Having unsuccessfully attempted to contact the top executives at America’s several leading tour operators to China, I’ve concluded that they are all on the way to China to learn how they can reduce the prices of a trip there even below current levels. A representative for one such company indicated that this was, in fact, the case. China’s recent devaluation of its currency, the yuan, has led to predictions that a tour to China, which already is one of the world’s least-expensive travel destinations for Americans, soon will become cheaper. All this is in line with the obvious effort by the Chinese government to increase its export industries (with incoming travel being the same as an export).
The several companies to which I refer, starting with the least expensive and going up from there, are: ChinaSpree.com, ChinaFocusTravel.com, RitzTours.com and PacificDelightTours.com. Though the last two charge considerably more than the first two, their rates still are modest when compared with those of ultra-deluxe arrangements elsewhere, which are the kind of tour features in which Ritz and Pacific Delight specialize.
For the time being, ChinaSpree.com offers the least-expensive travel options to China. From October 2015 until March 2016, on numerous travel dates, it charges as little as $888 for a six-night stay in Beijing, including round-trip airfare from San Francisco, a good hotel with breakfast daily, for six nights, and numerous sightseeing tours, including one to the Great Wall. The cost with airfare from New York City, is only $80 per person more. When you consider the distance flown from the U.S. to Beijing, that $888-$968 is nothing short of a travel miracle.
It used to be that my second named company, China Focus (headquartered in San Francisco), was the price leader to China, offering such stunning, mouth-dropping rates as ChinaSpree now does. But just a short while ago, it apparently decided to remove itself from the ultra-bargain category, by increasing its prices by $200-$300 or so. Still, it is now second in the “price sweepstakes,” and its lead product is a 10-night stay in China, going to Beijing, Xian (site of the terra cotta warriors) and Shanghai for as little as $1,999 per person in November, March and April, including round-trip air from San Francisco, air from Beijing to Xian, air from Xian to Shanghai, and 10 nights’ hotel with breakfast daily in first-class properties that it claims are unusually high in quality,
Based solely on its prices, without regard to whether its hotels are markedly inferior to those on other programs, China Spree remains the bargain leader. Its “Timeless Beijing” program, as earlier noted, costs an astonishing $888 to $968 in November through March, including round-trip air between San Francisco or Los Angeles and Beijing on Air China. Participants also receive six nights of accommodations at a four-star hotel in Beijing, a full American buffet breakfast daily, three lunches and a number of sightseeing tours. Passengers flying from New York City to Beijing pay $80 more. Considering what you get for that off-season outlay of $888 to $968, this probably is the most value-packed tour program in travel today.
China Spree also offers a seven-night stay in China called “A Tale of China’s Two Great Cities” (three nights of accommodations in Beijing, four nights in Shanghai), for $999 to $1,149 per person, again including round-trip air from San Francisco/Los Angeles and air between Beijing and Shanghai, breakfast daily, three lunches and a number of escorted sightseeing tours. And finally, emulating China Focus, China Spree offers a 10-night stay in Beijing, Xian and Shanghai in January through April for $1,499 to $1,899 per person, including airfare, which is just a few hundred dollars less than what China Focus charges for a similar itinerary and features (but different hotels).
All of these prices are several hundred dollars cheaper than what is charged by Ritz Tours and Pacific Delight Tours, for more-luxurious arrangements. Opting for the bargain rates of China Spree and China Focus, you'll want to carefully examine the write-ups and claims on their Internet sites.
But you really should consider them. If you have not yet been to China, you shouldn’t pass up these opportunities (which might be cheaper than living at home). Although the Chinese devaluation was fixed at only 4.4 percent, it is possible that a deeper dip may soon happen. And it is even more probable that the Chinese authorities will make it worth the while of the four tour operators I’ve named to either extend the dates on which the bargain prices are offered, or include more features within those rates.
For the time being, and undoubtedly into the future, China is the top bargain in travel.
Note to the reader: Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip. The information in this column was accurate when it was released, but prices are competitive, sometimes limited and can always change without notice.
Arthur Frommer is the founder of the Frommer’s Travel Guide book series. Find more destinations and read his blog at frommers.com.