Hyatt on the Bund
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

Explore China and Thailand 15 Days and 13 Nights For Free! Is This a Deal?

I received an e-mail message earlier today which included an item whose headline is Free — Explore China & Thailand. Yes, We Said Free — this deal is only available through July 24, 2021 at 10:00 in the morning Eastern Daylight Time for travel between Saturday, January 1, 2022 through Sunday, December 20, 2026 — and I thought to myself that exploring China and Thailand for 15 days and 13 nights simply cannot be free.

Explore China and Thailand 15 Days and 13 Nights For Free! Is This a Deal?

Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

When I first reported on a deal back on Tuesday, June 22, 2021 of eight nights in China for only $299.00 — actually, a minimum of $479.00 — as offered by UTOvacation and advertised by Travelzoo, that deal included international round trip airfare.

This deal — which is offered by the same two companies in celebration of ten years of UTOvacation being in business — does not include international round trip airfare.

What does this trip include?

  • 4-star accommodations over 13 nights in China and Thailand:
    • Three nights in Beijing
    • One night in Suzhou
    • One night in Wuxi
    • One night in Hangzhou
    • Two nights in Shanghai
    • Three nights in Bangkok
    • Two nights in Pattaya
  • Professional tour guides who speak English
  • Sightseeing admission fees as listed on the agenda
  • Food as specified on the itinerary
  • Ground transfers, per itinerary
  • Special cultural programs as specified in the schedule
  • All taxes and fuel surcharges
  • Multiple guided tours — such as the Great Wall of China, West Lake, Golden Buddha, and more — per itinerary
Great Buddha of Phuket
Photograph ©2009 by Brian Cohen.

More importantly, what this trip does not include:

  • All International and domestic flights — including round trip international flights from your city of departure and regional flights between Beijing and Shanghai; and Shanghai to Bangkok. You can book your flights through UTOvacation at heavily discounted prices from $299.00, depending on the date and departure city; or you can secure a flight with those credit card points you have been wanting to redeem.
  • Chinese visa: this can also be arranged hassle-free via UTOvacation for $230.00; or you can apply for one independently
  • Meals are not included; but UTOvacation does have meal plans available as an upgrade — such as a 13 day breakfast buffet meal plan from Day 3 through Day 15 — for $130.00 in United States dollars
  • Travel insurance
  • Single supplement: $600.00 in United States dollars
  • Tour extensions or optional programs — such as Phuket, Chiang Mai, Yangtze River Cruise, Japan, Cambodia, or Vietnam — available as upgrades from $299.00
  • Personal expenses
  • Service charges, tipping, and gratuities for tour guides, drivers, and employees at hotel properties and restaurants

Select Terms and Conditions

China Eastern Airlines Shanghai to New York
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

To be eligible for this Tenth Anniversary Free Tour, clients need to meet the following criteria as per these terms and conditions:

  1. The complimentary tour program is for adults only, 18 years old and up.
  2. Have a valid passport
  3. The service charge & Tipping for Tour Guides, Drivers, Hotel and Restaurant Staff is not included.
  4. When a customer adds an optional program or tour extension to the complimentary tour, there is a deposit required at the time of booking. If the balance is less than $299 per person, the full payment is required. If the balance is greater than $299 per person, only a $299 per person deposit is required and any remaining balance will be required 150 days prior to trip departure.
  5. For each room, a minimum of 1 adult per room is required.
  6. This complimentary tour is limited to 1 room per booking. Should your party have multiple rooms, the 2nd room and above will be charged the standard fees.
  7. If the client cancels any optional tours, regular cancellation fees are applicable.
  8. All Free Tours are based on Double or Triple Occupancy (2 – 3 people per room); maximum 1 room per booking.
    • Rooms with only 1 guest will be charged an additional $600 single supplement.
    • Rooms with 4 guests are not available, UTOvacation recommends 2 separate rooms with two guests. Please contact us directly if this continues to be a need.
    • Booking with Child under 18 years old. Children’s price will be applied for $199 per person; must be accompanied by 1 adult at least.
  9. This tour is nontransferable
  10. You cannot redeem this tour for cash value or apply this tour value to different tour products.
  11. All passenger cancellations must be confirmed in writing via email and include the passengers full name, reservation number and date of travel. Cancellation terms will be applied based on the date that the formal cancellation is received and applied to the following day prior to the departure date.
  12. Any subsequent changes to an existing order/tour will incur a $100 per person change fee plus any applicable supplier fees. This includes any names changes and the removal of any services such as optional tours and transfers.
  13. During the duration of the tour, should a guest purposely miss any part of the tour, the remainder of the trip and accommodations may be automatically canceled. Any additional expenses incurred by the guest is not the responsibility of UTOvacation.
  14. This free trip program cannot be used with other coupons or special offers.


China flag
Photograph ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

So is this offer a deal — to the point of being “too good to be true”?

At the time this article was written, economy class round trip airfare between Los Angeles and Shanghai cost at least $900.00 — but UTOvacation is offering the round trip for at least $299.00; so let us go with that. If you add $230.00 for a visa to visit China; a minimum of $400.00 for meals; and a minimum of $100.00 for service charges and gratuities, the trip will cost you a minimum of $1,029.00 — and that does not include personal expenses, travel insurance, and $600.00 if you do not want to share a room with someone else.

Moreover, this trip is likely similar to that of the aforementioned deal to China alone: “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)”, according to this comment which was posted by Ryan, who is a reader of The Gate. “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.”

Andrea — who is also a reader of The Gatecommented that “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.”

If you do not mind being barraged with sales pitches and having little control over your itinerary, this offer might — repeat, might — be a good value…

…but not only am I not jumping immediately to book this trip, I am likely passing on it as well, as I prefer to customize my own itinerary from door to door whenever possible.

All photographs ©2009 and ©2014 by Brian Cohen.

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