Current Savings and Deals on Flights

Deals on Flights

I will try to keep up with demand for Deals on Flights to various destinations. This week the specials I have come across are:

Air New Zealand has specials on trips to Australia and to New Zealand:

  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD) $960
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Sydney $1,070
  • New Zealand destinations start at US$798 (if you book by Feb.28)

A new airline (at least to me) EuroFly is offering specials on flight from New York JFK to Rome, Palermo, Bologna starting at US$798 with departures starting May 6, 2007 and continuing through October 17, 2007.

American Airlines continue their deal on travel to China (this is a good guidebook for those who would like to learn more about the country – Lonely Planet China ). The airline is offering 5000 to 10000 bonus miles (based on ticket fare) for the flights booked and traveled before March 31, 2007. The flights are between Chicago and Shanghai.

United Airlines is starting their Washington D.C. to Beijing service on March 28, 2007. The airfare starts the US$407 (each way, based on round trip purchase, so you are looking at a starting rate of $814 plus fees). In addition you would get bonus miles in the range of 5000 to 10000 miles based on what ticket fare you end up booking.

Air China is also pushing special deals on flights to and from the US. Currently flights originating in San Francisco are at US$700 for the roundtrip to Beijing, while from New York the round trip tickets start at US$780. Air China is partner of United Airlines in case you are wondering how you could use the frequent flyer miles.

Chinese Tea

Living in China one must learn something at least about Chinese tea. This is a drink that is so prominent in everyday life here, that you just cannot avoid it, cannot miss it, and for sure will experience it in multiple forms. Tea, of course is part of almost all lunches and dinners you would most likely have while living and working, or even just visiting China.
Given the importance of the drink, I decided to put together some information on it and provide you with some links and references to resources on tea.

In summary form, Chinese tea can be classified in the following categories/types:

Green tea – this is tea which has been processed with very little or no fermentation thus the leaves actually retain their “green” color and the tea (liquid) itself has light green color. Good examples are the Longjing tea from Hangzhou area, Maofeng from the area of Huangshan in Anhui province.
Red tea — in the West this tea is known as Black tea, while in China it is Red tea (hong cha) is processed by first fermenting it then baking the leaves. HuHong tea (from Hunan province) is an example of red tea. Here is an example from Amazon.com Dragon Pearl Fresh Black Tea for those who do not have access to the tea markets in Beijing 🙂
WuLong (also spelled Oolong) tea – is sort of between green and red tea — it is a result of a partial fermentation process. Guandong and Fujian provinces (both in the South of China) are usual producers of WuLong teas. Here is a good example of this type of tea Dragon Pearl Ti Kwan Yin (Iron Goddess) Oolong Tea
Pressed tea — this is tea which is pressed into shapes — very hard ones. You would have to chip off a piece of tea and use it in a tea jar or pot. Pu Er tea is often sold in a pressed form. It is preserved for long periods (many years in some cases) and is easier to transport (at least that is what many tea merchants and manufacturers believe). In case you have not come across this type, you can read about it here:Imperial Pu-er Tea
If you reside in Beijing, a good place to buy both various teas as well as tea pots, cups or tea sets, strainers, etc. is the Tea Market located in the Southwest part of Beijing.

Best airfares not to be found online?

In recently booking some international travel for a buying trip for my online store ( www.chinafinds.com ), I came across an interesting phenomenon. Although I have always been a big fan of online booking sites such as Orbitz and Expedia, I found to my surprise that the best deals on American Airlines and United were to be found, not on their websites or on Orbitz/Expedia, but with their telephone reservation centers. Several years ago, the airlines started charging an additional fee to purchase flights via their telephone reservation agents, while it remained free to purchase flights via their websites. As a result, I had pretty much abandoned telephone reservations. However, in searching for the cheapest and best economy flights from Austin to Beijing, I found that Orbitz had the best online fares, with Expedia a distant second, and that the airlines’ own websites sometimes had decent prices, but were generally higher than those on Orbitz. However, if you called to check with the airlines, the fares were not only the lowest available, they actually allowed you to make a reservation and would hold it from 24 to 72 hours, depending on the airline in question. Yes, you had to pay $15 extra, but it was definitely worth it. Why the airlines are pursuing this policy, I have no idea, and it may only be relevant to international itineraries. The next time I fly within the U.S., I will definitely have to check out the deals available online versus over the phone to see if this is the case with domestic flights as well. The deal I got with United was really excellent, by the way. With all taxes and fees included, I am paying $818 for my ticket and $679 for my 8 year old daughter’s. Plus, as my daughter has elite status on United, we get to be seated in the Economy Plus section of the airplane, which has 5 inches extra legroom compared with regular economy seating. The extra legroom will be a real bonus on the long, long flight to China. In addition, my daughter’s elite status gives us access to the business class lounges on the day of our flight. The lounges are great at any time, but particularly when you are traveling with a tired child. Elite status is really not that hard to get, particularly if you are planning to travel to Europe or Asia and are going to log a bunch of miles in a short amount of time. See my post on airline challenges for more information. Plus, if you have achieved elite status with one airline, others will usually match that status for the current year if you ask.

Want to know some more about Chinese New Year customs…?

Some of you may have wondered why some Chinese New Year posters appear to be hung upside down…Don’t worry — you are right — they are upside down. The question is do you know why that is…? By the way, this is not a mistake — no, the posters are hung upside down for a purpose — here is what the poster looks like and why it is placed in that particular orientation:

NewYearCharacter.jpg This is an upside down version of the Chinese character “FU” which means good fortune, but during the Chinese New Year holiday, you will see it in this weird upside down position. The reason is the Chinese famous double meaning {by the way, the Chinese literature is full of double meaning examples — poetry often has very strange interpretations}. So when the character is placed in that position it could be read as “DAO LE”, which could mean “arrive”, but it also sounds like DOLLAR (in English) — so the loop is closed — “Fortune” –> “arrive” –> “Dollar”….. You make your own conclusions. This is a perfect symbolism, isn’t it….

The Chinese character “fu” means good fortune. As a new year greeting, it is turned upside down. The flipping action is called “dao le” in Mandarin, which also sounds like the Chinese word “arrives,” which in turn sounds like the English word “dollar” – an auspicious character however you look at it.

What drives rules on-board planes (Air Travel experiences)

Over the last week I was on a bunch of flights going to a conference in Las Vegas and during those flights I observed something strange and irritating. I was in my seat on-board the plane waiting for pushing off the gate. I had my laptop out in my lap with the power being turned off, and my noise cancellation headphones on my head but with power also off.

So you can tell I was well prepared for my flight — as you can imagine things were very well packed full flight and full overhead bins, so having my laptop, iPod, and headphones easily accessible near me, in my lap, was the only way to be.

Then I was surprised by a tap on the shoulder from the flight attendant — she wanted me to take off my headphones. I told her that they are in an off state, but she insisted that they need me to have them off my head….
The PC notebook in my lap was supposed to go on the floor of the cabin — it could not be in my lap during take off (eventhough it was also in power off state). I did not argue any of this. No point. But I was really unhappy – for several reasons:

1) The headphones even in off state provided some noisecancelation to block off some of the engine noise

2) the notebook PC is not much bigger than an average paperback that most passengers had in their laps — what is the difference? I can obstruct emergency exit for someone with the small laptop??? What a joke…

All in all it points to one thing only — the airlines apply arbitrary rules to whatever they feel like. The reason I say that is that in my next flights (on another carrier) in continuation of my flight to Vegas the notebook in my lap was not an issue….Go figure. Plus I was sitting in an exit row so you would think it should have mattered even more. No, simply inconsistent rules…

What camera you use to take photos on your trips

What would say about a discussion on digital cameras? Well over the last 5 years I have gone through my fair share of digital cameras – Konika, HP, (used a Canon for a while), and now my current one — a Samsung Digimax L85

some examples Melnik2 Wild flowers the camera =>

(The examples above are actually in a reduced resolution — I still have to think about storage space on my server space….so I did not upload the 8M pixel images)

I know this might sound weird — almost as an advertisement about a product, but the reality is that I truly like the camera and have used it non-stop since I bought it in Seoul in May of 2006. I did get a very good deal (including extra secure digital Flash card, carrying case, HDMI cable, etc). Yes, HDMI cable — it is important to note that the HDMI cable makes it very convinient to use the camera connected directly to a HDTV.

I have used the camera for both still image photography as well as for taking MPEG-4 video footage. It is great — you can then play it directly (via the HDMI cable) on HDTV.

How do the Chinese Rich Celebrate Valentine’s Day and Other Holidays

Living in China you tend to experience all aspects of life including how the rich celebrate and spend….I have seen my share of both advertised and actual New Years banquets / dinners with price tags North of US$2000 per person…Precious abalone, sea cucumbers, puer tea…
Now things are getting even more exciting — even China Daily is reporting on big spenders – the China newly rich who are spending on items like

  • a US$5200 Cartier wrist watch ;
  • Debauve et Gallais chocolates (made in France, imported) are up to RMB3500 (~$710/box)

In general surveys point out to the average Chinese employee spending 1/6 of their annual income on the New Year festival.

China Development — Deng Xiao Ping’s Legacy

Couple of decades ago the then Chinese Leader, Mr. Deng Xiao Ping apparently made the famous statement “It is glorious to be rich…” which opened the floodgates of development in China. Many Chinese enterpreneurs jumped into developing variour business ventures, the results of which are visible in the most recent ranking published by Forbes magazine (Nov. 2006 issue) on the richest people in China.

The list is long, so for this blog entry I decided to list and comment only on the people who are above the $1B net worth:
Rank Name Net Worth ($mil) Age Company
1 Wong Kwong Yu 2,300 37 Gome Appliances
2 Xu Rongmao 2,100 56 Shimao Group
3 Larry Rong Zhijian 2,000 64 CITIC Pacific Group
4 Zhu Mengyi 1,900 47 Hopson Development
5 Yan Cheung 1,500 49 Nine Dragons
6 Zhang Li 1,450 52 R & F Properties Group
7 Shi Zhengrong 1,430 43 Suntech Power
8 Liu Yongxing 1,160 58 East Hope Group
9 Guo Guangchang 1,150 39 Fosun High-Tech Group
10 Lu Guanqiu 1,140 61 Wanxiang Group
11 Liu Yonghao 1,120 55 New Hope Group
12 William Ding Lei 1,100 35 NetEase.com
13 Chu Lam Yiu 1,090 37 Huabao International
14 Zhong Sheng Jian 1,080 48 Yanlord Land Group
15 Xu Ming 1,000 35 Shide Group
Obviously this is a great achievement for the Chinese economy as a whole (as these wealthy people have created enterprises that are creating strong economic activity), but I cannot ignore some of the other aspects that need to be pointed out at the same time wealth is pointed out. The other (very disturbing) aspects that needs to be discussed is the huge and growing disparity between the rich and poor in China. All it takes is a trip to the suburbs of Beijing or to some of the surrounding villages and you can see what I mean by the notion of gap…

That issue is being recognized by the Chinese Gov’t and is now being talked about more and more frequently — the notion of “harmonious society” is what the focus is on,but my assessment is achieving it will require a huge effort and lots of pain.

China Quickly Coming to Virtual Reality World – “Second Life” with China Twist

Have you checked out “Second Life” – the virtual community developed by Linden Labs in the US? If you have not you can read first about it on the Business Week web site

This virtual community web site has gathered tons of netizens who are leading an active literally “second life” on the web. Now China has its own answer to the virtual world experience — the creators of the Chinese version are Hipihi.com

Despite the interesting Businessweek.com article on Linden Labs, I am not sure how successful has Second Life really been. I keep hearing about it in multiple references but at the end of the day, I believe the US consumer is less likely to embrace the concept wholesale. Now, the Chinese consumer is a different story. China has long had the success of multiplayer on-line video games. If you go by a Chinese on-line cafe you will see hundreds of teenagers and 20 something year olds spending hours in on-line virtual game worlds. I have talked with many Chinese parents who are REALLY concerned about the health of their kids who are fully absorbed by on-line video games.

Then in early 2006 some of the Chinese on-line video game companies like Shanda and Netease, decided to make many of their games “Free to play”. What that means is that you can actually play the games without any hourly or monthly fee. However you use virtual cash for buying accessories, tools, clothing, etc. for your game characters…Also in order to win higher and higher levels you most likely need to spend cash to acquire tools, strength, powers… That cash comes via prepaid cash cards, smart cards, etc. So it is linked to real money.

Given that well established trend, I can see how Hipihi.com could be very successful in China. This new virtual world could become even more successful than on-line video games as it offers (based on quick scan through the beta version of the site) all sort of experiences….i.e. a whole lot more variety and challenges than a video game….

So, lets see what happens. In the mean time enjoy the real world…Or is it 🙂

Doing business in China – a good book to read

I wanted to give my readers a quick summary of a very good book that was published awhile back in 2004, but is still very relevant to doing business in China. The book, Doing Business in the new China, is a very useful reading for anyone who interacts with business partners and customers in China. No matter whether you do that infrequently during the occasional business trip or you are actually working in the country, this book will give you good foundation on markets, product segments, incomes etc. among the Chinese consumers and markets.