I’m Going To Changsha!

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It’s always fun to plan a trip to a city you hadn’t heard of just a few days prior…

A couple of days ago I wrote about Hainan Airlines launching flights between Los Angeles and Changsha as of January 21, 2016.

Hainan-787

To celebrate the new flight, they’re offering roundtrip business class fares of just ~$1,350, which is incredible for transpacific business class. Hainan Airlines is a Skytrax 5-star airline, along with only a few other carriers in the world. That’s pretty incredible, given that my experience with Chinese airlines has generally been less than stellar.

Hainan-Business-Class

~$1,350 is a price at which I couldn’t turn down reviewing Hainan Airlines business class, so I’ll be heading to Changsha in February! I booked the ticket through Orbitz, and paid for the ticket using my Citi ThankYou® Premier Card. That’s because the card earns triple points on airfare, even when booked through travel agencies. I would have used the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, though it only offers triple points on tickets purchased directly with an airline (and in this case I used an online travel agency).

The flight is operated by a 787 featuring six seats per row, which is a pretty standard configuration (similar to the LOT and Ethiopian 787s I flew a while back). Certainly nothing out of the ordinary, and the cabin sure looks… red.

Hainan-1

I’ll be spending just two days in Changsha, though to be honest I’m not sure what exactly the city has to offer.

Hainan Airlines’ primary hub is in Beijing, so it’s interesting that their first flight out of Los Angeles is to Changsha, and not to Beijing. Changsha seems to be a decent size city, though not massive, so I’m really curious about the motivation behind the route.

If Starwood’s presence in Changsha is any indication, it seems like it’s a rapidly growing market. As of now there’s just a Sheraton there, though over the coming years they’re opening a St. Regis, Westin, Luxury Collection, Le Meridien, Four Points, W, and two more Sheratons. So if that’s any indication, it seems like Hainan is trying to capture the market early.

I’ll be staying at the Sheraton Changsha, which has very reasonable rates (~$110) and looks quite nice.

Sheraton-Changsha

Sheraton-Changsha

On top of that I already have a 10 year Chinese visa, so there’s no added cost to me for that.

One thing I’m curious about is how many miles I’ll earn for the trip. Hainan Airlines is an Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan partner, so you can earn Alaska miles for travel on them (which I value immensely). The flights book into the “R” fare class, which in theory accrue 200% of flown miles (both elite qualifying and redeemable). That means as a non-elite you’d earn ~28,000 elite qualifying and redeemable miles for the roundtrip ticket.

However, oddly Alaska’s earnings page for Hainan Airlines indicates that “R” is the fare class for first class, and not business class. Generally airlines credit miles based on the fare class as opposed to the corresponding class of service, so I suspect it’ll accrue 200% mileage. But the discrepancy is interesting.

Hainan

Bottom line

Ultimately I’m taking this trip in order to be able to review Hainan Airlines business class, as I doubt I’ll ever see a better deal. Even if it becomes possible to redeem Alaska miles on Hainan, it’ll still be a better deal to book a ticket at this price rather than redeem such valuable miles (I value Alaska miles at roughly two cents each).

If anyone has any tips or thoughts on Changsha, I’d be curious to hear them. The way I see it, there’s nowhere in the world which isn’t at least worth checking out for a day or two, so I’m excited to be able to visit.

Is anyone else taking advantage of this incredible Hainan Airlines business class fare?

If you haven’t yet, this fare can be booked until tomorrow, though availability is much more limited than it was a few days ago.

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Comments

  1. Yay! I’ve only had meh to really crap flights on Chinese airlines and have zero desire to repeat the experience but I’m curious to see your review of Hainan.

    As for Changsha, while I haven’t been there myself, I think the mountains that served as the inspiration to Avatar is not that far away so that could make for a nice day trip. Otherwise, it’s probably walking around eating and people watching.

  2. “Warning: do not use the taxi drivers that hang around the terminal trying to catch tourists as they exit customs. At best, you’ll end up with an overpriced taxi fare; at worst you’ll end up in hospital. Drivers will insist you pay more than what you initially negotiate, holding your luggage and threatening violence until you hand over the cash. This can happen on a busy street in broad daylight, somehow nearby pedestrians and security guards turn a blind eye.”

    http://wikitravel.org/en/Changsha

    You’ve been warned!

  3. Have you considered to Hilton Zhuzhou too? Seems a little farther but according to Google it takes just as long to get there as the Sheraton. Also looks like it just opened this month so everything will be brand new

  4. Excellent – really looking forward to a TR from you on a new airline!

    It’s a pity that you’ll only be in Changsha for 2 days, otherwise I would highly recommend going to the Wulingyuan Scenic Area/Zhangjiajie (one of the most beautiful National Parks in China and a UNESCO World Heritage Site; 1 hr flight from Changsha), as well as Phoenix Ancient City (Fenghuang). The best hotel in Zhangjiajie is the Pullman.

    You could do a day trip from Changsha to Yueyang (a city along the Yangtze river around 2 hr drive north of Changsha) or Hengshan (a scenic mountain area around 2 hr drive south of Changsha). It would probably be a good idea to hire a local guide and driver to take you there.

  5. Have you thought of trying their A330, which features a Solstys-style staggered seat? Don’t know where it flies out of and fares aren’t definitely as cheap, and I get why you want to try the route, but you should think of trying the A330 soon after that as well.

  6. Hilton Zhuzhou only opened 2 weeks ago. Some users on Chinese frequent flyer forums who have stayed there reported that there is a strong smell of paint in rooms and the breakfast isn’t great… Apparently in Zhuzhou the Marriott is better, but I think it’s probably better to stay in the Changsha Sheraton as there really isn’t much to do in Zhuzhou…

  7. Ben, you will never see LAX-PEK route by Hainan airlines. Chinese aviation authority only allows one Chinese airline to fly one specific us-china flight route. Only Air China can fly LAX-PEK…

  8. Lucky, my understanding is that China tends to allow a “one carrier, one route” policy to Chinese airlines wishing to operate long-haul routes. Exceptions are often given to Air China as a flag carrier. That’s probably why Hainan isn’t serving LAX-PEK, and why they are serving Changsha and US cities like San Jose and Boston.

  9. You need to take an excursion to Zhangjiajie national forest park. It’s also in Hunan province and it inspired the Avatar movie.

  10. Thanks to your heads-up, Ben, we just bought two tickets to fly there in early April (this sale actually extends into May).

    Yes, there are some terrible reviews on Yelp and mixed reviews elsewhere. IMO your trip review will fill a real void and come in time to help us to some extent (unless it reads “don’t do it”).

    We were thinking of the Intercontinental, or maybe the Crowne Plaza that looks to be in a better location. When I searched the Hilton site Zhuzhou came up so we’re curious about that as well.

    We too are looking forward to a new and unknown (to us) Chinese city. We flew a great Business Class fare on KLM to Hangzhou in late Fall and had a marvelous time there, seeing few other “European” faces during our stay. We even enjoyed shopping on their market street, an activity I usually come to detest quickly, because not only was everybody friendly but nobody was pushy.

    Again, thanks for tipping us off about this one.

  11. Who reads Yelp reviews for airline reviews?

    Full of people who aren’t frequent travelers and in economy to boot.

  12. Nice!
    The boyfriend and I took advantage of a great deal from Dallas to Shanghai for $590 each, $1180 total! I do have a quick question we don’t yet have an Alaska Airlines or Hainan Airlines accounts, how should we go about getting the most miles from this trip?
    Thanks!!!
    We are going to China next year!

  13. Changsha is the TV entertainment capital of China. Many of China’s most popular TV shows are produced by Changha’s Mango TV.

    United launched service between SFO and Chengdu last year. It’s a smart move for airlines to penetrate the emerging market in central/western China.

  14. These seats look very similar to the TK J seats which I found to be very comfortable. I know you love your reverse herringbone, but I sometimes find that depending on how old they are they really limit the ability to lounge comfortably as you can’t put your knees up as the seat in front of you goes over.

  15. @ Lucky “I would have used the Premier Rewards Gold Card from American Express, though it only offers triple points on tickets purchased directly with an airline (and in this case I used an online travel agency).”

    Lucky, since you provide us with some much valuable information, I just want to let you and your readers know that while Amex indicates the 3x points is only applicable with airfare booked directly with an airline, they do generally credit 3x the points on tickets purchased through travel agencies as the vast majority of those tickets are processed through the ARC clearing house and the airline itself is the merchant of record. Therefore, the charge once posted appears to be directly from the airline.

  16. There aren’t many highlights in the city itself. Like some other readers already suggested. Visit Zhangjiajie National Park. There aren’t many foreigners in Changsha. Make sure you have the address of the hotel in Chinese characters.

    @Fredd
    InterContinental is quite far from the city center and most taxi drivers are not familiar with the hotel.
    I stayed at the Wanda Vista, which is located near the Crowne Plaza hotel. Hard product was okay, but service was close to non existing.

  17. Ben, I am not sure if I am allowed to post a link to my own website/blog, if not? Sorry.

    For those who booked the flight and still looking or a hotel. In August, I stayed at the Wanda Vista Hotel in Changsha. I wrote a small review about it for my own blog which will launch somewhere in 2016.
    You can find it here: http://www.dutchworldtraveler.com/review-wanda-vista-changsha/

    Once again, if it is not allowed, Sorry Ben!

  18. @Fredd
    InterContinental is quite far from the city center and most taxi drivers are not familiar with the hotel.
    I stayed at the Wanda Vista, which is located near the Crowne Plaza hotel. Hard product was okay, but service was close to non existing.

    ************************************************************************

    Thanks, AG! I’m also still wondering whether an itinerary including a side trip to Zhuzhou and its new Hilton would be interesting.

  19. @Fredd

    I haven’t been there, but according to Wikipedia it’s an industrial city. I think it’s better to stay in Changsha or visit Zhangjiajie National Park.

  20. I have flown Hainan 787 Business on BOS-PVG. I usually fly BOS-HKG-PVG on CX but after already requalifying for EXP I decided to give them a try for better timing and direct. It’s fine, the worst part is really how open the seat/cabin is. Its no worse than Virgin Australia’s old J. The service is fine, although the crew tends to get a bit overwhelmed (they basically attempt to do a First Class type service for far too many people – I think the menu is approx 5 courses). I find the crew does not speak english as well as Cathay, but still enough to get by (I do ~8 trips a year to mainland China but don’t speak any Chinese). The food was good, not great, although as with any foreign interpretation sometimes things are a bit odd.

    FWIW my fare was R as well, and while it does not make any sense (likely an error since more expensive business class fares earn less) that it should earn 100% bonus on AS, it did, so I got MVP with a single RT. I was expecting 100% earning only (no bonus) like R in Business earns in Hainan’s own program.

  21. Changsha is one of the “furnaces of China” and is very very hot in the summer. The food may be the best in China, especially if you like spice. Hunan province is very mountainous and looks in many places like an old Chinese painting, so the countryside is worth a trip. It is where Mao grew up, so lots of Chinese tourists at sites that probably won’t interest you.

  22. Please come to witness the shitty airport lounge in Changsha! I had a flight on CZ331. I couldn’t tell you how bad the lounge was!
    To me, the best airport lounge in China are Shenzhen Airlines (Shenzhen) and Airchina (Shanghai Pudong). Since there is no Oneworld member in China, Star Alliance is the equivalent of “high quality”…

  23. If there is a new Hilton there, I also vote for that. I stayed at the Hilton Zhengzhou right after it opened and it was amazing. I got such amazing treatment as one of their first diamond members. If they take a similar approach to all their new Chinese Hiltons, it would be neat to experience!

  24. Ben,

    I spent a week there in September 2013 visiting a friend who was a Fulbright scholar for a year in Changsha. He wrote his Phd thesis on historical events in Changsha, so he’s very knowledgeable about the area and still has friends and acquaintances there. I can put you two in touch if you like. Like others have said, It’s very hot there in the summer. I did a side trip to climb Heng Shan which was pretty cool, saw the remains of the old city walls in Changsha, and visited an interesting temple near the University. Changsha is also the capital of Hunan province, and blowing up with development, so that’s probably the reason for the new airlink.

    Fwiw, I met you briefly when I sat across the aisle from you in J on DFW to HKG on AA in September of 2014.

    Tom

  25. A lot of Chinese-Americans/their ancestors emigrated to the US from the Hunan region, so I would imagine there is decent demand from that group.

  26. Been there, done that, even stayed at Sheraton Changsha for my 2013 Year-end Asian Escapade(tm).

    Changsha is the capital of Hunan province and I am sure that most people in the US have heard of the Hunan food since there are so many Hunan Chinese restaurants in the US. The distinguishing characteristic of Chinese Hunan food is that it is quite spicy hot. It is akin Sichuan food, although the latter, which I know a lot about because i had traveled to Chengdu (CTU) in 2005 to marry a lovely lady there but things did not work out so we divorced 3 years later, is much spicy hotter…

    I found a few HUGE night clubs in Changsha and the nightlife there is quite “rich”, but most of what I saw was “hetero.” I am not sure about the gay scene but, overall, it has been becoming more prominent China compared to the way things used to be.

    Enjoy!

  27. Hainan Airlines was a 5-Star Airline. Right now the service dropped down and it is near to a 3-Star.. I used this airline in 2015 two times. Flight Berlin TXL – PEK China TXL
    No service, the drinks comes 25 minutes after the food, no coffee or tea, Staff cannot speak english and they are not interested to speak with the clients .. Everything is only going by plan.
    On the two flights not only the seat – the whole raw – was broken. I checked on my flight back!
    On one flight the Entertainment in my raw as broken – no excuse from the Crew.
    I complained in their German Office in Berlin – lapidar answer:” we give this informations to the HQ in Hainan.
    No excuse – nothing !

  28. Marriott Zhuzhou rocks, forget the Hilton. Service is amazing and GM David takes care of everyone. If you are Platinum the suite will be one of the nicest suites you have ever been in. Sheraton Changsha sucks, as a Platinum I have never received a suite upgrade.

  29. Hmm, maybe you shouldn’t announce this before you fly them for a true review. Since this will get around, you might have a better prepared crew than normal. If any of them speaks understandable English, then it will be suspect and they may have been prepared for you. Like when the Walmart CEO visits the store announced with the entourage, as opposed to casually walking in the store.

  30. I have been following your blog for a long time but first time to post. Reason: I am from Changsha, and I love the city.

    Changsha is best for two attractions(in my mind): night life, and Food!

    Try search “火宫殿“ and ”坡子街“。 “火宫殿“ is the single oldest restaurant for Changsha food. the “坡子街“ is a block with all the traditional collections of Changsha food you should try. Sorry I really don’t know if they have an English name.

    Also there are plenty Bars and clubs within walking distance. The area is always populated till 2am or so.

    For your two days Daytime, here is what the keyword for your places to vist that I would recommend: Yuelu mountain (岳麓山), Ju-zi-zhou-tou(桔子洲头),also the scenic area along the Xiang river(湘江)。

  31. By the way, admittedly there are not a lot of fine Chain hotel in Changsha – I think you should check out Intercontinental in Changsha. Sheraton is in a central and busy area, very convenient if you prefer staying in city center, but the IC has much better view over the River 🙂

  32. Several more notes:
    1) it will be very helpful if you can find a chinese speaking friend. The places that are popular with locals won’t have english signs or english speaking servers. … keep in mind google does not work there.
    2) The Sheraton itself has one if the best lunch and dinner buffet in the city. For about $40, it easily beats the buffet at Caesars Palace. It has a lot of “global” choices and an extensive choice of local tastes.
    3) check out TaiPing street(太平街), it is an old street in Changsha with local cultural shops from local artisans and craftsman, and artists.
    4) Always bring changes, and some cash. Bring your discover card(as it plays as UnionPay), it sometimes is better accepted than Visa/MasterCard.

  33. Changsha is China’s Hollywood, thanks to Hunan Media Group (the largest and the most popular media group in China). I am sure there will be lots of super stars fly on this route, for example, Adam Lambert and Daniel Craig (they have been there before) Good luck on celebrity sighting!

  34. wow, WISH I read this earlier. My hometown is ChangSha, and I am going there in early Feb 2016. I booked my flight ticket with Delta couple month ago.
    Hey, let me know if you need any assistant in Changsha.

  35. Since going to the Chicago Seminars, you’ve been a bad influence on me, Ben. Within the past couple of days, I booked a round-the-world trip (in Emirates A-380 First Class from HKG-DXB-LAX) using my Alaska miles. And I’m going to someplace called Changsa. That one trip will (should) guarantee my MPV status for 2017 and earn back 44,000 Alaska miles.
    I’ve always been drawn to bad influences… so thanks!

  36. @lucky is there any particularmreason you booked through Orbitz instead of just booking through Hainan directly?

  37. Lucky, Hainan airlines is not allowed to fly LAX and Beijing route as currently Chinese government only allow one China airline to fly the transcontinental route to avoid the competition between Chinese companies. Air China got the route so no way for Hainan to fly.
    The reason why Hainan flys changsha lax is laegely because of the huge local government subsidiary from the second or third tier cities in China. The local government believes the transcontinental route woild boost the city image… and this is why the air fare can be that cheap. It has little to do with the market. Hainan will immediately cease the service if no subsidy.
    Actually changsha has little to offer though it is m hometown. It is the capital od Hunan province and famous for the spicy food. There is a mesuem called Hunan Province Museum which is worth visiting. U can check it by google.
    Shetaton changsha is a bit tired but the location is good.
    Hope you enjoy the flight and changsha.

  38. @Erik: I’m just curious. Is Cathay Pacific considered a “chinese airline”? If not, what is it considered?

    Well, shoot, the real world can be complicated, right? Last time in TPE, most of the people I met there are Chinese, right?

  39. Given that CX is based in HK and owned by a British company (Swire), I would not consider them a Chinese airline – when we say that I think people mean mainland. Nor would I lump in BR or CI who are based in Taiwan/ROC. The service levels (particularly ability to speak English) are very different than the mainland airlines.

  40. I look forward to your trip report to Changsa and the review on Hainan Airlines although I will always avoid Chinese airlines if possible due to those numerous media reports of bad chinese passenger behaviour.
    I suspect the reason why Starwood is prescience about Changsa (Hainan) and opning several hotel properties there is because it is the few Chinese islands China actually owns, hence a Chinese resort city that the masses of the smog-filled chinese cities residents can afford to go to that is free of pollution (as of now anyway).

  41. I have lived in Changsha for a while and there is much to do there. Juzizhou Island and Yuelu Mountain are both in the city and very nice. Changsha is notorious for its rainy weather! Bring an umbrella…

  42. @ GringoLoco – Would you call Americans English because their ancestors are from England and they speak English? Then you wouldn’t insist that Taiwanese people are Chinese. As for saying that Cathay Pacific is a Chinese airline, that would most certainly elicit indignation from the people of Hong Hong.

  43. I just ran across an article describing the inaugural flight while trying to check out lounge access.

    While the airline website in its lounges section doesn’t seem to include LAX or CSX ( http://tinyurl.com/hwbepd5 ), according to the article the LAX departure terminal is 2 and premium passengers have access to the AC MLL. Has anybody confirmed that yet? What is the situation at CSX?

    http://www.airlinereporter.com/2016/01/hainan-airlines-commences-flights-los-angeles-changsha/

  44. I flew Hainan business with a friend using Ben’s suggestion $1,350 RT from LAX to CSX on 2/1 and will return on 2/15. My friend and I were the first to use the 72 hour visa which began 1/1/16. Funny, Customs took pictures for the press and welcomed us as well as the Changsa police grand poobah. We flew on to BKK after 72 hours but will return to CSX for another 72 hour stay before returning to LAX.

    A very comfortable flight with very good service, probably the best I’ve had in China close to AA first class to PEK and PVG. Lie flight bed didn’t seem as good as AA’s new 777 300’s.

    Changsha is definitely new to western tourism. Not the most exciting place but with the 72 hour visa you can roam anywhere in Hunan Province. In the past other Chinese cities would not let you travel outside of city limits. We stayed at an extremely nice, new Intercontinental Hotel on the river by the new library, City Museum and concert hall, about three KM’s from center of city (walk along river or take taxi to center).

    We had a club room mini suite with balcony on river for about $150 a night and definitely worth triple that. Although the club offerings were a little sparse, the breakfast buffet in the lobby restaurant was excellent with a great spread and was included in club room price. Excellent service from hotel employees.

    We look forward to our return to go into the mountains of Hunan and then back to LAX.

    At $1,350, Hainan BC was a steal. Thanks Ben.

  45. Forgot to mention. Hainan is sharing the AC Lounge in LAX Terminal 2. It has a decent buffet lunch, good view of the runway. Hainan ticket counter opens for the direct flight at 9 am.

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