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I went to China on a Groupon. Sound crazy? Well, it wasn’t. And while it isn’t the right choice for everyone, I’d do it again!
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Like many people, The Great Wall of China has been on my bucket list forever. But since I’m always looking for ways to travel while saving money, I didn’t think that I could really afford it. Until I found a Groupon for a 9-day trip to China for $499, double-occupancy. I was sure that was a typo!
So I researched everything I could about the company, Rewards Travel China (RTC). I searched Rewards Travel China reviews and found both positives and negatives. In case you’ve been tempted by a Groupon Getaway like this, here is my honest review of the lessons I learned along the way.
What was included in our Groupon Getaway:
The 9-day China itinerary included the following:
Day 1: Flying to Beijing
Day 2: Arrival in Beijing
Day 3: Free day in Beijing
Day 4: Sightseeing in Beijing (Great Wall, Olympic Center, Jade Center)
Day 5: Free morning in Beijing, pm flight/bus or bullet train to Suzhou
Day 6: Suzhou (Lingering Garden, Silk Factory), bus to Hangzhou
Day 7: Hangzhou (Tea Plantation), bus to Shanghai (Bund)
Day 8: Sightseeing Shanghai (Shanghai Museum, Emerald Exhibition, City God Temple Bazaar)
Day 9: Flying home
Flight: Flight from New York City to Beijing.
Hotel: Hotels at each destination were included. We had no options to select categories but they were what I would consider 3-4 star category.
Local Transportation: To and from airports; buses to tours; buses, trains, and/or airplanes from city to city.
Meals: Breakfast buffet each day at the hotel. Tours included lunch.
Guide: English speaking guide provided for the entirety of the trip
Local Tours: The tours listed above are included. Note that there were about 3 tour buses in our group (about 30 people per bus).
As you can tell, the nine days are more like six or seven days because of the amount of travel time.
What the Groupon said was not included:
The Groupon explained that there would be additional fees due for a China Visa. I don’t remember how much RTC charged. Call them in advance to inquire because they were unable to process applications for naturalized citizens and non-US citizens. You can obtain your own visa. If you go directly to a Chinese consulate or embassy, the cost is $140. We paid a service $230. I liked having control over when and how the application would be processed. An additional $100 per person would be charged as tips for the guides and bus drivers and collected at the time of the booking.
Additional expenses to know about for your China Groupon:
Expect HEAVY pressure to purchase ALL the optional tours (except the evening ones), so plan that in your budget. You do NOT have to take them, however, the group moves in tour buses, and it isn’t usually easy to separate from the group, meaning that you’ll have to wait nearby on your own while the others complete their activity.
If you speak the language and can get around on your own, you will have a lot more flexibility.
Here are some of the optional tours offered: In Beijing, a city tour that included Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and a half-day tour to Temple of Heaven and the Hutongs. In Suzhou, you can tour the Grand Canal. In Hangzhou, you can tour the West Lake.
We did not take any of the evening tours (jet lag is real!). We enjoyed all of our tours, with the exception of the tour of the Grand Canal in Suzhou. If you go, simply walk around Suzhou instead.
Using your Groupon Getaway:
Once you purchase your Groupon, you’ll redeem it through the company’s website. I received a confirmation email letting me know that an advisor would be assigned.
Using Rewards Travel China:
Each guest receives an RTC travel advisor. However, you won’t hear from them until about 2 months or so prior to departure. For someone used to controlling all her travel planning, this was HARD!!!!
We used a local company to obtain our China travel visa, so I cannot comment on RTC’s visa services.
Not only did RTC give me a better price for a connecting flight to NYC from Raleigh (RDU), my home airport, than I could find on my own, but they were able to find a better itinerary! We flew Raleigh to Toronto to Beijing, saving us some valuable waiting and travel time.
The drawbacks of a China Groupon Getaway:
This trip is HARD for several reasons:
- In order to offer such a discount, you spend a LOT of time at government factory stores. They are silk factory, pearl farm, jade factory, tea plantation, and traditional medicine school. While you don’t have to buy anything, it is annoying and a waste of time.
- The bus leaves by 8 am every morning.
- You’re frequently going for at least 12 hours a day.
- You’re on the bus A LOT – and sitting in traffic.
- There isn’t a lot of flexibility in the itinerary.
- There isn’t a lot of free time.
- That jet lag!
You’ll have NO control over where you stay. Even the hotel names sent to you in advance can be changed at the last minute, making it difficult to plan your own adventures or tours with outside companies.
The positives of a China Groupon Getaway:
- We spent less than we would have on just our flight.
- We saw a lot!
- All the highlights of Beijing, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Shanghai were covered.
- We had an English-speaking guide at our disposal the entire time.
Who is a China Groupon Getaway for?
The trip is for people who are willing to be on the go constantly and don’t want to have to plan anything. Because we went during Spring Break, some children were on our trip and they were real troopers. While there was at least one person on another bus in a wheelchair (which needs to be arranged in advance) and one blind man on our bus, there was a lot of walking on uneven surfaces.
As long as you’ve got a sense of adventure and willing to go with the flow, this trip is for you. You must be willing to live with the itinerary though. I admit that between the jetlag and the hard schedule, I was pretty grumpy at times!
Why our Groupon Getaway trip was so fabulous:
Here is just a small list of some of the magnificent things we experienced on our trip:
- Rode on the bullet train.
- Rode the Maglev train in Shanghai.
- Crossed off a bucket list item by walking on the Great Wall!
- Went to the top of the 2nd tallest building in the world.
- Rode the famous Shanghai metro.
- Visited a night market in Beijing.
- Visited a real tea plantation.
- Ate a scorpion on a stick!
You can read more about the best places to see in each city here:
- Best Things to Do in Beijing
- Best Things to Do in Shanghai
- An Easy Guide to Riding the Metro in Shanghai
- Best Things to Do in Hangzhou
Were we happy with our purchase?
Yes, this Groupon Getaway to China through Rewards Travel China was worth it. It saved us money, planned our flight, hotel, and tours. We liked having guides that we could reach at any time. One person in our group got ill one night and a guide was able to get them medical attention right away. It was comforting since so few people in China speak English and unfortunately, we did not speak Mandarin.
While I did have a great experience because I did my research and understood what I was buying, I am looking forward to a less structured purchase for my next Groupon Getaway. Iceland – I’m looking at you!
Have you purchased a Groupon Getaway? Where did you go?
Annick, The Common Traveler