It's not too late to plan a trip to the Beijing Olympics. Sure, more than a million visitors are expected to visit during the Summer Games this August, and most tourist hotels are booked solid. But procrastinators can still chase Olympic gold if they're willing to be flexible, spend a little more money, and perhaps blend in with the locals.
Despite a major hotel boom that will add thousands of rooms to the city, most Beijing hotels are already sold out - even ones that haven't yet opened, including a new Park Hyatt.
The few hotels with vacancies are charging astronomical rates. The Renaissance Beijing Hotel, in the Chaoyang district near several Olympic sites, including the Beach Volleyball Ground, is asking 8,000 yuan a night (about $1,095 at 7.3 yuan to the dollar) for the remaining Club Floor deluxe rooms, with a minimum booking of 18 nights; the normal rates are 1,600 to 2,200 yuan. Even the 430-room Best Western OL Stadium Hotel, hardly luxurious, is charging well over $500 a night.
And chances are slim to none for scoring individual tickets to events through standard channels. The only way to get an individual ticket from the official Olympics ticket sellers is through a lottery system, and most tickets have already been doled out.
Only a certain number of tickets are allocated to each country. Over 4.5 million tickets were requested during the last lottery, which ended in December, according to the Beijing Organizing Committee for the games, also known as Bocog. That's more than double the actual number of tickets allotted for that sales period. Though more tickets could be distributed closer to the games, there are few guarantees of actually getting a seat.
So what's an Amanda Beard groupie to do? At this stage in the game, your best bet is to go through a tour operator that specializes in the Olympics. These operators have stockpiled a large number of tickets and secured blocks of hotel rooms - but it won't be cheap.
CoSport, a tour operator based in New Jersey - and the official Olympics ticket agent for the United States - has numerous hotel packages that include tickets to many events. A recent search on its website, cosport.com, turned up a five-day package at the Landmark Hotel in the Chaoyang district with tickets to four events (women's gymnastic finals, beach volleyball preliminaries, women's springboard diving preliminaries and men's basketball preliminaries) for $5,943 a person, based on two sharing a room.
Another operator, Roadtrips Inc. (roadtrips.com), based in Winnipeg, has five-night packages from $6,250. It even has nosebleed seats left for the coveted opening ceremonies.
If tour operators don't offer the tickets you want, you can also try online ticket brokers like ticketliquidator.com and TicketCity.com. These companies specialize in tickets for concerts and sporting competitions, and still have a wide selection of Olympics tickets. A recent search on TicketCity, for example, turned up seats at gymnastic events for $89.
Lodging alternatives are more limited. Unlike the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, a city easily accessible from Milan by high-speed train, Beijing isn't easily reached from other cities that could serve as an alternate base.
To ease the burden, about 1,000 Beijing families are being recruited by the government to play host to foreigners during the games, according to the Associated Press. At least 400 English-speaking residents have listed rooms for rent at Homestay Beijing 2008 (homestayBeijing2008.com), a website started in May by Piet Bos, a Dutchman who has been living in China since 1998.
Listings - most for an entire apartment rather than a traditional home stay that would require you to share space with the host family - range from a two-bedroom apartment near the Workers' Stadium for 2,500 yuan a night with a minimum seven-night stay, to a two-bedroom, one-bathroom in a traditional hutong alleyway for 7,500 a night, including a maid and daily breakfast.
For those who don't need high-thread-count sheets, cheap rooms can still be found through budget lodging sites like HostelWorld.com, Hostel.net, and Boo.com. A recent search on HostelWorld.com, for example, found the 1Hai Inn, a guesthouse near the LaMa Temple with private rooms with shower and toilet, for as low as $92 a night. The Beijing Downtown Backpackers hostel, a hutong in the Dongcheng district, had rates as low as $28 a night in an eight-bed dormitory, and $105 a night for a double bed in a private room.
Finding a cheap flight, however, may require some patience. A recent spot check on Cheapflights.com found nonstop flights to Beijing from Newark in August for about $1,700 round trip. And flights with a single stopover, in Tokyo or Seoul, were $1,050 from Los Angeles on American Airlines to $1,800 from New York on Korean Air.
It may pay to procrastinate. "Typically deals come out four to six weeks prior to travel dates," said Carl Schwartz, director of US marketing for Cheapflights.com, "so some of the best deals will be seen in late June or early July."
Of course, you'll probably want to tack on a side trip.
A flight from Beijing to Shanghai is roughly two hours and can cost between $250 to $350 round trip, according to TravelGator.com, a travel planning site that allows travelers to build and share possible itineraries as they explore ideas on where to go for their next vacation. Expect to pay around $850 round trip for the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Hong Kong during the peak Olympic travel period.