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Happy New Year! It’s either the blessing or curse of Westerners living in China: one holiday period ends, and then another begins, as the Christmas/New Year season gives way to Spring Festival/Chinese New Year. As such, for the next couple of weeks, we’ll be focusing on any deals available heading south, although frankly, if you haven’t booked Chunjie travel by now, it may already be too late.

Our advice if you haven’t booked Chinese New Year fares to Southeast Asia by now: forget it. Even on Air Asia, a budget airline, flights to their Kuala Lumpur hub in Malaysia will cost over RMB 6,000, and that’s if seats are even available. Forget it. At this point, time-shifting your trip by waiting for a few days into the holiday period, then burning a few vacation days is the only way. Fares will drop by about half for anyone leaving around February 4, and even then they will still be higher than normal. Consider hanging out in Beijing and taking a week in February, when fares to Southeast Asia, while still at high-season prices, will be closer to normal.

One important note: political protests in Thailand could throw a wrench into travel plans. The protests so far have been largely peaceful (although six people have died already) and are not anti-foreign, but that could change and safety could possibly become an issue in Bangkok. In late 2008, protestors occupied Thailand’s largest travel gateway, Suvarnabhumi International Airport, stranding some travelers for weeks. Protests in the spring of 2010 resulted in the burning of several large shopping malls and a few other landmarks, including the historic Scala cinema in downtown Bangkok. Ultimately, it may not be a big deal, and the protests could dissipate prior to the holiday, and travelers headed directly to islands such as Phuket would likely avoid all of that. However, it’s something to consider. Violence associated with the 2010 protests are what gave the Philippines their best opening to the Chinese market, as travelers looked for Southeast Asian alternatives.

Last week we reported that China Eastern Airlines was initiating service from Beijing to Bali, and now Hainan Airlines is also getting in on the Bali act, starting thrice-weekly service on January 15. The scheduling is partially horrendous: the flight to Bali arrives after midnight, and the return to Beijing takes off at 1am. Yuck.

For those travelers not in need of sun, Hokkaido is lovely this time of year, although it is also high season (ski season), and Japan is never inexpensive, but it is generally a good value. Lovely, though.

Air China announced this week that it will start serving Beijing duck in first class on flights to Europe and the United States. In the copycat way of the airline industry, that means an announcement from China Southern Airlines and Da Dong should be forthcoming any moment. We’d still rather fly a better carrier and stop at Burger King on the way out.

Let us know in the Comments section below if any last-minute deals for Spring Festival pop up. Otherwise, until next week, one road flat safe.

Photo: Wikipedia.org