How I Booked my Family Flights to China for $16 [Travel Cheap]

Recently, my parents wanted to visit Hangzhou and Suzhou. When they were young, they had studied literature that illustrated the beauty in both places. On top of that, there were a lot of rich history in the Cities that were thousands of years old.

In my mind (having been there over 10 years ago), I just thought of a huge lake (West Lake in Hangzhou) and lots of silk factories in Suzhou.

There was also a church they had wanted to support. The church ministry had impacted them over the years with their radio broadcast.

In this post, I discuss how I was able to help my parents and sister travel for cheap to Hangzhou and Suzhou. Total cash spent was less than $1000 which included flight, accommodation, and transportation.

I always start with the big 3 expenses in traveling. To travel for cheap, you’ll need to save on Flights, Accommodation, and Transportation. The better deal you’re able to find for all 3, the more money you’ll be able to save.

Flights:

Flights at the time were around $600 a person. For 3 people, cost would be about $1800. But being the great son I am ;), I got to work on finding a better deal.

I knew my parents had some inventory of miles because I’ve been proactive in telling them which Credit Cards to sign up for.

First, I searched Google Flights, a few travel sites, and then thought of all the possibilities of using mileage.

I know United Awards can sometimes have pretty good deals traveling within Asia so I searched there. Lo and behold, there was a Saver Award at just 8,000 miles each way to Hangzhou. 16,000 miles RoundTrip was a steal!

I checked with my parents and they had about 40,000 miles left which was enough for 2 tickets and they would just need 8,000 miles more.

That wasn’t a problem as Chase Ultimate Miles transferred to United so I transferred 8,000 miles over for the 3rd ticket for my sister.

Total fees were about $16. The total mileage used were 40,000 United Miles + 8,000 Chase Ultimate Miles.

48,000 miles was a fantastic redemption rate, given my parents would have had to shell out $1800 for the flights.

Accommodations:

My mom had a friend who had a cousin who owned an Airbnb in Hangzhou. Each night was a little less than $100.

The only downside was the place was far from the airport (1 hour+) and there was less privacy as the landlord lived in one of the bedrooms of the Airbnb. Hangzhou is so huge though, so 1 hour rides weren’t too out of the ordinary.

The upsides of staying at the Airbnb were we got a more local experience. We learned more about the local culture and food and we got to understand more of Hangzhou through a local’s eyes.

In Suzhou, we booked a 5-star hotel for about $70/night which is pretty cheap for a 5-star hotel!

The breakfast wasn’t all that desirable but Hangzhou and Suzhou are notorious for having less-than-par breakfasts. I’d recommend just going out on your own and finding a bite to eat.

On our last night back in Hangzhou (as we were flying out from Hangzhou), I used 10,000 IHG points to book a Holiday Inn Express.

The hotel itself was new and quite nice but the “Express” booking was for a smaller building right next door that did not have the amenities of the main building.

The Holiday Inn Express building did not have a gym, the lounge I had been looking forward to as a Platinum Member of IHG, and some of the other amenities I don’t normally use like the Spa or Office.

While I was disappointed, it was hard to complain having only spent 10,000 IHG miles (which is very little for IHG).

Transportation:

Transportation in Hangzhou and Suzhou varies greatly in price.

While there are certainly much cheaper options using public transportation such as their buses, it’s difficult to try and plan that with my sister, who has a disability. So we usually opted to take taxis.

Taxis in Hangzhou were pricey, namely because the City has become so huge that getting anywhere requires a longer distance travel. On average, our rides were around 70-200 RMB for a 30 minutes – 1 hour ride.

Most taxis are regulated very well by the government so there shouldn’t be issues of taxis ripping people off. However, there are still the “black cars” to watch out for as it’s not regulated by the government.

My parents took one of those black cars near West Lake and were charged about 30% more than they should have paid.

The nice thing about traveling between Hangzhou – Suzhou – Shanghai are the high speed trains. They’re fairly cheap at around 100 RMB for a Roundtrip ticket. However, they are very difficult to book if you’re a tourist and not from the area.

It’s usually best to book tickets online since tickets sell out very quickly and likely may not be available for a while if you just show up at the station. They will require passport and other information. The websites are in Simplified Chinese.

Overall Thoughts from the Trip:

China has vastly expanded and rapidly developed since the last time I visited about 10 years ago. It’s insane to see how huge and wealthy the country has become.

China also has progressed technologically and has one of the most efficient systems for payment – WeChat. You can literally pay for just about anything using your phone. Cabs, restaurants, stores, friends, you name it.

Skyscrapers, highways, public transit systems are incredible and vast.

The only downside?

Despite how advanced China has become, I would definitely still label it as one of the dirtier places. Unfortunately, it’s just hard to change culture and certain behaviors.

There’s smoke & cigarette butts littered just about everywhere, bathrooms are filthy, and overall it’s just not pleasant walking out and about in public.

It was still cool to see how China has developed though. Would I visit again? Possibly… I’d just be sure to bring a mask the next time.

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