Sunday, April 2, 2017

My Traveling Shoes Are Sheepskin-lined Flats

Alternative titles for this post that I considered:
Our Bargain Spring Break Is No Longer A Bargain
Always Read the Fine Print
Even Travel Bloggers Make Travel Mistakes Sometimes
Well, Maybe We Should Have Gone to Florida After All

My choice of shoes for this trip
I confess.  I couldn’t bring myself to travel in heels for this trip.  I was just too tired.  What was supposed to have been a relaxing weekend preparing for our Spring Break trip to China ended up being a stressful and mostly-sleepless 37 hours for Josh and me, so I decided to don my UGG zebra-striped sheepskin flats.  The good news is that we didn’t have to cancel.  The bad news is that our trip ended up being a more expensive option than it would have been to fly to Florida and take a Caribbean cruise (which was our original plan before we booked this trip.) 

What happened?  Well, even though we had read on several travel blogs that we could use the visa exemption plan to avoid the time and expense of getting real Chinese visas, Josh had a funny feeling about the whole thing.  On Friday night before our trip was to begin on Sunday, he did some more digging on the internet, and at 1:00 am on Saturday we realized that our flight plan DID NOT qualify for the 144 hour visa exemption plan in Shanghai.  Since we don't have Chinese visas (and at this point, even if we had been willing to shell out the extra $560 to buy them the consulate was closed for the weekend), qualifying for the visa exemption was the only way we could enter China.

At first, we toyed with the idea of sticking with our plan and hoping for the best, but then we realized we’d have to hope for no fewer than three different checkpoint agents to bend the rules and let us through.  That didn’t seem likely.  So at 1:00 am, Josh used Skype to call Shanghai immigration.  He managed to get an English-speaking officer who confirmed his suspicion that because our flight stopped in Beijing to change planes before going on to Shanghai, we did not qualify.  Evidently, you only qualify if your first stop in China is Shanghai, even if all you’re doing in another Chinese city is changing planes.  So at that point, we had a choice to make.  Did we cut our losses and cancel everything or did we try to change our flight to go straight to Shanghai?  

Josh uses Skype to call Shanghai.
Josh was leaning toward forgetting the whole thing and staying home, but our park tickets and hotel stays at both Shanghai Disneyland and Hong Kong Disneyland were prepaid.  I was in favor of at least attempting to change our flight, and then Josh remembered an email we had gotten from Hainan Airlines a couple of weeks earlier.  The airline had slightly changed our flight times (by a mere 10 minutes), and the email said that because of the inconvenience we could ask for a full refund.  That would take care of the cost of the plane tickets, but we’d still be out the Disney tickets, hotel stays, and the cost of a prepaid character dinner in the Shanghai Disneyland castle.

Before we gave up, I suggested that Josh call the airline and convince the airline to change our flight instead, by kind of implying that the time change was a major inconvenience for us.  We wouldn’t outright lie, but we would try to use the situation to our own advantage. 

At this point, you need to know that my husband is kind of an airline/air travel/airport nerd.  He completely geeks out over learning which airports are hubs for which airlines, which kinds of planes each airline flies, which routes are owned by which airlines, and other geeky stuff like that.  When he’s bored in meetings, he makes lists of things like “Types of Aircraft I’ve Flown” and “Airports I’ve Flown Through” to keep himself awake.  The lists are lengthy.  It makes him a useful travel companion.

So it didn’t surprise me that he had already found a Hainan flight that went directly from the US to Shanghai with no stops.  It left from Seattle on Sunday at noon, but the only cheap(ish) one-way flight to Seattle from Chicago (where our return flight would deposit us) left on Saturday at 5:50 pm.  Factoring in a three hour drive to the airport plus parking plus allowing time before the flight, we’d have to back up our plans by almost a full day to make that happen.  But it was better than cancelling altogether.

At about 1:15 am Saturday, Josh called Hainan and got an English-speaking agent who told us that he would look into the possibility of changing the flight without additional charges and let us know.  We were like, “Let us know?  What does that mean?  If we’re going to change our flights altogether, that means we’ll need to leave for Chicago in 11 hours.  We’re not even packed because we weren’t planning to leave until Sunday!  We have to know ASAP.”  He told us he would “expedite the request” and call us back soon.  It was 1:30 am.  We decided to try to sleep.

At 3:08 am we were jolted awake by the ringing phone.  Unfortunately, Hainan could not honor our request to change the ticket.  Sticking with our original itinerary (which, of course, wouldn’t get us through Chinese immigration) or cancelling were the only things they could offer us.

But then Josh had a brainstorm.  What if we took the cancellation and refund offer and then just rebooked a brand new ticket from Seattle to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Chicago?  The tickets were clearly available for the same cheap price on the Hainan website, and we’d only be out the extra cost of a ticket for each of us to Seattle.  And, it turned out that Josh and I each had enough frequent flier miles to cover our tickets meaning we’d only have to pay for the kids’ one way tickets to Seattle.   

We told the agent our new plan, and she got to work while we waited on hold.  For two solid hours.  You read that right.  Two hours.  I’ll spare you all of the details because our problems weren’t solved yet.

At about 5:00 am, we were ready to purchase our new tickets over the phone with the agent.  Josh gave our credit card number, and then the agent said, “Wait.  This is an American credit card?  There is a 48 hour waiting period if you book with anything except a Chinese credit card.”

“What?  But we don’t have a Chinese credit card.”

“Well, I can hold these tickets for you until 11:00 am if you can appear at the Hainan counter and pay in person.”

“Where is the nearest Hainan counter?”


“But that’s 4000 kilometers away from us!  It’s not possible!”

“I’m very sorry.  Let me try to get approval for the American credit card.  I will need to put you on hold.”

So there we sat. On hold.  For another hour. Josh took a little nap, and I started packing in case things ended up working out.  The agent would periodically check in with us to make sure we were still waiting and to tell us that she was pushing the payment department to accept our card. 

Josh takes a nap while on hold with Hainan Airlines.  You can see that the clock reads 5:53 am.
When the agent finally came back with an answer, she told us that there was nothing she could do about the credit card issue to buy a new ticket.  But she had convinced the payment department to take our card if we only changed the tickets rather than cancelling and rebooking.  The plus side was that this would allow us to take our trip.  The down side was that the change fees plus the one-way tickets to Seattle more than doubled the original price of the tickets.

Josh and I sleepily stared at each other. What should we do?  Was it really worth it if the trip was no longer a cheap price? Would we regret cancelling more than we’d regret spending the extra money?  After several minutes of flip-flopping back and forth, we decided to bite the bullet.  At 6:38 am, we hung up the phone with our new reservations.  We had been on the phone for three and a half hours and had slept only from 1:30-3:08.

We calculated how long we needed to pack, shower, drive, and park, and decided we could afford one more hour of sleep.  But there was no way I was going to be traveling in high heels after this sleepless night.  Sheepskin-lined flats would have to do, blog or no blog.  You'll forgive me for that, right?                    

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