The Lucky Windfall From China Visa Disaster

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I am the most paranoid person when it comes to visas because of the list of visa disasters that I have referenced in the past. I wrote the book on China Transit Visas and have shared my missteps as they have become a regular occurrence.

Here’s another story to prove that paranoia can’t cure stupidity which is what I’m comfortable calling myself after another near disaster for my Tahiti Triumph trip. This all began because Thai Airways kept cancelling my flight from AKL-PVG. After the third time it happened, I said enough is enough and called United to change the routing. The agent wouldn’t book PPT-AKL-SYD-PVG and suggested another route. I would go from AKL-PEK-SHA on AirChina. I looked up the reviews for AirChina flights on this route and was satisfied that it was much better than Thai Airways’ hard product via BKK. The ticket was confirmed and everything was fine.

Only it was not fine. It is the passenger’s responsibility to have the proper visa when making a reservation not the airline. No one can blame the airline if he doesn’t do his homework before making a reservation only to find out that a visa is required. In my meek defense, I have to say that I was consumed with addressing my flight vanishing and completely overlooked that this routing violated China’s Visa-Free Transit Policy. As was exactly the case in October 2014, I was trying to get to Shanghai via Beijing in order to stay in Shanghai for the permissible time of 144 hours (formerly 72 hours).

However, the rule clearly states that passengers must fly directly to Shanghai and out of Shanghai (see Travel Guide China’s 144-Hour Visa-Free Transit Guide). Like two years ago, I overlooked that I was coming through Beijing and leaving from Shanghai. That’s a big no-no. Unlike two years ago, this time the mistake was discovered before arriving in Beijing where I tried to smooth talk the immigration agent.

Having dealt with many travel hiccups both of my doing and out of my control, I remained calm. I went to United’s website and searched for flights. What I found and subsequently booked with no change fee made the drama and feeling of ineptitude worth it.

Instead of going on AirChina or Thai Airways, I am now routing through Tokyo on Air New Zealand’s Dreamliner and ANA’s Dreamliner on the outbound and the inbound segments.

The agent had a good laugh at my story and said I was lucky that the error was caught. He also said I was lucky that Air New Zealand had availability because it rarely does.

I agreed, thanked my stupidity for this good fortune, and away I will go.

60,000 United Miles. No way there's a better reservation for the value than this. Can I find my way to business in the AKL-PPT-AKL segment?
60,000 United Miles. No way there’s a better reservation for the value than this. Can I find my way to business in the AKL-PPT-AKL segment?

Feel free to share your China Visa-Free horror stories so I’m not the only feeling silly.

10 COMMENTS

  1. Did TWOV for a family member while I had a visa.. Routing was PDX-DFW-PVG/PEK-DFW-PDX and had no issues with TWOV. AA reps at DFW were questioning the visa rules but since we were flying out of PVG and into PEK on a separate ticket, they eventually were fine with it.

  2. AA in Los Angeles won’t let us leave because the Mgr wasn’t aware of the rule until 4 hrs later checking with Dallas office but plane left already so they booked as on CX now the rule disqualified us to use the visa waiver since we are coming from hkg and not LA anymore, which created more problems, let us just say I end up buying Taipei ticket as the outbound route instead of coming back to LA we had to stop in Taipei. No help from AA at all even at EXP.

    • That is horrible. It’s not even worth dealing with this 72 hour crap. Better to just send off the passport, get the 10 year multiple entry, and be at peace.

    • Exactly what I meant by windfall. My lack of attention got me the best flights available. I had NZ on the outbound but to be able to get it on the return and to not have to fly CA or Thai and not go to Beijing immigration prison, what more could I ask for…maybe AC in my Tahiti room.

  3. Hey TPOL, you’re really a lucky guy indeed! NZ rarely release their Award ticket for UA to redeem between NRT/AKL. That’s the reason why I had no choice to change my route from NRT to PVG as transit for NZ 787 flight this coming Autumn. And the UA agent even told me that I couldn’t have a stopover in AKL this year!? It’s pretty weird since I redeemed the same flight to PPT from TPE last year with the same miles in couch, not sure if they changed the stopover rule this year…

  4. Business travelers like myself often found ourselves in a situation like yours. Especially the China-Hong-Kong confusion. I learned my lesson first time and got an agent on my side, https://www.visafirst.com sort those stuff for me and save me from the hassle. Had never again worried about visa policies and transiting airports. Of course, I pay for it but for me it’s worth it.

    • I agree. If you’re going to go hop from country to country, it can be time-consuming to keep up with all of it.

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