February 2008 Not Too Late for a Dash to the Games
Not Too Late for a Dash to the Games
New York Times
February 24, 2008 by Michelle Higgins
Practical Traveler | Summer Olympics.
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IT’S not too late to plan a trip to the Beijing Olympics. Sure, more than a million visitors are expected to visit during the Summer Games this August, and most tourist hotels are booked solid. But procrastinators can still chase Olympic gold if they’re willing to be flexible, spend a little more money and perhaps blend in with the locals.
Despite a major hotel boom that will add thousands of rooms to the city, most Beijing hotels are already sold out — even ones that haven’t yet opened, including a new Park Hyatt. And the 241-room Mandarin Oriental inside the dazzling Television Cultural Center has a waiting list for reservations.
The few hotels with vacancies are charging astronomical rates. The Renaissance Beijing Hotel, in the Chaoyang district near several Olympic sites, including the Beach Volleyball Ground, is asking 8,000 yuan a night (about $1,095 at 7.3 yuan to the dollar) for the remaining Club Floor deluxe rooms, with a minimum booking of 18 nights; the normal rates are 1,600 to 2,200 yuan. Even the 430-room Best Western OL Stadium Hotel, hardly luxurious, is charging well over $500 a night.
And chances are slim to none for scoring individual tickets to events through standard channels. The only way to get an individual ticket from the official Olympics ticket sellers is through a lottery system, and most tickets have already been doled out.
Only a certain number of tickets are allocated to each country. Over 4.5 million tickets were requested during the last lottery, which ended in December, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the Games, also known as Bocog. That’s more than double the actual number of tickets allotted for that sales period. Though more tickets could be distributed closer to the Games, there are few guarantees of actually getting a seat.
So what’s an Amanda Beard groupie to do? At this stage in the game, your best bet is to go through a tour operator that specializes in the Olympics. These operators have stockpiled a large number of tickets and secured blocks of hotel rooms — but it won’t be cheap.
CoSport, a tour operator based in New Jersey — and the official Olympics ticket agent for the United States — has numerous hotel packages that include tickets to many events. A recent search on its Web site, cosport.com, turned up a five-day package at the Landmark Hotel in the Chaoyang district with tickets to four events (women’s gymnastic finals, beach volleyball preliminaries, women’s springboard diving preliminaries and men’s basketball preliminaries) for $5,943 a person, based on two sharing a room.
Another operator, Roadtrips Inc., based in Winnipeg, Manitoba, has five-night packages from $6,250. It even has nosebleed seats left for the coveted opening ceremonies.
“There are options for essentially everything,” said Duane Penner, vice president of sales for Roadtrips. Still, he added, hotel and ticket choices are limited, so you might not get a room with a view, or 10 contiguous seats to the men’s basketball final. But seats are available for those “willing to sit in twos,” he said.
If tour operators don’t offer the tickets you want, you can also try online ticket brokers like ticketliquidator.com and Olympics tickets. A recent search on TicketCity, for example, turned up seats at gymnastic events for $89.
Lodging alternatives are more limited. Unlike the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, a city easily accessible from Milan by high-speed train, Beijing isn’t easily reached from other cities that could serve as an alternate base.
“Two months before the Olympics you could find a hostel for 20 bucks a night in Milan,” said Robin Fisher, a travel agent at Carlson Wagonlit Travel Journeys in Madison, Wis., referring to the 2006 games. “It’s a little bit harder to travel in China.”
To ease the burden, about 1,000 Beijing families are being recruited by the government to play host to foreigners during the Games, according to the Associated Press. At least 400 English-speaking residents have listed rooms for rent at Homestay Beijing 2008, a Web site started last May by Piet Bos, a Dutchman who has been living in China since 1998. Listings — most for an entire apartment rather than a traditional home stay that would require you to share space with the host family — range from a two-bedroom apartment near the Worker’s Stadium for 2,500 yuan a night with a minium seven-night stay, to a two-bedroom, one-bathroom in a traditional hutong alleyway for 7,500 a night, including a maid and daily breakfast.
For those who don’t need high-thread-count sheets, cheap rooms can still be found through budget lodging sites like HostelWorld.com, Hostel.net and Boo.com. A recent search on HostelWorld.com, for example, found the 1Hai Inn, a guesthouse near the LaMa Temple with private rooms with shower and toilet, for as low as $92 a night. The Beijing Downtown Backpackers hostel, a hutong in the Dongcheng district, had rates as low as $28 a night in an eight-bed dormitory, and $105 a night for a double bed in a private room.
Finding a cheap flight, however, may require some patience. A recent spot check on Cheapflights.com found nonstop flights to Beijing from Newark in August for about $1,700 round trip. And flights with a single stopover, in Tokyo or Seoul, were $1,050 from Los Angeles on American Airlines to $1,800 from New York on Korean Air. It may pay to procrastinate. “Typically deals come out four to six weeks prior to travel dates,” said Carl Schwartz, director of U.S. marketing for Cheapflights.com, “so some of the best deals will be seen in late June or early July.”
To keep track of price drops, sign up for e-mail alerts from deal aggregators like Airfarewatchdog.com, Travelzoo.com and Farecompare.com.
Of course, you’ll probably want to tack on a side trip.
“You really don’t only want to go to Beijing,” said Ruth Skeie Sorensen, vice president of Battery Travel Associates, an affiliate of Altour in New York City. “Since you go that far, you should try to include Shanghai and Hong Kong.”
A flight from Beijing to Shanghai is roughly two hours and can cost between $250 to $350 round trip, according to TravelGator.com, a travel planning site that allows travelers to build and share possible itineraries as they explore ideas on where to go for their next vacation. Expect to pay around $850 round trip for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Hong Kong during the peak Olympic travel period.
In China, bargains are plentiful. Expect to pay between 50 and 150 yuan for Peking duck in Beijing. And don’t be afraid to bargain at popular shopping areas like the Panjiayuan (Dirt Market) and the Yaxiu and Yashow Markets.
Getting around the capital cheaply isn’t difficult either, with taxis charging 10 yuan for the first four kilometers and 2 yuan a kilometer after that. And the even cheaper subway system is easy to use, with fares starting at 2 yuan, or about 27 cents.