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Back in January, the Chinese government announced that in-transit travelers from 45 countries could visit Beijing for up to 72 hours without applying for a visa, a policy that had already been put into place in Shanghai. Now China has announced that starting August 1, Guangzhou will be the third city allowing visits of up to 72 hour without an advance visa application for passengers transiting on.
The only requirements for these 72-hour transit visas are that passengers must be in possession of a confirmed ticket for onward travel to a third country (no roundtrips and no staying in China), that they have to be arriving by plane (so no bus, train or ferry), and they cannot leave the city they land in during that 72-hour period – although in the case of Guangzhou they can travel throughout the Guangdong Province, which is good because Guangzhou is mainly an industrial megalopolis.
The transit visa is issued upon arrival and foreign visitors must register at a police station within 24 hours, but that’s pretty much it. The 45 countries on the waiver list include the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, the UAE, Qatar and several European countries (find the full list here). China Southern also has details of the full announcement and a helpful Q&A section here.
I went to China last year and found 72 hours to be enough time to explore either Beijing or Shanghai and get a good feel for each city, which are both becoming bigger and bigger hubs both for US airlines like American and United, as well as for onward flights to other parts of Asia, so if you’re thinking of using your miles to get to Asia but have had to avoid China in the past, this is a great way to build in a cool little stopover and explore another city along the way.
The Guangzhou announcement is good news for SkyTeam flyers because it’s the hub of China Southern Airlines, so you can use your Delta or Flying Blue miles (both of which are American Express Membership Rewards transfer partners) to fly there and then continue on to other parts of Asia or even to Australia and New Zealand.
China Southern flies its A380 on the Los Angeles-Guangzhou route and will start flying it on the Guangzhou-Sydney route starting on October 27, 2013. Plus, there is tons of low-level award availability on those routes in economy, business and first class – even the very first week that the airline will begin those services. (Just note: on the China Southern A380 website, they call their business class “First Class” and their first class a “Platinum Private Suite” so you might have to clear that up with a Delta rep if you call to book an award ticket).
Per the Delta award chart, you need 70,000 or 120,000 miles roundtrip to travel in economy or business respectively from the continental US to Northern Asia (including China), but you would need 100,000 miles or 150,000 miles in economy and business respectively to fly on to the Southwest Pacific including Australia and New Zealand (China Southern is the only Chinese airline to fly to Auckland) – so for an extra 30,000 miles you’re getting a stopover and another long-haul in your class of choice.
Just a quick search of ExpertFlyer shows award availability on pretty much every day the first week of November from Los Angeles to Guangzhou aboard the A380 with 5 seats in first class, 9 in business and 1 economy award:
And then you could connect from Guangzhou to Sydney a few days later also aboard the A380:
While you can’t actually book these awards online using Delta.com, you can call Delta to book them once you find award availability using ExpertFlyer (or if you don’t have a subscription, you can just call up Delta and ask them to search since there is a ton of availability).
I have only seen pictures, but the China Southern A380 looks like a nice product and it’s been well reviewed. The 70 business seats onboard are laid out in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration and seats have 87 inches of pitch and are 24 inches wide with a large personal table and built-in minibars, laptop stowage, reading lights, USB and power ports, and 15.4-inch digital TV screens as well as satellite telephones.
Although I might personally prefer to use my SkyMiles to book a non-stop flight from Los Angeles to Sydney or Brisbane on Virgin Australia, award availability on those routes can be pretty tight, so this is a great other option to have, especially if you have a little extra time and want to explore a city in China.