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Booked: A Humble Homebound Journey

It’s been a while since we’ve had a “Booked” post, hasn’t it?

While leisure travel remains limited for the time being, I do happen to be embarking on an international trip – my first of 2021 – this upcoming weekend. I’m headed back to China for a few months to spend some time with my family.

There aren’t too many exciting flight experiences or points redemptions to talk about, and I really haven’t firmed up too many travel plans beyond a simple one-way transpacific flight.

Instead, the objective of the trip is, in many ways, much simpler: reconnecting with family and friends and enjoying a bit of “normal” life back in one of the places I call home.

The Trip

Longtime readers will recall that I had headed back to Beijing in early 2020 for Chinese New Year, when the coronavirus was first beginning to take hold in China.

In fact, Wuhan had entered lockdown just as I had boarded my flight, and there was definitely a sense of great concern in the air as my parents picked me up from the airport on the 25th of January.

With so much uncertainty around the viral outbreak and the rapidly changing border restrictions, we decided it was best that I cut my trip short and leave early. After only two days at home, I booked a flight to Tokyo that evening, tagging onto a subsequent Qsuites redemption.

As we drove to the airport, I distinctly recall my parents warning me that the coronavirus would eventually wreak havoc around the world. Nothing would be the same for a long time, they said, including the pursuit of travel that I hold so dear.

I also distinctly recall not really believing them at the time – and with this trip, the story comes full circle.

Thanks to a strict and decisive lockdown in the early stages of the pandemic, life has very much returned to normal back in China, with businesses and restaurants open, swift measures to control any localized clusters, and even mask-wearing being optional in many cities.

As I prepare to head back after a year-long period of half-hearted restrictions and a renewed battle of vaccines vs. variants here in Canada, I’m reminded of the saying that “parents always know best”.

Of course, China isn’t really open to foreign passport holders at the moment. Visas that were issued prior to March 2020 have been suspended, and new visas are strictly limited to very narrow set of applicants – much to the frustration of the overseas Chinese diaspora, the international business community, and anyone else with strong ties in the nation.

I was able to qualify for a visa on emergency humanitarian grounds, due to my need to visit my ailing grandfather in hospital. The visa application process was a whole ordeal in itself, requiring a litany of official hospital notices (both signed and sealed by hospital staff) and documents to prove family relationships, but I’m glad I got through it in the end.

I’ll need to complete a 14-day centralized quarantine when I arrive in Shanghai, and I’ll be sure to share what that experience is like.

A typical Shanghai quarantine hotel, courtesy of a fellow traveller

Travellers to China are not able to pre-select their quarantine hotels, and based on others’ experiences, I could end up with anything between a Novotel (in which case, my Accor Gold status could hopefully get me at least a room upgrade) and a no-name guesthouse with leaky faucets and stained carpets.

I certainly don’t expect it to be anything close to the level of luxury that I’d usually prefer to seek out, but at least it should do an effective job of, you know, preventing virus transmission and keeping everyone safe (quite unlike the disastrous hotel quarantine we’ve had here in Canada).

While Shanghai only requires 14 days of quarantine, Beijing still requires 21 days, so I’ll need to drift around for a week or so before heading home. I can freely roam around Shanghai and other provinces with the 14-day rule, though, so at least I’ll be able to explore the city and meet some family and friends.

I’d also like to spend some time over the upcoming months visiting a few parts of China I haven’t been to before, such as the southwestern Sichuan Province, famed for its sizzling-hot spicy cuisine and giant panda bears.

I’ll probably also pass through Shenzhen, where my mom’s side of the family lives, and check out neighbouring megacity Guangzhou as well while I’m at it.

Eventually, I’d like to head down to Hong Kong at the conclusion of my trip. I hold a permanent residence card from back when I lived in Hong Kong as a child, and the city has recently indicated that it plans to expand its “Return2HK” quarantine-free return scheme for residents to encompass anyone who’s been in Mainland China for the past 14 days, which would really work in my favour.

Not only would it be a welcome opportunity to reconnect with a city that’s close to my heart after a few years of absence, but I’d also be able to get the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine when I’m there, with a view of completing the second dose when I’m back in Canada. Fingers crossed that it all works out. 

The Flight

With no firm return date set on this trip besides “sometime in mid-June”, I’ve only booked the outbound journey of this trip so far: a straightforward one-way flight on Air Canada 787 business class from Toronto to Shanghai.

While I would’ve loved to piece together a more creative routing, my hands were tied by China’s strict rules for inbound flights: passengers travelling from Canada must take direct flights from Canada; otherwise, they face a whole new set of pre-flight testing requirements at their intermediate connection points.

(Indeed, the current pre-travel testing requirements for China-bound passengers are already among the strictest in the world: not only do I need to present a negative COVID-19 PCR test within two days of their flight, but I also had to test negative on an antigen test as well. Thankfully, both tests have come through with no traces of the virus detected.)

These days, Air Canada operates the Toronto–Shanghai service (with an intermediate stop in Seoul to avoid excessive quarantine measures for their crew) once a week. As you can imagine, these tickets get very expensive due to the tight supply, both in cash and in Aeroplan points, now that dynamic pricing is in play.

So, did I end up paying 200,000+ points to book this Air Canada business class flight? Thanks to a stroke of luck, I didn’t have to.

You see, prior to the transition to the new Aeroplan program in late 2020, I had booked a flight with a destination of Songyuan in China under Aeroplan’s old rules, charts, and online search engine – all of which were more favourable than the new Aeroplan system we have today.

Inevitably, the itinerary was rocked by schedule changes, and I was able to parlay it into a revenue business class seat on the direct Toronto–Shanghai flight due to the involuntary nature of the schedule change.

With a trip like this, the priority is really to snag any available seat on a tightly capacity-controlled route. Indeed, my flight on Sunday is completely full in business class, and because I had actually pushed back the flight from last weekend, I’ve ended up being stuck in an aisle seat for the duration of the 17-hour journey.

Still, I’m grateful to the magic of Miles & Points that I was able to book this itinerary without having to pay out the nose for it, which is a situation that virtually anyone else who’s headed to a destination with very limited flights would otherwise face.

(As many of you know, I recently moved to Vancouver, although the flight had previously been booked out of Toronto. Tacking on an additional flight at the start would’ve been a voluntary change that reprices everything at the dynamic level, so instead, I’ve booked a one-way flight in Air Canada 787 premium economy – which I think will make for a useful review as many of us embark on cross-country journeys on our domestic trips.)

In terms of the return journey, I haven’t actually made any bookings yet, but I’m definitely leaving the door open to taking a more creative routing on the way home.

In particular, I’d love to give the Virgin Atlantic + ANA First Class sweet spot a go, as well as sample a few high-end flying experiences that I’ve really missed, like Qatar Airways Qsuites.

There are many complicating factors at play, though, including various countries’ reopening policies, airport transit policies, and the question of hotel quarantine back here in Canada if it hasn’t been relaxed by then. (If I want to cross the border by land instead of by air, I’d also then need to contend with the US travel ban on anyone who’s been in Mainland China for the past 14 days.)

Plotting out an optimized return journey is definitely one of the ways I’ll be keeping busy during my upcoming 14-day quarantine in Shanghai, and I’ll keep you updated as I go along.

The Hotels

I haven’t made any hotel bookings as of yet, but I’m definitely looking forward to checking out a few cool hotels across the region over the next few months.

It’s no secret that the Asia-Pacific region is where the major global hotel chains tend to offer the best elite treatment for their most loyal members. While I’ll be living at home in Beijing for a large chunk of the time, I’m planning to leveraging my Marriott Titanium, Hilton Diamond, and Hyatt Globalist status levels to enjoy some awesome stays when I’m visiting other cities.

In particular, I’m excited for my Hyatt Globalist “experiment” to get off the ground.

World of Hyatt had offered a generous opportunity to qualify for Globalist at the turn of the year, and I had paid about $1,200 for a mattress run that would earn me top-tier Globalist status through to February 2023. I’m looking forward to finding out whether Hyatt lives up to its hype.

Park Hyatt Shenzhen

Some of the luxury hotels on my “hit list” include the Park Hyatt Shanghai, the Shanghai EDITION, the Waldorf Astoria Chengdu, the Park Hyatt Shenzhen, and the St. Regis Hong Kong.

The Reviews section of Prince of Travel has been relatively quiet over the past year or so, and I’m excited to add a few more interesting reviews to help guide your travel plans as Asia opens its doors to visitors in 2022 and beyond.

Conclusion

I’ll be spending the next couple of months in China, and I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time with my family, being able to do “normal life” things like eat at a restaurant or go to the movies, and hopefully getting started on my COVID-19 vaccinations.

I’ll still be working full-time on Prince of Travel, of course, with Josh and the rest of the team holding down the fort whenever I’m sleeping. I’m also excited to share with you a little bit of what life is like on the other side of the world these days.

There’s not too much to say in terms of fancy points redemptions on this trip for now, although I do plan to incorporate them into the trip, and I’ll definitely keep you updated. Like many of you, I’ve earned a ton of points during the pandemic with no way to redeem them meaningfully thus far, so it’s now time to swing decisively towards the latter side of the “earn and burn” equation.

39 Comments
  1. Olivia

    Hi Ricky, sorry to hear your grandfather is dying. Hope you can spend some time with him before he passes away.

    With that aside, I don’t think we should be promoting travelling during the pandemic. Most people have not been travelling, but some people have been and that’s unfortunately why we have so many variants popping up in Canada from the UK, Brazil, South Africa and India.

    Unfortunately the government in Canada has done such a bad job handling the pandemic and hasn’t been preventing people from travelling between regions and transmitting the virus further. We need to follow Australia and New Zealand’s lead if we will ever get the virus under control.

    While we all want to travel and go back to normalcy, we can’t do that responsibly at this time. Plenty of travel influencers are able to work from home and in isolation, so they don’t have to deal with many of the consequences that result from increased transmission and community spread at workplaces. People who work in grocery stores, factories, warehouses, schools and hospitals have all had their health further jeopardized from more dangerous variants that continue entering Canada.

    These people can’t avoid the virus by working at home. So when you as a travel blogger books a vacation and encourages others to travel, you are increasing the likelihood of further virus and variant transmission. Communities in Canada are impacted by travellers importing the virus.

    I know you are the business of being a travel influencer. I know that your business is hurting. I know you are bored of staying home instead of flying around spending points. But so are most other small businesses and frequent travellers.

    We will never end this pandemic in Canada if people like you keep travelling and bringing new variants into the country. Please think about the people who can’t stay safe at home, who have to go to work in person and end up catching the virus and dying. Please don’t be selfish and think about how your actions are going to impact others.

    Stay safe.

    1. Ricky YVR

      To be clear, I don’t promote or encourage anyone to embark on leisure travel at this time.

      I also think that we can’t possibly completely stamp out travel for essential purposes, and that it’s possible for such travel to take place in a way that minimizes virus transmission. For that to happen, those who do travel for essential purposes ought to be best-informed of the current state of travel around the world, and that’s the value that I hope to bring in producing current travel-related content. I strive to set the right example by fastidiously observing the many burdensome rules and requirements around travel these days.

      As you’ve touched upon, after reading these articles, some readers may be “influenced” to embark on trips of their own. Statistically speaking, not all travellers will always be following the rules, and that may contribute to a higher likelihood of virus and variant transmission. While I don’t dispute that, I’d put forth that the value brought to travellers who might be embarking on similar essential journeys home (many of whom have left comments here) as well as Canadians looking ahead at future travels isn’t being factored in here.

      Lastly I wanted to thank you for your comment. You’re right that I’ve been fortunate enough to be relatively insulated from the impacts of the virus’s spread at workplaces and public areas, and even though I’m firm in my belief that my reporting on present-day travel experiences does more good than harm, you’ve given me plenty to think about in terms of how the message is best communicated in future content.

  2. GYM

    Just a comment about the Pfizer vaccine, not sure if there’s a way for you get your second dose in HK still because here in BC, Canada (and I think for rest of Canada) you have to wait 120 days post first dose. Even if you’re ok with 120 days post first dose, since your first dose will be outside of Canada I’m not sure if you would be eligible to get second dose here especially if you don’t have the yellow slip for the Province’s COVID immunizations. They might not accept your slip from Hong Kong at the COVID vaccination sites here. Just a heads up.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Thanks for the heads-up. Yeah I’m aware it may be a logistical obstacle in the end, but I do feel like getting the first dose as early as possible would outweigh that – especially as the two doses are exactly the same, as I understand it.

  3. Mike

    I thoroughly enjoyed the St Regis Jingan in Shanghai.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Thanks for the tip Mike – I wasn’t too sure about the St. Regis looking at the pics, but I’ll try to check it out now that it’s been recommended.

    2. Jay*

      I second that! Great lounge offerings.

  4. RD

    Have a safe trip Ricky. I just had one back to China and returned to Canada recently. 14 days of centralized hotel quarantine is not that bad.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Just starting Day 1 now. I could see myself losing it by Day 8 or 9, but we shall see!

  5. issackaka

    Have a safe trip Ricky, looking forward to seeing your updates on the hotels

  6. Justin

    Getting so fucking tired of Travel Influencers deciding they’ve had enough of following pandemic rules and flying abroad for vacations.

    Of course your above the rules that everyone else is being asked to follow Ricky. While 99% of people have listened to public health and avoided non-essential travel, you felt it necessary to take a vacation to Dubai last Novemeber. You’re so fucking selfish. If everybody in Canada ignored essential travel guidelines like you do, we would have 100x as many cases and variants.

    Sorry to hear your grandpa is dying. But like everybody else in Canada who has ill relatives abroad, this isn’t an excuse to go on vacation to China. Tens of thousands of Canadians have lost family abroad who became sick during COVID, but once again they didn’t travel and followed the guidelines of public health to try and keep themselves and everyone else safe.

    Instead, you choose to repeatedly emanate the behaviour of the asshole politicians that were caught travelling last Christmas to see family and go on vacation.

    So fucking tired of travel influencers like you being asshats and further endangering the health of everyone else by 1) travelling unnecessarily and 2) encouraging others to do so.

    Guess you feel no guilt or shame about all your travel plans eh? No wonder. Thanks for being such a selfish prick!

    1. Ricky YVR

      This foul-mouthed tirade is a prime example of the sort of harmful and judgemental “travel shaming” culture that absolutely needs to end.

      Under well-managed and well-enforced testing and quarantine procedures, the movement of people for essential purposes plays a minimal role in the spread of the virus. International travellers who must travel for family, work, or education purposes have been unfairly scapegoated in recent months, whereas half-hearted local restrictions have played a far greater role in facilitating the recent waves in Canada.

      No one should feel “guilt or shame” for making the carefully considered decision to travel while abiding by testing and quarantine requirements and avoiding contact with vulnerable populations if they’ve also come in contact with others recently. Hell, I feel much more shame in the instances when I’ve admittedly met small groups of people outdoors with masks lowered, than in travelling around a country with 0.01 cases per 100,000 inhabitants after completing 14 days of quarantine and 7 days of health monitoring.

    2. Justin Trudeau

      What’s happening in Canada is not a result of travel at this point.

      “we would have 100x as many cases and variants.”
      And? So be it. Such is life and if that’s the price to travel me and many travellers would happily pay it.

    3. Francis

      While travel cases are not to be ignored, 99% of the cases (you can look it up) are NOT travel related. There are many more “pricks’ who are not following local lockdown/screening rules. Travel for compassionate reasons is allowed and he is following all the testing and quarantine procedures. Take a chill pill and stay safe.

      1. Critical Care MD

        I don’t need to look it up – I work in a hospital looking after critically ill patients. 85% of what we see is the B117 variant. 5-7% B351 from South Africa. Suggesting they walked across the Atlantic ocean? Actually arrived right around the time Ricky came back from Dubai. These variants wouldn’t be here without travel.

        1. Will

          When the covid-19 case was first reported in China, it caught everybody off-guard. Still, China had its new cases to single digit in 3 months

          Why do things get so out of control here in North America? Take a walk at Dundas Square in Toronto and you will get an idea. Why should travelers take all the blames? What really matters is how people and the government are handling it.

  7. Alec

    Have a great trip!! Keep us up to date!

  8. Lisa

    Good that you’ll be able to spend some time with your parents. The only region of China I have visited (beside the more common Beijing-Xian-Shanghai route) is Yunnan (Kungming-Dali-Lijiang-Shangri La) and I loved it. I would like to visit Sichuan too and probably the south of Yunnan. I’ll be very interested in reading about your experience in Sichuan. I wish you a good trip.

    1. Ricky YVR

      I have fond memories of Yunnan – Lijiang in particular. Hope to return one day (maybe even on this trip) to check out the unique Xishuangbanna region.

  9. Kyrie English

    Looking forward to the hotel reviews in China, hopefully the experience will enable you to create more contents for the less known hotel programmes in Canada, such as Hyatt, IHG, and Accor.

  10. Dave

    how could you travel to China using Canadian passport?

    1. Ricky YVR

      Did you read the article?

  11. MtheTraveller

    Hi Ricky, If you are planning to get the first dose of Pfizer in Hong Kong, you should get it before the end of August as the vaccination centres will operate until September and that is the time when the Pfizer vaccines will expire. Not sure about your timetable but do note this. Please double check my information as this was announced through the government here

    1. Ricky YVR

      Thanks for the heads up, I didn’t know about that. Yes, I’d probably aim for early June to make it to Hong Kong.

  12. Jeff_IOM TOR

    Bon Voyage and looking forward to your hotel updates. I miss SE ASIA and am suffering withdrawal since covid hit. Havn’t been to Asia since January 2020

  13. LL

    I’m glad the award ticket to Songyuan was able to be converted to a revenue ticket to PVG. Since it’s a revenue ticket, does that mean you’ll earn AP points on YYZ-PVG?

    1. Ricky YVR

      More accurately, it was one of the higher-tier revenue buckets (since cash and points book into the same fare buckets now). I don’t think I’ll be earning points since it was still a points redemption.

      1. Steven

        While the previous poster came off pretty harsh, I think it would have been better to just say you were returning to China to visit your grandpa instead of trying to turn it into a China sightseeing adventure. Bad optics right now.

        1. Ricky YVR

          I appreciate your concern, but I’d much rather be transparent for our readers. Since I’m in China to see my family, I’d like to spend some quality time with them, and travelling locally and safely is one of the ways I’ll be doing that.

  14. Mer

    Good luck and happy travels!

  15. Jonathan Wakrat

    Hot tip in Shanghai for X Montrealer: Tock’s Montreal Deli.

  16. Oz

    Well done sir! I await your updates travel warrior! We have similar backgrounds with travel to YVR, PEK or PVG depending on where in-laws are. Add in some HKG and Shenzhen shopping for good measure!

  17. Taylor

    Travel safe Ricky! Hope your grandpa will get better soon! And as always, thanks for this thoughtful article. I hope I could travel back home as well this year, i do feel a bit home sick.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Thanks for the good wishes. He’s been bedridden for a few years now, but is hanging in there strong. In the future I’ll always be grateful to have been able to make so many trips back to visit him.

  18. SoyMexicano

    Safe travels Ricky!

  19. Jerry

    Wow Ricky, amazing that you were able to actually take advantage of Songyuan and save hundreds of thousands of APs on this flight. Can’t say I’m not jealous as I am also looking to visit family back in China. I hope you can write about the process of getting the visa in the future as I’ve heard it’s borderline impossible. Have a safe trip!

  20. Jay*

    Guess a couple weeks in Mexico prior to your return, if the current US/Canada restrictions are still in place.

    1. Ricky YVR

      Nothing is off the table at this point – and certainly not a few weeks in sunny Mexico.

  21. JL

    Have a good time there Ricky, I wish I had the flexibility you do.
    I wouldn’t mind spending several months in Asia…Canada is such a mess right now.

Ricky Zhang

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