Why Is Booking Tickets To Lhasa So Complicated?

Filed Under: Travel

I’ve been wanting to visit Tibet for years. I visited Bhutan last year and had an incredible time, and I imagine I’d enjoy Tibet just as much. I love being outdoors and hiking, so it’s something that has been high on my list for a while. On top of that, there’s a St. Regis there that’s reasonably priced, so it’s a great opportunity to combine a points hotel with a destination I really want to visit.

However, I must be missing something, because the process of trying to book a flight there is a total pain. You’d think this would be super easy, since there are nonstop flights from several Chinese gateways to Lhasa, so in theory you should be able to make it there in one stop.

Not so fast, unfortunately.

Getting to China is super easy

Ford and I still have all of our systemwide upgrades with American for this year, so getting to China couldn’t be easier. Transpacific economy fares are as low as they’ve ever seen, so for under $600 roundtrip per person we could fly from the US to Beijing or Shanghai, and our upgrades would almost certainly clear.

I figured I was 80% of the way there, and the rest would be easy. Boy was I mistaken.

Getting from Chinese gateways to Lhasa is crazy expensive

Maybe the problem is just that we’re spoiled by how cheap transpacific fares are nowadays, but it’s shockingly difficult to find anything even remotely reasonably priced from Beijing, Shanghai, or other gateways, to Lhasa.

Want to fly nonstop from Beijing to Lhasa? The cheapest nonstop roundtrip economy fare on Air China is over $1,000. As you can see, fares just book into the full “Y” code. What the heck?!

Even with connections, the cheapest economy fare is over $1,000 roundtrip.

Fares from other gateways (which would require an additional connection), aren’t that much cheaper. The short flight from Chongqing to Lhasa is a minimum of $600 roundtrip.

Then there’s Tibet Airlines, which I’ve been wanting to review. They have A330s that they fly to Beijing, and unlike other airlines, they also fly nonstop from Shanghai to Lhasa. However, oddly their flights don’t show through any online travel agencies, and their website is only in Chinese. When I use Google Translate and try to book a ticket, the following message pops up, which I believe is saying I’m not even allowed to buy a ticket?

You know the worst part of all of this, though? If you were to just book an economy ticket from the US to Lhasa, it would cost just $650 roundtrip. You’ve gotta love airline pricing logic…

The catch is that this isn’t bookable with the transpacific flight on American, so there’s not a practical way to do this while upgrading.

As if three segments in each direction isn’t enough, the inefficiency of Chinese airline route networks is mind-boggling. For one day I searched, they suggested the following routing for $665 roundtrip. I wish I could say I was making this up.

You’d think the natural solution here is to redeem miles. This seems like a perfect situation for which to do so. While it’s a possibility, I’d note that there’s virtually no premium cabin award availability, and there’s very little award availability on the nonstop flight from Beijing to Lhasa, which only operates seasonally anyway. So while I’d take it if it were the only option, spending seven hours in Air China economy with an additional connection doesn’t seem ideal. At least it seems to me like there should be a better way.

I know often flights are cheaper if you book when you’re in China, but the issue here is that you need a special permit for Tibet, so you don’t want to wait until you’re in China to book your ticket.

So is there some secret I’m missing here? Is there a way to score cheaper fares, or to even see Tibet Airlines’ fares to begin with from outside of China? Or are the only options to either book a super cheap economy ticket from the US all the way to Lhasa, or to redeem miles for an inconvenient routing in economy from Beijing or Shanghai to Lhasa?

I feel like I must not be the first person to have dealt with this situation. Like I said, the options that are available aren’t the end of the world, and redeeming 30,000 miles from a gateway to Lhasa in economy isn’t that bad. However, as someone who likes to maximize the tickets I book, I figured I’d ask you guys if I’m missing something obvious here.

Comments
  1. have you checked the prices on ctrip? I’ve found them to be cheaper than whats quoted by google flights search

  2. @anon – Ctrip wont sell tickets to Tibet to foreigners. Just checked. But yes, they generally are the best option.

  3. You probably need a travel agent based in China. I bet they have access to options that you do not have.

  4. @ anon — When I search flights to/from Tibet on ctrip.com I get the following message:
    “To book flights arriving or transferring in Lhasa, Nyingtri, Qamdo, Shigatse and Ngari, passengers are required to have a Chinese ID card. Foreign passengers must buy tickets to these cities directly from the airline.”

  5. Call me paranoid, but I’d guess at least part of the reason it’s not easy is that China really doesn’t want you, as a Western tourist, to go to Tibet.

  6. Personally I would love to read a Long haul economy review from you. Sometime we need to suffer for our art!

    On another note, please check the visa requirements for China. I know you need a special permit to visit Lhasa which is also far from simple to obtain. At least that was the case till last year.

    Another option would be to fly into Katmandu and drive all the way to Lhasa. It will probably spare you the horror of Long-haul economy since there are plenty of cheap biz fares on ME3 carriers and the drive itself is supposed to be among the most scenic on earth.

  7. I didn’t try to book but if you search in the chinese version of ctrip, you can see pricing and routing. at least helps for planning

  8. The thing is, airfare in China has its own pattern. Airlines will only publish the domestic deep discount ticket within 3-4 weeks of the departure time. So, if you check the November’s airfare now, basiclly you will only get the full fare economy ticket. Also, try to book the ticket directly on the airline’s the Chinese website, or other Chinese OTA, like ctrip(I am not a fun of it) and alitrip.

  9. If you are a non Chinese National you need a tibet travel permit & to book with a registered travel company to travel to Tibet. I just did a look on CTrip to see if you could use them to purchase, and it wouldn’t let me even price out airfare. I was directed to contact the airline directly.

  10. You’ll need a travel permit for Tibet. It’s a piece of paper that won’t be put into your passport.

    Without this permit, forget about boarding.

  11. Foreigners are not allowed to enter Tibet province without a special permit, which you only get via a travel agency. That’s probably why you are not allowed to purchase a flight as an individual. You can only travel Tibet with a tour guide, although private tours might be possible, YMMV. Don’t try to enter Tibet without the permit, they WILL check it.

    Chinese domestic flights are best purchased with a Chinese OTA, most popular for foreigners is probably Ctrip.

  12. Air China economy fares starts on Y.
    They do have a U$600rt fare but only for specific travel agencies.
    And they only have Y and F class available
    1 CA4125 F6 A0 Y9 B0 M0 U0 H0 /PEK 3 LXA 0735 1205 E0.319 4:30
    Q0 V0 W0 S0 T0 L0 N0 K0
    2 CA4112 F7 A0 Y9 B0 M0 U0 H0 /PEK 3 LXA 0815 1455 E1.319 6:40
    Q0 V0 W0 S0 T0 L0 N0 K0

  13. Get to Chengdu. I used DL miles to book flight last summer to Lhasa from Chengdu, the main air gateway to Lhasa.

  14. Just go the super cheap economy fare as it is cheap and its all on the same airline and at least you earn points,status and miles as Xiamen Air are sky team so you can credit them to Delta also check Xiamen business class pricing for that itinerary though that would be expensive and you have already reviewed Xiamen air business class also I think I speak for many readers on this blog in saying we would all love a long haul economy review also in this case it is not about reviewing airlines and the journey but about the destination and experiencing Tibet and reviewing the St Regis

  15. Have you thought about stopping in Lijiang first to acclimatize a bit? There appears to be a nonstop to Lhasa from there and it’s one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to.

  16. Take the train to Tibet from Beijing, Shanghai, Chengdu or Xian. Wherever you can fly the cheapest. Now that will be an interesting trip report!

  17. James

    The St Regis offer butler service and they have a clinic which offer free oxygen tank for elite members, their butler is also nice.

    Lucky

    You’ve reviewed how bad several Chinese carriers are and both for the state and business operators, they wouldn’t want to disturb the peice in tension-filled Tibet.

    After u go through custom entering China, there will be a even harder customer for entering Tibet, China treat it with even tighter regulations.

    If u do decide to go there, remember don’t shower nor work out during the first 48 hrs otherwise u could be sick the whole journey.

  18. As a foreigner, you need a travel permit for Tibet, it was the same when I went there by train – this can only be done by a Chinese travel agent. Of course, back in those days every hotel would do it for you, but I understand it’s much more difficult now.

  19. We were in Tibet about 3 years ago and flew from Xi’an for around $200 one way direct in economy. We also stayed at the St Regis and even though the rooms were nice, the service was existent. My wife got altitud sickness at night and needed extra towels and the front desk was not helpful at all. I also had to pay $1600 for three days of a personal guide which is a requirement, as one can not just show up without one.

  20. First u r not allowed to travel solo in Tibet, upon getting the permit for entering Tibet, u need to have your travel route and intinery by the tour agencies, and judging how badly u portraited all the Chinese airlines, I don’t think u will have a good time in China either.

  21. Suck it up and either fly coach the whole way or pay for the short haul Y fare. Is a long haul economy review verboten?

  22. I have consistently found economy redemption PEK to LXA from Flying Blue for 12,500 miles with no surcharges. Economy is not exactly ideal, but may make sense in this scenario. Planned a trip there last November, ended up not going though.

  23. NOOOOOOOO,
    DON’T GO THERE !!!!!!

    Ur post about how you support the Marriott twitter liked one free – tibet tweet, can easily be redeemed as signs of interfering China’s autonomy and pro-tibet.

    Now u r thinking of visiting there? Very risky move I would say. You could end up in jail or maybe just disappeared.

    U need to get a permit to entering Tibet first, and if don’t followed a group tour, it would be a huge challenge for u to get it.

    If I say Katy Perry and Justin Bieber get rejected for even going to China.

    I say your chances of going to Tibet is SLIM.

  24. Tibet requires a lot of research, its a heavily restricted country that China decided to take over.

    As of last year it required a special travel agency to book travel and accommodation, I would double check. I don’t feel its as simple as contacting carrier/hotel and just booking.

    I would just book an all in tour!

  25. 1. You should take the train (at least on the way to Lhasa). It’s worth it. Start in Xining, to cut the time to 24 hours and to the most interesting part. You could also consider spending a couple days around Xining, which has a fair amount of interest itself, particularly if you get out to some of the Tibetan monasteries in the countryside.
    2. Steve is right that Chinese domestic flights usually don’t have their lowest prices until relatively close to departure. You don’t have to wait until the final 3-4 weeks. But you should at least wait until a couple months in advance.

  26. try ctrip, chinese version

    airtickets are super cheap

    you can not use google flight to search the flights within china, super expensive

  27. We did Lhasa as a side-trip from Lijiang (which is an absolutely stunning destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site). Sichuan airlines sells relatively cheap one-ways LJG-LXA. Sit on the left side of the aircraft, as the entire flight essentially tracks the edge of the Tibetan Plateau for nearly its entire length.

    We then used UA miles to book an award from Lhasa. Air China to KTM, then TG onwards. The flight from LXA to KTM provides the best views of Everest of just about any flight that exists. Absolutely stunning.

  28. Use Qatar to get to Kathmandu, and then it is bearable (albeit still fairly expensive) short hop to Lhasa. Travel agencies that provide “official” tours and papers for Tibet are plentiful in Nepal.

  29. I am a Chinese, Tibet is no China, I support Tibet independence.
    我是中国人,西藏不是中国,西藏应该独立

    I hope you go to Lhasa and give support to Tibetans.

  30. Check flights from Hong Kong or Shenzhen

    And on some miles programs Tibet is counted as a domestic flight within China.

  31. We went to Tibet and stayed at the St Regis in 2012. We didn’t get the Tibet travel permit permission until a few days prior to our flight to Lhasa! So I’d not assume you will get that permit (though the St Regis suggested that booking them helps). Any political turmoil that might occur in China or Tibet around your trip can impact the Tibet travel permits for foreigners.

    We booked our flights through a Chinese tour agency and flew from Shangri-La (Zhongdian) Airport after a stay nearby and in Lijiang (about 3 hours drive). I HIGHLY recommend traveling to Tibet via Lijiang and Zhongdian for several reasons: (1) elevation at Zhongdian is 11,000 and that at Lijiang is 8000 feet, allowing you to acclimate a bit before reaching Lhasa’s 13,000 feet and the concomitant elevation sickness and/or basic weariness/exhaustion you almost certainly will suffer if you arrive from sea level cities, (2) Lijiang is one of the most beautiful towns in all of China, even despite recent tourism spikes, (3) the famous and beautiful Tiger Leaping Gorge is on the 3 hr drive between Lijiang and Zhongdian anyway, and (4) Zhongdian is basically the sub-Tibetan plateau, and it feels and looks a lot like Tibet—in case your Tibet travel permit isn’t authorized and you aren’t allowed to fly to Tibet!

  32. So this is one of those rare times when you shouldn’t fly.

    Beijing to Lhasa has one of the world’s coolest trains. And you can get on at Chengdu instead if you want to cut down the journey time.

    It’s an engineering marvel… give it a go.

  33. For Lhasa it might be wise to travel to a city nearby that has a relatively high altitude to acclimate more than you could coming from a lowland city (even though you won’t be fully acclimated no matter where you go). Otherwise your first couple days in Lhasa may be rough. Then use a local travel agency or someone that has good experience dealing with Lhasa / China in general to book the flight to and from Lhasa to whatever city you choose to pre-acclimate. That same agency / person will get your permit to go to the city. Additionally, This might be the one flight where you may have to forego getting a good deal.

  34. I think that route typically has RT prices from LAX to Lhasa for ~$2200 on Xiamen. It’s flat bed reverse herringbone seat transpac and while it’s not amazing food, service is quite good.

  35. CTU-LXA-CTU $566 Sichuan Airlines

    Or

    LAX – LXA Xiamen in biz $2200-$2700……(the $2700 is the 22hr version, the $2200 45 hrs)

  36. You could fly LAX – HKG on AA, and then HKG – KTA on CX, which would then require enduring less than 2 hours in economy to LXA. I haven’t checked award availability to KTA on CX, but I imagine there isn’t much demand. The flights to HKG are generally pretty cheap too! Or, just scratch AA altogether, and check out CX’s new J dine-on-demand concept of they are running it out of LAX/SFO by then.

  37. I was in Chengdu and Xi’an earlier this year and prices from both cities were fairly reasonable, though more expensive than other intra-China flights. I believe award availability through on CZ using SkyMiles was also an option. I checked with many tour operators and most if not all offered flight bookings as well, so you might want to research that option. Ultimately I ended up going to some of the Stans rather than Tibet, so I can’t provide any intel into the in-“country” experience. Good luck!

  38. As many others have commented, foreigners require a separate travel permit for Tibet (beyond a normal Chinese visa), and you will find it’s hard to book tickets to there online for that reason. There is no way around the permit restriction, so I would use a Chinese – or perhaps an experienced Hong Kong based – travel agent in this case to arrange the paperwork and purchase the Tickets from a PRC gateway.

    I would not imagine The PRC authorities welcome bloggers into Tibet (they certainly don’t welcome journalists) but good luck – would be a fascinating trip report indeed.

  39. Hi, we booked a flight on Air China from Shanghai that was about the same duration. Our initial plan was to take the train to Tibet but we did not have the time.

    Have you spoken with the Tibetan travel guide that you are booking? They may be able to help. When we went in fall 2015, we were required by the Chinese govt to use a Tibet based guide to get our visas and to be with us during our trip. They helped us think through travel options. We used Explore Tibet which is actually run by Tibetans.

  40. Have you thought of flying to Lhasa from Kathmandu? Air China and Sichuan Airlines fly direct from there. It wouldn’t be total bargain but it would be a lot cheaper than what you have from Beijing.

  41. Since you mentioned that you enjoy hiking, one option is to go to Nepal, do some hiking and then fly to Lhasa from Kathmandu. It is a short flight but will still cost about 500. The visa process for entering Tibet from Kathmandu is different than from mainland China. You will have to apply for the visa at Kathmandu through a travel agency who will obtain a invitation letter from their Chinese counterpart. The travel agency will take care of everything for a nominal fee.

  42. @Lucky
    You could fly to Kathmandu on Qatar/Turkish/Cathay or anything really and then take Sichuan Airlines out to Lhasa.
    I’m currently seeing round-trip fares from Kathmandu to Lhasa on Sichuan for $300 dollars in early July.

  43. I was rather shocked to see you say you love the outdoors and hiking – I’ve always gotten the impression from your trip reports that you mostly enjoy lazing around the hotel, being on a plane or being driven around a city!

  44. @Lucky

    Greetings from London. Well, this is spooky — will be there pretty much at the same time as you based on your AA dates listed above! Hopefully might get to meet you at the St Regis in Lhasa — there on 14 and 15 November 🙂

    I have just finished up booking flights for this … might I suggest using A3 miles & bonus ?

    Regional Asia hops are maybe the best use of A3 miles now … we are longhaul into HKG and then going via CTU to LXA …

    You need to stop at least one night in China in order to receive the Tibet Travel Permit, as it needs to be posted to a Chinese hotel.

    I booked one-way economy award HKG-CTU for 7.5k avios & £25, then a separate one-way CTU-LXA for 12.5k A3 miles and £25 the following morning. Combined cash price for those two one-way tickets would be £650 approx …

  45. Check Chengdu (CTU) and Kunming (KMG). With the nonstop UA flight from SFO-CTU, i would think you would be able to pair this with a connection nicely.

  46. Last time I checked into this, foreigners are not allowed to visit Tibet except on official tours (geared to foreigners). Can’t join a Chinese tour group.

  47. A few years ago I flew there from Shanghai via Xian on China eastern in first. And you need a permit. I used a travel agent with connections to my client in Shanghai and they handled everything and that was worth it.

  48. Oh I actually did this trip.

    I had to join a tour group to go though and we took a train which was better for the body to get acclimated to the high altitude.

    Also stayed at that St. Regis too which was extremely nice. It has an awesome view from the second floor lobby terrace.

    I hope you figure it out.

  49. When I went to Tibet I booked flights without having a permit. I booked the tour online and they send the permit to my house in the US.

    I flew KE F JFK-ICN-PVG 747-8/77W then award CA F (domestic F) A330 PVG-CTU-LXA they seem to open award seat in J a lot back then (2016, I saw it on all dates), I ended the trip in Katmandu. Flew back with QR A380 F to LHR and BA F to the US. Was a fun trip.

  50. Sorry, correction to my above comment:

    They sent the Tibet permit to the hotel in CTU, not to the US… so I can show the permit at the check in on my last flight before going into Tibet.

    But flights are purchased without having to have permit

  51. Like you cant afford 1K on a flight….come on!

    Haha no but seriously, this sounds like too much work. Unless youre dyiiiiing to visit Tibet, there are plenty of INCREDIBLE hiking options & beautiful beaches in Rio, with plenty of points hotels & miles on AA to get you there. 😉 AND you can review AZUL on the way back to the US!

  52. Is Air China still playing games with UA awards? Lengthy discussions in past years, numerous sites, that award reservations often were canceled at the last minute with an attitude that they won’t help.

  53. We visited Tibet in 2014 and stayed at the St. Regis for 3 nights. It’s a fantastic property and has a really super restaurant (i.e., roasted Yak tail). The key is not to officially request travel to Tibet when you make your bookings. Work with a travel agency in China and they will take care of everything for you. When we traveled, they told us not to mention Tibet in our visa request, but they were taking care of the itinerary. On arrival in China, we were handed a brow envelope on our second day in Kunming and it contained our Tibet travel permit and tickets. This wasn’t some shady deal, it was one of the biggest tour operators in China. We had a great visit to Dali, Lijiang and Shangri-La (Degen), and then Lhasa.

  54. I went recently, very tricky. Most travel agents won’t book the ticket unless you have the travel permit. And the travel permits are only issued about 1 month before you go. I found booking a UA award was the easiest option. The direct PEK-LXA flight opened for me, so was able to get on that in econ (biz seems to never open). It’s also possible to fly to KTM, which is a shorter flight – but note that to leave LXA and go to KTM, you need a different kind of permit (which the tour agency can do for you).

    Make sure you use a locally owned tour company while there (i.e. by Tibetans). I highly recommend Tibet Highland Tours. It’s not the fanciest, so the cars are only ok. But the drivers, guides, etc. were fantastic and give a truly local perspective. I booked my own hotels. While the SR is nice, don’t expect global SR standards…

  55. I saw a Tibet Airways plane in Thailand last week. Must have been a one-off as my interest was triggered immediately, but I could not find anything that looked like a schedule.
    Anyway, since China still occupies Tibet they probably want to keep an eye on who they allow in there.

  56. As suggested by many, taking the train into Lhasa is highly recommended (as you will get to pass amazing scenery on route).

    However word of caution, the train is in fact pressurized – ie: it won’t help you in adjusting for the altitude difference gradually; there is literally no difference in arriving in LXA stepping off a plane or a train.

    It is not easy to get into Tibet as a foreigner and there’s so much more to see (than Bhutan).

  57. Free Tibet!

    …unless you’d rather fly business class to Lhasa and stay in a five-star hotel where you can complain about mileage earnings and the way they fold their towels. Meanwhile, out in the streets, the Red Chinese are beating monks and brainwashing children into thinking their thuggery is acceptable human behavior.

    But Lucky also flies to Russia, Turkey, Qatar, Ukraine, Vietnam, and all sorts of places where human rights are a twisted joke. It’s best not to ask him about politics, though. He’s a travel blogger. One who apparently doesn’t mind traveling to hotbeds of human misery, so long as he can get some good photos and web traffic out of the trip.

  58. Don’t wanna get political so just gonna provide some practical info as a Chinese reader living in the US of OMAAT.

    First, traveling to Tibet for non-Chinese citizen requires a special travel permit, which will not be easy to get. U can’t even board the flight to Lhasa without one. This is in addition to your Chinese visa and must be applied through a local travel agency. Do some research about that first before you try to make any travel arrangement.

    Second, for domestic flights in China, there’s a lot of tricks to get a reasonable price. Book with a Chinese OTA, or call the airline to book by phone will be your best option. I’ve done that while I live in the US and needed to get a cheap ticket from PEK to CAN. Called the Air China call center in the US, told them to connect me to their Beijing call center, booked it from there and got a quote for CNY 2300 for a one-way biz ticket. Not bad at all.

    Non-Chinese credit card were accepted but I needed to write an authorization letter, emailed to Air China, with the copy of my credit card, front and back. The whole process was a pain in the ass but hey, at least this could work. I purchased my ticket with my Amex Plat, which I couldn’t do on Air China’s Chinese website.

    BTW, to do that, u better get someone who can speak mandarin for help…I speak mandarin and this was still a pain in the ass for me. Imagine how much it takes for someone who can’t speak mandarin…

    Feel free to ask me anything if you need more information. Cheers.

  59. “However word of caution, the train is in fact pressurized – ie: it won’t help you in adjusting for the altitude difference gradually; there is literally no difference in arriving in LXA stepping off a plane or a train.”

    This is a very common misconception with the Lhasa trains; they are actually not pressurized, as in an aircraft. Instead, additional oxygen is pumped into the train car to help compensate for the thinner air; however, some still feel effects from the altitude. In any case, I totally agree this is the way to go!

  60. I flew SYD-LXA via PEK and CTU in Dec. 2016 one way for 20K economy using Mileage Plus miles on Air China. RIP Good old days of the generous United/AirChina redemption chart! The issue was getting from PEK to LXA where the flight was a good 8 hours late with little explanation even at the CA first class lounge (shout out to Priority Pass).
    Eventually we took off to CTU where the plane was only supposed to make a quick stop and passengers to LXA remain onboard. However, due to the low yield, CA made up a story about weather conditions and cancelled the flight. Fortunately the locals on our flight knew that there was no weather issue and CA was just trying to merge our flight into the next CTU-LXA flight scheduled about 12 hours later. Negotiations ensued and somehow my Mileage Plus award ticket enabled me to travel on a Tibet Airlines flight from CTU to LXA 2 hours later with the rest of the affected passengers who demanded flying that same night. In fact, I’m very thankful for the group of Tibetans who include myself and another tourist in their negotiations with the airline. On my way home, I flew CA’s horribly expensive (AU$400+) LXA-KTM 40min leg since reedeming miles was not a logical option since China and Nepal are on different continents. Tibet is fascinating and make sure you go beyond Lhasa to experience such a unique place on earth.

  61. Maybe first check what permits you need to visit Tibet too? That agency can get you an eco flight for a normal
    Price. Then, foreigners can NOT go by train.

    Please first check all what you need before complaining about price. Even if you book a 1000 usd ticket. You will be on your way back immediately if you dont have a permit/guide. In Lhasa itself you can walk around but all outside is WITH GUIDE ONLY

  62. Seriously, Lucky… you’re surprised and confounded that it’s difficult to travel to and from Tibet? It’s not occurred to you why this might be?

    This entire article is so utterly tone deaf, I can barely believe it was published.

  63. I planned a trip to Lasa (in Pinyin it is not Lhasa) but the visa took to long. Foreigners need to have a day-by-day itinerary, a driver/guide to accompany you and book all hotels in advance. So that process takes about a week in China. Probably more through an agent from outside of China. A return ticket from Shanghai-Lasa is rmb 3060 (US $ 465) what is reasonable I think as I sometimes pay the same for Shanghai-Kunming. Tip: On China Eastern the price for business class is the same as Economy if you book in September.

  64. @Jason W.
    You sound like an experienced Tibet traveller. Can you share some more information or some pictures with us?

  65. @Lucky – if you’re not a Chinese national, I believe you’ll need a permit to enter Tibet.

  66. I’ve heard there are so many Han Chinese migrants in Lhasa that it hardly feels like being in Tibet – is this true? As someone living in India I’d also highlu recommend “Little Tibet” of Ladakh in northern India, which is just an hour flight from Delhi and cost is much less. There are so many sites to see i.e. Pangong Lake, Nubra Vallery, and old Buddhist monasteries. Also the culture is well preserved by the government initiative. But may be you may not be able to review international chain hotels as there aren’t any.

  67. “I’ve been wanting to visit Tibet for years. I visited Bhutan last year and had an incredible time, and I imagine I’d enjoy Tibet just as much.”

    You will be disappointed there my friend. Lhasa is very much a Chinese city now, with the Tibetan-ess out for display for tourists. Yes, there is the Potala and Jokhang, etc. but all that is highly curated. More importantly, Lhasa is at 3,600 m. You will need 3-4 days to just acclimatize to the altitude before you can hike and you don’t design your trips that way.

    Best of luck and enjoy.

  68. You’d think that a staff with the knowledge and writing skills of OMAAT would know the obvious answer that was so apparent to many.

  69. I’m pretty sure Lucky and the team knew about all this. They are doing it for engaging more views and be more viral. Its a valid and legit tactic.

  70. Last year a couple of colleagues flew to Tibet from Delhi (India) or Dubai. Both cities should have excellent availability. Issue with Tibet is around its recognition, that would be why flying out of China is so tough I imagine.

  71. I have traveled to Tibet *and Lhasa* before — about 7 years ago most recently. At the time not only did you need special visas to enter the country (beyond a normal Chinese visa) but, due to this, booking was essentially only possible through travel agents. Not sure which, if any, of these regulations/hurdles, still apply or are causing these issues for you.

  72. Have you tried flying to Lhasa via Nepal? I did this back in 2011 and the price was quite reasonable. Just another option for you to consider!

  73. @ Lucky
    I have been a fan for years and I would have to say that I was rather disappointed after reading your post. For someone is as well travelled as you, you are certainly lacking some basic common knowledge. I could understand that this could be a post to simply just “ask” some questions but it just came across uneducated. I think you have a real responsibilty in doing some serious research before posting given how large your readership is…………

  74. I searched the Tibet Airlines flight for you. Unfortunately, they haven’t yet loaded any availability for November, so I checked a random date pair in September and found that the cheapest PEK-LXA round trip ticket in economy is 3260 RMB (or about $500). Unfortunately, it appears that TV does not fly non-stop PEK to LXA. It offered only one flight option each direction (PEK-LXA is TV 6290, LXA-PEK is TV 6289), both of which said that they are direct, but not non-stop flights. It doesn’t say where the stop is, but I checked a Chinese flight tracker website, and it looks like the stop is in Chengdu. Anyway, the stop makes the total flight time 6+ hours in each direction, so not really a better option than the tickets you found for 15k UA miles.

  75. I’d suggest booking flights from the U.S. to Chengdu, and then book flights from Chengdu to Lhasa. There is more competition in Chengdu to Lhasa than Beijing or Shanghai, also routing is better. It also depends on when you are traveling, from May to Oct it is peak season in Tibet, so prices are generally extortionate. The regulations regarding foreigners entering Tibet are also fluid and changing all the time, the best thing to do is getting your permit through a local qualified agent/tour guide. Ctrip can do the trick for booking revenue tickets, but again this is best done through a local agent. If you can book award tickets on Star Alliance, e.g. Air China flights from Chengdu to Lhasa, that’s the best way forward. Award availability however, very much depends on the time/date of departure. My sense is if you could schedule your trip after the first week of October, before the end of the year, that will get you much availability than going during summer peak season.

  76. As others have commented, as a non-Chinese passport holder you will need a “Tibet permit” to enter Tibet province. Licensed travel agents in China can apply for this permit on behalf of you (if you contact a travel agent outside China, they will-have to- to contact their local partners in China). However, in order for the travel agent to be able to apply for the permit for you, you will need to book travel arrangements with them for your trip to Tibet. Otherwise they won’t and can’t arrange the permit for you. The permit can be issued at the earliest 30 days before travel to Tibet, and the agent will need a copy of your China visa to apply for the permit.

    In order to qualify as travel arrangements that enable the agent to apply for a Tibet permit for you, you will need to at least book a driver and licensed tour guide for every day spent outside Lhasa, and a licensed tour guide for every day spent in Lhasa.

    One person can be enough to constitute a group. (However travelling cost is lower if you join a group.) Tourists travelling on regular passports can have a travel agent apply for the permit for them, diplomatic passport holders, or travellers with a military or journalist background for example can’t.

    You will need the original permit to enter any plane bound for Lhasa (if I remember correctly, it gets checked at least three times at the airport, at check-in, security and before boarding) and a copy of the permit to board a train bound for Lhasa.

    Unless you have a Chinese ID airlines and OTAs are not allowed to issue tickets to Lhasa, unless you provide them with proof of the Tibet permit. If you get a ticket issued, but fail to provide the permit within a certain timeframe after ticketing, the ticket will be cancelled.

    The most scenic part of the train trip to Lhasa is probably the part between Lhasa and Xining, about 24 hours. There is a 48 hours train between Lhasa and Beijing, but tickets starting in Beijing are hard to get especially in the peak season and the first 24 hours if starting from Beijing are not actually that pretty (if you expect mountain views etc.).

    Direct Flights between Beijing and Lhasa are almost always at full fare during the main travelling season, don’t expect discounts of more than 10%, if at all.
    Flights from Xi’an, Chengdu, Lijiang or Zhongdian and Chongqing are sometimes cheaper.

    If I remember correctly these “real” direct flights without stopovers in Chongqing f.e. are only scheduled in the peak travelling season, which is usually from May to about mid October.

    Btw, a permit is required no matter from where to you enter Tibet. If that hasn’t changed, your visa for China will also have to be issued in Nepal, to apply for the permit, if you choose to travel overland from Nepal.

    All of the above is to my best knowledge, however things may have changed. Hope this helps, happy travels!

  77. For all you young’uns, this is what travel behind the Iron Curtain was like up until the mid to late 1980s. It all sounds so familiar to those who ventured to visit eastern Europe in those days.

  78. @ Lucky –

    As I am based in China, I think I am qualified to discuss this topic.
    1. A couple of people suggested to check Ctrip, but I would proceed with caution. Most of the time I can find better fares by other providers that Ctrip, even direct with the airline is cheaper.
    2. Remember that a Chinese visa does not grant entry to Tibet. You need a special permit for entry there which can only be obtained by a Tibetan travel agent and you must travel using the agent while you are there. Unlucky for the type of traveling you do, often the government blocks these permits from being issued at the last minute and getting one has become increasingly difficult. This may be why the flights are so expensive.
    3. You may consider the train. Many people have said that the train from Chengdu has stunning views, if you like that kind of thing, besides then you could have a post about taking a bullet train in China, which I do not recall you having.

    If you are sill considering this, I can check some of the non-English language travel providers to see if there are better fares there.

    Please get in touch for direct communication.

  79. I was able to book a full reward flight from JFK-LXA using 80K United points and $20 taxes. Route is JFK-PEK-CTU-LXA. No issues on my end from booking outside China – was sitting here on my couch in Brooklyn!

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