Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

8 Nights in China With Airfare For $299? Well…Not Exactly…

I received an e-mail message earlier today whose headline states China for $299: Here’s Your Future 8-Night Trip w/Air — and I thought to myself that $299.00 alone typically would not cover the round-trip airfare to China from the United States…

8 Nights in China With Airfare For $299? Well…Not Exactly…

…so I took a closer look at the advertisement from Travelzoo…

Click on the screen shot for an enlarged view. Source: Travelzoo.

…and here is the text of the e-mail message, copied verbatim:

The lowest price we’ve ever seen for a China vacation is back, and it now includes travel in 2022 or 2023, 4-star hotels, tours and flights.

For $299 per person, this deal from UTOvacation’s larger mid-year summer sale includes:

  • Roundtrip flights to Beijing, returning from Shanghai
  • Intra-country flights and airport transfers
  • 8 nights at well-reviewed, 4-star hotels in Beijing, Suzhou, Wuxi, Hangzhou and Shanghai with daily breakfast
  • English-speaking guide and ground transportation throughout
  • Sightseeing tours including The Great Wall, Master of the Nets Garden, West Lake and more
  • Shopping trips to a silk-spinning factory, pearl center and tea shop
  • UTOvacation’s Assurance Plan (reg. $99), which allows you to change your tour, dates or passenger names 150 days prior to departure without penalty

Here’s what’s not included: 

  • Mandatory gratuities of $180 that can be paid prior to departure by credit card or upon arrival in cash
  • Chinese visa can be arranged via UTOvacation for $230 or applied for independently

Depart from New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose or Seattle for $299 per person, based on double occupancy. Single supplement is +$350. Departures from Boston, Chicago, Houston, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and 17 additional cities are $300-$500 more per person.

When you can go: Many dates October 2022 – December 2023. Surrounding dates from early 2022 are also discounted, starting at $50 more.

UTOvacation works with local partners and tourism associations to help cover costs, which is how we’re able to offer this trip for this price. This also makes it more cost-effective for you to extend your trip — add 3 nights in Xi’an to see the famous terra-cotta warriors, a 5-night Yangtze River cruise or additional nights in Shanghai for an additional cost.

To book: After clicking ‘view deal’ below, scroll down and our featured deal is the ‘China Price Buster 10 Day’ package. A limited number of seats is available for each departure date — we suggest booking soon. Also, UTO’s site is not optimized for mobile devices, so please use a computer to book, or call 855-526-1286 and mention Travelzoo.

So wait a minute: because of the $180.00 in “mandatory gratuities”, the trip actually will cost $479.00 and not $299.00 — right?

Well…not exactly.

When I clicked on the link to the official Internet web site of the operator of the trip — UTO Vacation — I noticed that the trip actually “starts” at $299.00. That is not what the headline of the aforementioned e-mail message purported with the way it was worded.

What else is not included with what is known as the China Price Buster 10 Day trip?

  1. China visa fee.
  2. Travel insurance.
  3. Any personal expenses.
  4. Tour Extensions and Optional programs.
  5. Compulsory tipping $180 USD/person for the whole trip.
  6. Single Supplement: USD 350.
  7. No Show (Only applicable for China Tours):  If for any reason, a passenger does not attend the scheduled daily activities during the tour, an additional supplement fee of $100 per day per person has to be paid.


If a gratuity is mandatory, is it still a gratuity? Should gratuities be mandatory?

After all of the expenses of what is not included, the trip still sounds like a great deal — but I cannot attest to the quality of the trip or why it is so inexpensive…

…but all I ask of companies is at least be truthful about the price of what is being sold. If the gratuity of $180.00 is mandatory, then at least include it in the advertised price of the trip — especially if that gratuity causes an increase in the advertised cost by greater than a whopping 60 percent…

…otherwise, omitting the mandatory gratuity from the advertised price is no better than not including a mandatory resort fee, mandatory facilities fee, or mandatory destination fee in the room rate of a hotel room.

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

  1. You really should be mentioning the “gimmick” here (spoiler – it’s not the $180 gratuity – even with that, it’s a hell of a deal). I did this tour a month before COVID. I secured $299 from NYC for my dates, plus the visa and gratuities, it does bring the price up. Even so, it is a magnificent deal. So how can they get it so low? It’s a shopping tour. These are very common in China. You are taken on daily tours (that are mandatory) and you spend roughly 1-2 hours per day hearing sales pitches. Honestly though? It’s VERY low pressure stuff. I didn’t buy a single thing from the mandatory excursions (the prices are inflated dramatically – if you like Jade, or Pearls, etc – just buy them on your free day or after you’re back from the tour for the day). These are group pitches (with a single exception at the herbal medicine place where you get a free foot massage as they try to sell you a cream that will solve all the worlds problems) so there is very little pressure, but there doesn’t need to be either – because as it turns out: Americans are DUMB. The people on my tour bought stuff at every stop, happily so! They make their money easily. The tour can have a lot of value if you are fine going at the pace of a group tour. There are a couple free days (we spent the night at Shanghai Disneyland and the tour guide did not care). Just know what you’re getting yourself into and have fun. When you’re back at the hotel for the night – you’re free to do whatever you want.

    1. Thank you for providing insight about your experience on your trip, Ryan. That is a very interesting angle: offer incredibly low prices on a trip and get the income from when participants shop. I wonder if other countries do this…?

      I would be a poor customer for this type of trip, as I am not a shopper and generally eschew guided tours — but it sounds like a fantastic deal for someone who enjoys shopping and guided tours.

  2. A few years ago, I thought that I might one day visit the People’s Republic of China. Not now. Now, it is on my “Do Not Travel” list. It is my personal 10 year boycott. I will not go there for at least 10 years but probably longer. Other countries on that list include Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Russia.

    In contrast, I will not hesitate to visit the Republic of China (Taiwan).

  3. Tripadvisor has some reviews under UTO Vacations. Some are detailed & it seems majority were pleased with the trip. Travelzoo is an on line travel agency that I have used frequently with no problems ever. However, the trip is booked through UTO itself . UTO’s website states that they do not refund…only credit if they cancel. It is based in Canada & no options to challenge that I can see. I would chance the trip though. For $299 + tips + visa cost+ insurance, it is an outstanding value…jmo

    1. Your opinion is indeed valued, Dora, and thank you for that information; but that outstanding value is essentially my point: why not just advertise the trip as $479.00 or $700.00 all inclusive when including the required visa?

      Those are outstanding values as well — right?

  4. These low cost tours make money when their group buy jewelry and other mark up items at designated stores. They make a cut of every sales they bring in. It is very common in Asia: Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, etc etc. Some of these tours are low pressure ones that you can live with it, knowing that it is the retail commissions to the tour operators that make these low cost tours possible. Food and accommodations are so-so; so know what you are getting into on the first place. Do not complain afterward. Some shady tour operators will “force” you into buying something, or apply high pressure sales pitch to convince you to buy stuff. But if you don’t mind buying something within your budget and get a low cost tour in return, that might work out.

  5. ive ridden my motorcycle all over china. and have never tipped in this country once. And its not required. Americans and Canadians. Dont ruin China with tipping like you have with places like Mexico and Thailand thanks.

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