I’m going to start our travel journey with a trip we took shortly after we retired. I had always been enchanted by the mystique of China. The Great Wall, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, the Yangtze River – all beckoned me to explore this fascinating country. I also wondered whether Chinese food in China was any different than Chinese food in the good ol’ USA; whether silk clothing and embroidery was any finer than that we can acquire in the West; whether the pollution was as bad as we have heard; and whether the Chinese people are happy or seem oppressed.
Given the language barriers, I decided that this trip would be better done with a tour group instead of on our own. After a lot of research and a strong recommendation from friends who had been the year before, we settled on a Seattle based company called China Spree. They had three options for the tour we wanted – Economy, Standard, and Luxury. I ruled out Economy without much consideration – all sorts of visions of “economy” hotels in China sprang to mind. Surprisingly, there was not that much difference in cost between Standard and Luxury, so we opted for Luxury. It was a great choice, as it turned out, and we had a fabulous trip.
Making arrangements to get there was a different matter. DH (Dear Husband) has a United Airlines Credit Card that costs an arm and a leg in an annual fee each year, but we had gotten it because of the special deal: “Buy One Business Class Seat and Get a Companion Ticket Free.” After spending four hours on the phone dealing with one United agent after another, who all were totally ignorant of this plan, we finally got a “supervisor” in the “special travel support group” who at least had heard of the plan. Only one small caveat though – the ticket category of the Business Class seat we would have to buy was higher than the regular price of First Class, and more than twice the cost of two regular Business Class tickets. After talking with several more “supervisors” we finally got someone who gave us the deal we were expecting. I do have to tell you though, that since this time, we have never been able to get this deal again – United sticks with the caveat that you have to buy the most expensive ticket category in Business Class in order to qualify, and that costly ticket category has always been more than the price of two regular tickets. But we lucked out this time, and I got to fly “free” – just had to pay the taxes.
The only other arrangements I had to make were an extra few days before and after our trip. Both of us tend to suffer with jet-lag and we did not want to get into Beijing one day, and immediately start our tour the next, so I booked us rooms at a Hilton in Beijing for an extra couple nights on the front end, and same on the back-end in Hong Kong. I paid for the rooms using my many Hilton Honors points that I had accumulated over years of working and staying in Hampton Inns. So now we were all set and I had a good 9 months to read up on what we would be seeing.