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Cheap Asian adventures, iron-clad refund policy

General Tours brings prices on Asian adventures down as low as $599, and brings back its full-refund policy on 2004 China trips
/ Source: Arthur Frommer's Budget Travel

Asia’s awe-inspiring destinations always were, with the exception of Japan and Hong Kong, amazingly cheap. Then last spring along came SARS and the war on Iraq, and tourism to the East dried to a mere trickle, forcing prices into bargain basement. While tourism numbers have finally started picking up again, prices have had to remain pretty darn low to tempt these numbers upwards—and though discounted travel makes us at BT very happy indeed, we were also just as glad to see people actually returning to Asia. One tour company seems bound and determined to help keep things that way.

The fifty-seven year old veteran tour operator General Tours (800-221-2216, must be prescient. On Aug 28 it announced new, low prices on 2004 trips to China and various add-ons throughout Southeast Asia (we’ll get to those in a moment), and at the same time issued a promise that should make even the most nervous nellie more comfortable booking a trip to the Far East.

If the U.S. Government should issue a travel warning to Hong Kong or China in 2004, General Tours will refund the full value of any trip to those destinations, should you wish to cancel. (For the record, back in the spring during the height of SARS, the company issued one of the most generous cancellation policies in the entire industry.)

A week and a half later, on Sept 9, the first new case of SARS reported since the WHO declared the outbreak officially over back in July was confirmed in a 27-year-old worker in a Singapore medical laboratory (which, oddly enough, is researching the West Nile virus, not SARS).

Now so far this has been an isolated case. None of the man’s friends, family, or co-workers have shown any symptoms, and he and 25 of his closest contacts are now under a protective quarantine. However, this will likely spook some would-be travelers to Asia, so General Tours’ new policy couldn’t have come at a better time.

Even beyond peace of mind insurance, the prices on these trips alone would make them worthy of consideration:

  • Beijing (7 days/5 nights) — from $599
  • Shanghai (7 days/5 nights) — from $649
  • Shanghai to Beijing (9 days/7 nights) — from $999
  • Cruise the Yangtze/Beijing (8 days/6 nights) — from $1,199
  • Hong Kong (6 days/4 nights) — from $659
  • Chinese New Years in Hong Kong (8 days/6 nights) — from $999

All those prices—per person based on double occupancy—include airfare (from Honolulu, Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, or Seattle; other major cities available for $125 more), lodging, at least some guided touring, breakfasts, a few lunches, and sometimes even dinners. Taxes tack on about $80-$85.

Plus, General Tours is offering quite decent prices on excursions from Southeast Asia’s major hub cities to other top destinations in the region:

From Hong Kong:

  • Bangkok, Thailand (3 days/2 nights) — $399
  • Hanoi and Ha Long Bay, Vietnam (4 days/3 nights) — $599
  • Tokyo (6 days/5 nights) — $499
  • Tokyo & Kyoto (6 days/5 nights) — $1,169

From Beijing:

  • Xi’an (3 days/2 nights) — $499

From Bangkok:

  • Chiang Mai, Thailand (3 days/2 nights) — $259
  • Koh Samui, Thailand (3 days/2 nights) — $459
  • Phuket, Thailand (3 days/2 nights) — $499
  • Angkor Wat, Cambodia (3 days/2 nights) — $559

{Editor’s Note: Have you ever traveled with General Tours or been to any of these Asian destinations? Do you have a money-saving hint, tip, or anecdote that would be helpful to other travelers? We’d love to hear it and possibly reprint it in our letters to the editor column. Simply click here to send a letter to our editors.}

Associate Editor Reid Bramblett writes travel guidebooks for Eyewitness, Frommer’s, and the Idiot’s and For Dummies series (yes, both of them). He joined the Budget Travel staff in 2002.