Tag Archives: china

Musings from China (Not about China)

I’m currently in China, which has made it very challenging to do some very basic internet things like blog or check gmail (gmail blocking is a relatively recent phenomenon in China), so pardon the sporadic posts.

I think there’s a lot of mysticism around points and miles bloggers and how we accomplish the things that we do. There’s obviously a lot of variation: some people are really heavy in manufactured spending (think $40k+ per month), which combined with some recent credit card offers means that they actually don’t need to pay for anything out of pocket (lots of cash back MS) and instead pay with their time; some travel a lot for work; some make tons of money from their blogs and can pay cash for premium travel; many don’t travel much at all.

For myself, I don’t do anything special. I don’t travel for work, but I have a job that provides a flexible work schedule, and as a single twenty-something with a minimalist non-travel/non-food lifestyle (i.e. I rarely spend money on non-consumable goods; I think I’ve bought one thing from Amazon in the past year, and that was shaving soap), I choose to spend my discretionary income on travel. This means that I often travel in coach and do things like stay in capsule hotels as I don’t naturally generate enough points and miles to pay for everything that way, and I don’t mind “roughing” it. While I have had the fortune to travel pretty extensively in premium cabins, I probably do more flying in the back of the bus than not.

For this current trip to China, I flew AA coach through DFW (I was lucky enough to get a 5-seat row to myself from DFW to PVG as the flight was not very full), routing this way to get more miles and help me requalify for AA Executive Platinum. I stayed at a super crappy hotel in Shanghai, and I’m now at a hostel in Beijing. For many of my meals, I’m eating street food (super delicious in Shanghai, not quite as delicious in Beijing). The flights were a little pricier than I would have liked, but I’m spending about $25 a night for lodging (I’m traveling with a friend, which helps lower the cost), and we probably ate for less than $10 a day in Shanghai.

I’m probably not going to write a 20-part trip report about this trip because it’s not that novel. As far as I know, people don’t want to read a post about a flight in AA economy or read about a crappy hotel. But trips like this are enjoyable in their own right, and they enable the more luxurious trips that I am likely to write about.

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My Experience Getting a Chinese Visa

Breaking Down Two Mileage Runs for 30,000 EQMs to get AA Executive Platinum
Getting a Chinese Visa
Planning a Mileage Run to Shanghai
Vegetarian Economy Meals on American Airlines
Hotel Review: Crowne Plaza Shanghai
Eating in Shanghai
Getting a Chinese Massage aka Tui Na
First Class Lounge (No. 69) Shanghai Pudong PVG
Concluding Thoughts on My Mileage Run to Shanghai


Since I have a trip booked to Shanghai as one of my mileage runs to reach Executive Platinum status on American Airlines, I needed to get a Chinese visa. Even though I’m only going to be in Shanghai for a little over a day, I still need a visa as the 72-hour visa-free transit only applies if I were to transit to a third country (like Japan or even Hong Kong). Since I’m flying USA to Shanghai and back to USA without stopping in a third country, I need a visa.

There’s a Chinese consulate in San Francisco, so I decided to apply for the visa myself rather than use a visa service. In retrospect, I maybe should have just used a visa service.

I applied for a 1-year multiple entry tourist visa. In order to get the tourist visa, I needed the following:
1) My passport with 6 months of validity and a blank page for the visa
2) The visa application form (note that there are new forms as of September 1, 2013; make sure your forms say “Form V.2013” in the upper right corner!)
3) A color passport photo
4) A copy of my roundtrip air itinerary
5) Proof of a hotel reservation

Anecdotally, many people forget 4) and 5) because they don’t understand why they would need to book their flights and hotels prior to getting the visa. But without this documentation (or else an invitation letter by a relevant entity or individual in China), you won’t get your visa, and I saw this happen to numerous people at the consulate when I was there.

The Chinese consulate in San Francisco is open from 9:00am to 2:30pm every weekday. I arrived at 8:15am on a Tuesday morning, and there were already six people in front of me. But the first four people in line were all people who worked for visa services, so they took quite a while at the visa counters as they were each applying for at least 10 visas. And persons 5 and 6 in line didn’t have all of the correct documentation, so they also took a while as the people at the consulate had to explain to them what they needed to bring. Once I actually got to a visa window (which was over an hour after I first arrived), it was less than 2 minutes for the woman to review my paperwork and hand me a ticket receipt. This ticket receipt was necessary to pick up the visa.

I returned to the consulate about a week later to pick up my visa. This time, I arrived shortly before 9:00am, and the line to get into the consulate was already all the way down the block. And again, the first couple of people in line for the visa pickup window worked for visa services and thus had many passports to pick up, so they took quite a while, but once they were done, the line moved relatively quickly. I gave my ticket receipt to the woman, and she gave me a card to give to a woman at a different window where I would pay for the visa ($140) and receive my passport back.

I received the 1-year multiple entry visa, even though the documents that I submitted only showed one visit for just one day, which is great as all of the tourist visas cost the same for Americans so you might as well get a 1-year multiple entry one. Assuming I like my quick visit to Shanghai, I’d love to return and spend a little more time in China at some point next year, and this visa will allow me to do so.

All told, I spent about 4 hours trekking to/from the Chinese consulate and waiting in lines. Depending on how you value your time, it might just be worth it to use a visa service. But if you do choose to do it yourself, here are my consolidated tips:
1) Make sure to have all of your documentation ready, including your proof of air tickets and hotel reservations if necessary
2) Apply for the 1-year multiple entry even if you don’t plan to go back to China, since it costs the same anyway
3) You don’t want to apply for the visa too early as the visa will be valid from the date that you applied. As an example, my 1-year visa expires one year from the date that I applied for the visa, not one year from my first entry into China.
4) Hold on to the ticket receipt that you get and remember to bring it back with you to pick up the visa
5) Get to the consulate well before it opens or else you might have a very lengthy wait to apply for your visa
6) You will likely be waiting a lot regardless of when you go, so try to stay positive and not get frustrated by the experience