The Odd Restrictions on Chinese Airlines

If you've ever considered flying to China on a carrier that operates out if China, you may notice that your airline choices on many routes from the US are very restrictive. This isn't your imagination, this has to do with rules put in place by the Chinese government and how airlines operate to international destinations.

If you like Hainan Airlines for example, based out of Beijing, you might think it is a simple story of grabbing a flight from LAX to Beijing. After all Hainan is based out of Beijing, it would make sense that Hainan Airlines would fly this route directly... you'd be wrong. I ran a test case and Hainan's website will actually route you to Seattle on Alaska Airlines (partners with Alaska Airlines) before catching a direct flight to Beijing. 

Routing LAX to PEK

Routing LAX to PEK

The Chinese government heavily restricts how China based airlines can operate internationally. Only one airline is allowed to operate any single route. This means that for Hainan, even though they are based in Beijing, they cannot operate the Los Angeles to Beijing flight, because a competitor already operates from LAX to PEK. Hainian, however, was able to grab the Beijing to Seattle route, meaning no other airlines in China are allowed to operate from Beijing directly to Seattle.

Honestly I'm not totally sure what the aim of the Chinese government is here. Maybe this is supposed to minimize competition between China based airlines so that one single airline is better able to capture traffic on that route when competing with US carriers. In reality though, this has forced Chinese airlines to come up with really odd routes that may not make financial sense, just to get around the Chinese rules. Often this means grabbing traffic from a high traffic airport like LAX that they want and sending it to a much smaller and less flown airport in China. 

While this really has little impact on people outside of those that like flying Chinese carriers and those of us who want to try all different types of carriers for the experience. Many people living in the states are going to likely fly with Delta, American or United since these airlines allow us to connect from our home airports and then on to the Chinese city of our choice. This is merely an oddity of the Chinese airline industry, but it may just allow you to see cities in China you may not have ever thought to visit, and with no additional connections in China.

South China Sea: Should We Still Fly To China?

Over the last few years, China has started to make some fairly aggressive moves in the South China Sea. China views these waters as their own and have begun to build islands around the south China sea so that it may claim the sea for itself. As they build these islands, many are becoming military bases. Rightfully, nations like the Philippines have begun to get nervous about China's expansion.  

When I was in China, I did turn on the local English version of the Chinese national TV service. As you would expect, it is heavy on the propaganda. The South China Sea expansion was being discussed at that time, and from what I saw they do in fact feel as if they are completely justified in this expansion. The UN and much of the rest of the world disagrees with China here. As the tensions have risen, the US has begun to build a military presence in the area.

With rising tensions, is it still a good idea to travel to China?

For the time being I would say yes. There are other places in the world with high tensions, but Americans visit every day without issues. This continues to hold true in China as well. China is a bit unique with the communist oversight being a little over your shoulder at all times. However, I never had any issues travelling to and through China. Lots and lots of security, but that exists for anyone, including the Chinese people.

This isn't something I'd completely ignore though, but certainly something that citizens of the US will not be held or detained for at this time. If tensions escalated to military action, which would be horrible for everyone, I'd say that we should back off at that time. At this moment, China is heavily dependent on exports to the US.

United States based airlines still fly every day to many different locations in China. They are not punished in any way. I think in general, unless the region/country seems incredibly unstable, most places are not dangerous to travel to. Just be aware of what to do and not do, stealing a flag from North Korea is not advised on a trip to North Korea. Use good judgement while travelling to China and no one will give you a second thought.

Don't cut your trip short quite yet because of escalating climates, most Chinese people will still welcome you. The people are not necessarily representative of their governments decisions.

Destination: Forbidden City, China

Getting to the Forbidden City is fairly straight forward if you use the public transit system. Tian'anmen square is right as you exit at either the east or west stop on Line 1 of the Beijing subway system. One thing you have to keep in mind is that China is big, population wise. Many people come to visit not only Tian'anmen, but also the Forbidden City and surrounding areas. Most of them are not tourists from other countries.

People are not very used to westerners in many cases, I was approached no less than 4 times, and I've heard many stories of getting swarmed by those wanted to take photos. In my case there were no requests for photos, but lots of people trying to practice their English with me. I even sat down for tea with an English teacher, and it was facinating to get to talk to a local person, even if it was a little odd and uncomfortable for an introvert like myself at times.


Tian'anmen Square

Tian'anmen Square

Tian'anmen square and the Forbidden City are connected through an underground tunnel. Getting into either area requires passing through security. This is where I warn you that almost every place you go requires passing through security in China. Even getting into the subway requires an x-ray scan of your belongings, and a quick trip through a metal detector. My last minute decision to carry a small shoulder bag with me was a great choice. This made clearing security quick and painless as my stuff was in the bag and through the scanner while I had removed all metal from myself in advance of entering.  

Tian'anmen and Forbidden City complex requires not only security screening, but also an ID. Beijing is a city you visit with your passport on you. I'm very used to placing my passport in a safe in the hotel as soon as I arrive and not taking it out until I'm ready to fly out. Personally, carrying around my passport is not the most safe thing I think I could do. I even like to minimize the credit cards I carry on me at any time. If I know a place fairly well, I'll break from the habit and bring my wallet with me, but the passport always stays in the safe. This was a mistake in China, while I was allowed through the security checkpoint with my drivers license, I would advise against this, and I would not do it again. Many attractions require ID and it is prudent to carry your passport in Beijing. 

Entering into the side gardens of the Forbidden City actually launch you from the busy lines around Chairman Mao and those continuing into the main area of the city, into the peaceful surrounding areas. I highly suggest entering through the side gardens if you can figure out where to go, it isn't straight forward. A Chinese art student showed me the way and gave me a quick tour of their art exibit prior to entering. I was able to purchase an art piece from him for a reasonible price that was one of a kind and I knew my fiance would love.

Entering the side gardens of the city shows the amazing architecture of the period in which everything was built. Cypress gardens are the first thing you walk through and many attractions have seperate english versions of the informational signs around the area. There is even a special cypress tree which was the first one planted on the temple grounds, by the emperor at the time

Continuing on to the next area, your first introduction to the city buildings comes up and you are launched back in time. A small waterway shows up and it's very striking how many trees and plants show up not only in the city grounds, but throughout the city of Beijing.

Buildings in Forbidden City

Buildings in Forbidden City

Walking through to the next area shows a large building with a huge courtyard of stone pavers. Outlying buildings surround the courtyard and make a beautiful scene. Due to the low foot traffic in this section of the grounds, it is almost peaceful and a perfect opportunity for wedding photos. During my walkthrough, I saw at least 5 different wedding photographers with brides and grooms taking their photos.

Open square in the Forbidden City

Open square in the Forbidden City

Amazing Chinese Stonework

Amazing Chinese Stonework

On to the next area bring you out at the top of the South East gardens. Greeted by a paved walkway, more cypress trees and a huge moat of sorts. Boarding the other side of the moat, is a huge wall guarding the main part of the city. From here you can exit the gardens and secure area before walking into the main area. I actually chose to walk along the water front and come in from the east side. Interestingly this didn't happen, I made it almost to the east entrance when I was approached by the aforementioned english teacher from Xi'an. She wanted to practice her english on me, and we ended up sitting down to some tea and making new friends.  It was an unexpected encounter, but experiences are what I was in China for, so getting to know someone from the country was a fun experience... though the private karaoke session was a little much for me and I went on my way. 

Walls of the central part of the Forbidden City

Walls of the central part of the Forbidden City

While I didn't finish the central part of the Forbidden City, I will return at some point and continue my tour. Sometimes travel takes you in unexpected directions, but an adventure is always worth a detour or two.

Hotel Review: W Beijing Chang'an

After deplaning in Beijing, a quick pass through customs and passport control, I jumped a train into Beijing. Catching one of the last subway trains to my hotel, I arrived a little after 10pm at the subway station. The W Beijing Chang'an is a very short walk from the north east exit of the subway station. 

Arriving to the W hotel at night is quite a sight to see. The side of he building is lit up with a huge W covering almost half of the 23 story building. It leaves one impressed no matter what. Then entering the lobby you can immediately tell that W hotels take design as the most serious part of the hotel. From the front desk to the elevators to the room, the design aesthetic is impressive and beautiful in a Hollywood, night club sort of way. 

Checking in required a few minutes and a verification of my identity and even my visa. My gold status earned me an upgrade to a better room. Upgrading was fantastic since this was the room I had wanted to stay in, but couldn't justify the additional expense. Once again, i can't say enough about how much i really like the Starwood brand.

After checking in, I made my way to the elevators where an attendant called for the elevators to come get me. Even the lighting showing which elevator is coming to get you is impressive. After boarding the elevator, once again the design forward approach showed in the floor selection buttons which were long thing lighted areas through frosted glass, and angled at 45 degrees, gorgeous. Up to the 15th floor went the elevator and quickly the room was in front of me.

Entering the room is an impressive reveal. Everything in the room is automated and controlled from switch panels at various locations around the room. This is a techies dream, and boy am I ever a techie. As soon as you scan in for the first time, the lights activate coming into the room, the window curtains automatically draw back and a warm red glow fills the room from the accent lighting panels on opposite walls.

In the middle of the room is a huge tub that takes roughly 30 minutes to approach full, but is a nice relaxing environment. While the placement of the tub is definitely a hit or miss with people, I rather likes the look of the tub. It may have been different, but I'm a fan of different and unique. Over he tub is a mirror surrounded by florescent lighting, and just under it is a sink/bathroom amenities attached to the back of the tub. The sink area acts as a bathroom vanity area that is completely integrated with the rest of the room seamlessly, an open concept if you will.

Next to the door is the toilet and shower both in their own separated small glass enclosed rooms. The toilet is pretty standard with an industrial strength suction system... don't sit on this and flush, you might lose a butt cheek. Next door is the shower stall with both a shower wand and a larg overhead rain shower type head. It really is a unique but amazing shower room. Inside the shower are the shampoo, and other soaps. These soaps have to be some of the best I've ever used, a mint and citrus blend.

Exiting back into the main room, the bed if flanked on both sides by controls that manage the lighting and curtains int eh entire room. One nightstand had my complimentary waters, always love that perk. Behind the bed is the lighted panel, and the opposite wall has accent lighting in a range of colors. Across from the bed and next to the temperature controls is the lighting control for the accents. This panel allows you to choose almost any color that you want. I like purple and chose that for most of the time.

Over in the back corner of the room is a big spotlight, a bit of a signature item at W hotels. The spotlight can actually be turned on with a foot switch on the floor. It shines a light onto the ceiling that has the W hotel symbol in it, almost like a bat signal in your room. A totally unnecessary, but still cool feature.

Also included in my room was a welcome amenity, most likely for being a Gold member. It was a silver box and inside was a few fresh pieces of fruit. The granny smith apple was awesome, and the kiwi might have been awesome had I any knife to cut it with.

One oddity is that all W hotels participate in the SPG Keyless program, meaning you are able to use your phone to unlock your door. Unfortunately with the Great Firewall Of China blocking many website, SPG Keyless never worked at all for me, couldn't even connect the app despit my repeated attempts.

If you haven't been able to tell by now, this was one of my favorite hotel stays of all time. Te staff was great, design aesthetics really fit with me and my likes. At the end of the day, Beijing has a ton of Starwood properties to choose from, but I'm not sue I'd want to try another hotel. W Beijing Chang'an really blew me away and provided a place i was ecstatic to stay at, and I highly suggest that you give it a try if you ever get the chance.

The Anatomy of a Mileage Run

It may seem to many that those elite status ranks are almost an impossibility to reach. American airlines requires 25,000 elite qualifying miles (EQM) to reach the lowest rank, and 100,000 EQM to reach the top tier status. So, unless you travel for work, most people won’t ever achieve anywhere near the top tier status with standard travel plans.

This may leave the question in your mind of how do I plan on clearing 100,000 EQM this year. Mileage run, mileage run, mileage run, that is the name of the game. While I’m still getting my footing in this hobby, the more I pay attention to cheap fare, the more I realize that they are a dime a dozen. Great fares come up all the time and taking advantage of them is the key to hitting that status that begins to pay off in droves.

Mileage running is the practice of taking a flight for the purpose of earning either Elite Qualifying Miles (often referred to as status running) or redeemable miles (RDM). In order to make this really worthwhile, you have to take advantage of long distance flights at really great rates. Which brings me to my trip today. I’m on my first major milage run, out and back to Beijing, China with only one full day in Beijing. While many people would probably argue that a true milage run leaves no time at your destination, personally I enjoy travelling and would like a chance to see the places I stop at.

This trip alone cost just barely more than $500 out of Chicago, and the cost of connecting flights which tend to be fairly low priced. Taking advantage of the milage run out to Beijing gains me over 13,000 EQM for only $500. If you find the right flights and don’t mind adding in layovers, you can boost flights in excess of 20,000 miles per trip for under $700 when you find the best prices. Re-qualifying for top level status might only take 4-5 of these flights in the best case scenario.

Of course if you like to travel, you might want to change things up and see more of the US, or your surrounding area. Creative routings are your friend here, sometimes a weird route from Philadelphia to see a friend in Jacksonville is a great way to gain miles. Instead of taking a flight straight to Jacksonville, I can route Philadelphia to Boston to Miami to Jacksonville. Accounting for the minimum mileage guarantee, this can net you thousands of miles on what would be a short flight normally. Why not visit Miami from the east coast VIA Los Angeles. Spend some extra time making connections and you might just have some really amazing perks from a status you never thought you could achieve.

Stay tuned and I’ll let you know soon how my first major mileage run went.