

Make sure that you have a blank page on your passport for the visa free entry stamp. Here’s a stamp that I got in Beijing a week ago when I was just transiting.

Conclusion

This is a welcomed change for those that regularly visit China. You can spend up to 72 hours in either Shanghai or Beijing.  Requirement that you must be in transit to a third country is bit cumbersome, but can easily get around it.

What is The Best Hotel Rewards Program?

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That is quite a question, isn’t it? I have received quite a few emails this year asking this very same question and I totally understand why.

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Getting a status and maintaining it with any of the hotel programs (or number of) is laborious process and you may sometimes think that the grass is greener on the other side.

Here’s what I have decided to do.

For the next five days, I will write an article per day about the positives and negatives of each of the major five hotel programs; Hilton HHonors, Hyatt Gold Passport, Marriott Rewards, Starwood Preferred Guest, and Priority Club/(Royal) Ambassador program.

Then, I will tell you what my personal preference is based on my stay and redemption patterns. You may or may not agree with me.

Conclusion

Check back tomorrow for my take on Hilton HHonors.

PointsHound 100 Free Miles Update: Seems to Be Posting Just Fine

On October 29, I wrote about a new hotel booking engine PointsHound that awards frequent flier miles for bookings. For getting new members to sign up, the site was (and still is) offering 100 free Delta, United, Hawaiian, or AeroMexico miles to sign up for their service (no purchase required).

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I did the sign up on that date and the 100 free miles posted to my United account on September 4.

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If you haven’t signed up for the service yet and would like to receive the free miles, it would probably be the right time.

This is an excellent way to extend the validity of the miles that is trickered by any account activity. Also, you never know when even a small amount like 100 miles can come handy.

Conclusion

Very easy way to collect 100 miles and doesn’t even require purchase. Just for registering to their website is enough. You may want to have a look at their hotel booking engine at the same time as well.

Last Minute Travel Club & Last Minute Travel

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Last week, I wrote a piece about Last Minute Travel Club (LMTC) that appeared to offer very nice discounts on chain hotels. The only drawback was that it requires you to join their club that normally sells for $49.99, but you can get it for free most of the time. They have another promotion for a free membership going on again.

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Their pricing really intrigues  me as it is so low at times compared to branded websites that it borderline makes no sense.

Here are examples from Hilton, Hyatt, Marriott & Starwood

Hilton, Hyatt and Starwood are for one night arriving on November 16. The Marriott property is for arriving on 20th for one night.

Hilton New Orleans Riverside $72.64 VS $224

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Hyatt Regency New Orleans $72.96 VS $146.30

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W New Orleans $164.08 VS $219

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Ritz-Carlton New Orleans $128.79 VS $249

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LMTC also has a “conventional” non-members website LastMinuteTravel.com. They do have some of these deals there as well, but they cannot display the name of the hotel and the price is bit higher. The hotels that they name are about the same price that you can find on other websites.

last-minute-travel

For the hotels that they cannot show the name, they give the above explanation.

They must have access to opaque prices for these hotels, but they are not allowed to display the name of the hotel.  It seems that they can get around this limitation by advertising their own club that requires a membership fee, but is essentially free to join. Once you have joined the club, they can display the lower prices and names of the hotels.

If you look at the prices for the hotels above and compare what they are going for on Priceline (betterbidding and biddingfortravel), LMTC is very close to the Priceline pricing. But why would you go the Priceline route if you can get the same price and confirmation about the hotel instantaneously?

Why hotels offer “opaque” pricing?

Hotels want to maximize the revenue they get in. It is difficult to offer much differentiated pricing on the branded website i.e. Hilton.com. If you have a higher price first and then start lowering it a lot, people who booked and maybe prepaid may get dissatisfied.

Also, if you would see Ritz-Carlton on Marriott.com for $129 it might “cheapen” the brand. People would expect to get it at the same price in the future.

Hotels can dump excess inventory and at the same time not lower their headline pricing by going the Priceline/Hotwire route.

Conclusion

The Last Minute Travel Club appears to work best in the markets that have excess inventory at times like New Orleans. I have always had very good luck with Priceline for booking hotels in the city even when the prices are “high”. Now, I can also check the prices on LMTC and be sure about the hotel that I will get as you can get instant confirmation.

Note that LMTC has some hotels that are on request i.e. the opaque inventory has been exhausted/not available, but they can send a request to the hotel.

Last Minute Travel Club – Significant Savings at Times?

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There are lots of options for booking hotels online. Most of the travel sites are selling the same inventory and prices are quite uniform. Sometimes opaque sites likes Hotwire and Priceline can offer significant savings, but you cannot be sure about the property.

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Last Minute Travel Club requires you to become their member in order to search for prices. Luckily, they have continuous promotions for free membership that would otherwise cost $49.99. You can access the current free sign up offer here.

Some of the prices that the Last Minute Travel Club (LMTC) offers are truly low. On the Burbank Marriott example below, their price is about half of the AAA rate that you can find on Marriott.com and third of the best flexible rate on the same site.

Note that some of the prices are “on request” meaning that they are not able to confirm your reservation online. According to the information on LMTC, they will get back to you in 48 hours during which the hotel should have either accepted or rejected the reservation.

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All their prices are prepaid and you cannot access them unless you become a member. Some of these prices would have offered a great BRG opportunity (Best Rate Guarantee) with hotel chains, but you cannot use LMTC for that purpose as you need to become a member first.

Here are three examples about their pricing.

Burbank Marriott

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The lowest price on Marriott.com is AAA rate of $169.

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The price on LMTC is $101.24

InterContinental Bali

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The price with breakfast is $267 on brand website.

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LMTC “On Request” price is $224.40.

W Montreal

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The price on spg.com is 359 CAD.

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LMTC has an instant confirmation price of $221.63.

Conclusion

Some of the prices on LMTC are really low. I am not sure what inventory they have access to that would enable them to offer some of the hotels at such a low prices.

Lot of the inventory that is displayed are Travelodges etc. but there are quite a few Marriott, InterContinental Hotels Group, and Starwood properties as well.

I can see myself checking out the prices on LMTC once in a while when I don’t otherwise have access to an acceptable price. Some of the chains do honor the elite benefits even on third party stays like the ones booked through LMTC.  It is unfortunate that you cannot price match to LMTC due to their “membership” set up.

Would You Stay at “Ikea” Budget Designer Hotel?

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Ikea has been hugely successful discount furniture chain. I go to Ikea few times a year to eat at their food court the Swedish meatballs and to visit the small Scandinavian food selection to pick up some knäckebröd or näkkileipä as we call this bread in Finland.

IKEA Opening Budget Designer Hotel Chain
IKEA Opening Budget Designer Hotel Chain

Now, Ikea is pushing into budget designer hotels and planning to open 100 locations in Europe in the next few years according to the Financial Times. They are looking for an established hotel operator to manage the chain for them. These hotels would neither carry the Ikea name nor furniture, but would rather be a financial real estate investment for them.

It is interesting to see how this is going to develop. The only discount “designer” hotel chain that comes to my mind is the Starwood’s Aloft, which is the “vision of W hotels” according to their branding.

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