Xiamen Air Transit Hotel Disaster!

Xiamen Air offers some really cheap flights from Seattle to destinations in China and throughout Asia. The catch? You end up stuck overnight in Shenzhen, Xiamen or Fuzhou, China.

Not to worry, though, right? Xiamen Air provides a transit hotel. The details on their Web page are as follows:

Xiamen Airlines offers passengers transit accommodation services free of charge, when the tickets satisfying the following conditions apply:

1. All flights are carried by Xiamen Airlines. (code-sharing, chartered flights are not applicable);

2. Connection time of transit passengers is within 6 to 24 hours in Xiamen (G Class and Z Class are not applicable);

3. Must contain at least one international(regional) flight in the ticket;

4. The service contains only free hotel, passengers have to pay for meals and the other transportation fee.

The position of transfer counter:

Domestic Departure Hall on 2nd Floor, B11 counter or other check-in counter(no priority check-in counter)

Service consultation phone number: (0086-592)5739500 or (0086-592)95557

My tickets qualified. I called the US toll-free number to confirm, so it seemed like I was golden. And I have to admit, the room that was promised sure looked nice:

hotel room promised photo

Wow, what a nice hotel room. Would have been great to stay in it!

Now, if you have experience in mainland China, and with mainland Chinese airlines, you probably know where I’m headed with this. In China, this sort of thing is rarely easy to arrange in practice and also rarely works as advertised. While other airlines in other parts of the world might be expected to whisk you from your flight to a hotel room with a seamless transfer, Xiamen Air makes you figure out how to ask for the benefit when you arrive, and then they hit you with a couple of serious “gotchas.”

Gotcha #1: It’s Hard To Claim Your Room

When I arrived in Xiamen, and again in Shenzhen, I had to hunt around for the desk that could issue the voucher. In Xiamen, it’s a desk labeled “transfer services.” In Shenzhen, you have to go upstairs one floor from the baggage claim and find the ticket counter (where they sell tickets). This agent can take care of the hotel voucher. I’m not sure where to look in Fuzhou, but the guy who was sitting next to me on the flight to Shenzhen, and who continued onward to Fuzhou, emailed me and told me he couldn’t figure out how to get the room (or whether it was even possible) so he ended up sleeping in the airport overnight.

Gotcha #2: You Share A Room With A Random Stranger (Or Pay Extra)

When I arrived at the transfer counter for my room, some forlorn-looking guy was standing there waiting. “I guess we’re roommates,” he said. Um, maybe not. I insisted on escalating as far as possible, speaking to a supervisor, and showed screen shots from the Web page. It was no matter. The supervisor had heard it all before. She pointed to a laminated form and said “you must choose, either share a room (!) or pay 135 yuan (about $21) extra.”

How Xiamen Air tricks you

Oh, you thought you’d get your own room? What a strange Western idea.

This was discussed and explained in Xiamen but it was never discussed in Shenzhen (leading me to believe a different set of circumstances applied there). In Shenzhen, I arrived at the hotel, got my room, took a shower and was fast asleep when some random guy started trying to get into my room! Apparently the front desk had given him a key based on this crazy airline policy. The guy then tried to argue with me (in barely understandable English) that he was going to be my roommate etc. but I was having none of it. I shut the door, sent him back to the front desk and unplugged the phone. The hotel staff didn’t speak any English so I figured that would settle the matter (it did). It’s a good thing I’d locked the door with the chain from the inside! Otherwise, who knows what random stranger might have been trying to climb into bed with me.

Gotcha #3: Transportation Isn’t Always Included

In Shenzhen, the airport hotel has a shuttle that comes and picks you up at the airport, takes you to the hotel, and then returns you to the airport the following morning. You know, like you’d expect an airport hotel to do. In Xiamen, however, you have to take a local taxi to and from the hotel. However, this requires local currency, and the ATMs are all upstairs, and the airport closes down early, so you don’t have an easy way to get local currency for the taxi. Also, returning the next day, it’s hard to get a taxi on the street because the taxis have moved to using dispatch apps. This means you’ll need data service that works in China and an app called DiDi on your phone in order to get a taxi.

The Hotels

Both hotels were very local and Chinese. In Xiamen, it was the HMYL Hotel. It’s a basic Chinese business hotel on a leafy tree-lined street in central Xiamen. The room was typically Chinese with a hard twin bed, and was poorly soundproofed. Hotel staff was friendly but spoke no English.

In Shenzhen, the hotel was called the James Joyce Coffetel. I don’t know exactly what a coffetel is (coffin hotel? I wasn’t dead. Coffee hotel? No coffee in the room), but it had a room, and it was fine apart from being at the end of the airport runway (planes made the windows rattle starting around 6 in the morning) and being across the street from a giant noisy construction site. And, of course, apart from giving some random stranger a key to my room at 2am. They had a shuttle to and from the airport at least.

xiamen transit hotel

Tiny business hotel room with two beds in Xiamen. Should have been free, cost about $30 all-in.

shower picture

Large walk-in shower. This was nearly as big as the rest of the room.

trees in Xiamen picture

The Xiamen Air transit hotel is in a pleasant neighborhood with tree-lined streets.

 

I should probably point out that I lived in mainland China for 3 years and speak basic Chinese, but without that, I would probably have never ended up at either hotel.

James Joyce Coffeetel bed

The bed at the Shenzhen James Joyce Coffetel was more neatly made than this when I arrived, I put it back together for the picture

Extra bed picture

Second bed in a side bedroom. I didn’t sleep in this one. And the random guy who tried to come in at 2am didn’t either.

Shenzhen James Joyce Coffeetel view

Sweeping expansive view of … giant dusty construction site

Xiamen Air Staff Are Great, Despite It All

I have nothing bad to say about any of the employees I interacted with at Xiamen Air. Each and every one of them was kind, polite, and professional, and many went above and beyond for me (in Xiamen, a wonderful kind airline employee escorted me upstairs to the closed part of the airport so I could use the ATM, and then helped me get a taxi to the hotel without being ripped off). I think the airline puts them in a difficult situation of over-promising and under-delivering, and they’re all just making the best of it.

Wrap-Up

The Xiamen Air ground experience seems almost deliberately designed to strand Western travelers unfamiliar with navigating China and without a command of the Chinese language at the airport. Even with extensive China experience and the ability to speak basic Chinese (as long as I’m not trying to do it out of context or over the phone), I was thrown for a loop by the unadvertised shared room policy. It is understandable to do this when two people are traveling together on the same ticket, but hooking you up with a random stranger is absolutely insane. Unexpectedly giving someone a key to your room with no advance warning is even worse. And requiring foreigners to navigate the process of catching a taxi in Xiamen to and from the hotel (in Chinese) is an awful lot to ask.

If you’re prepared to pay extra and negotiate for your own room, and if you can speak Chinese and are familiar with how things operate in mainland China, you’ll probably manage (like I did) to muddle through. However, if you can’t speak Chinese, and you don’t have experience thinking on your feet in mainland China, you might find yourself sleeping in the airport instead.

18 thoughts on “Xiamen Air Transit Hotel Disaster!

  1. Mikey says:

    Interesting story, thanks for sharing. It’s not just mainland Chinese airlines that have a policy of room sharing for passengers who don’t know each other. I experienced something similar with Cathay Pacific during irrops in the Middle East once, and where I was told that this was standard practice for economy passengers (though a post-flight apology from the airline contradicted this). Like you, adopting a no-nonsense, belligerent approach did the trick with the hotel’s front desk. But many others just accepted it and vowed never to fly Cathay again because of it.

  2. john says:

    What a horrible experience. Thanks for the warning. A Coffetel is probably the same as a Sofitel. Just a word someone thought sounded nice.

    At PEK there is a small transit hotel in Terminal 2 one level down from the arrivals level. Some rooms have a bath with a shower. Some are just sleeping rooms like a Minute Suites room. If staying several hours, the best deal is to pay for the much cheaper sleeping room, which is private b/t/w, then rent the more expensive room with the bath for an hour when you want to shower. The hotel in the airport saves the hassle of transporting to/from a local hotel, although there is a desk just after exiting customs that can arrange a local hotel and transportation for you. The reps at that desk and the transit hotel have always been able to speak decent english.

    1. TProphet says:

      If I’m not mistaken, I think this is where Hainan Airlines puts you when transiting Beijing. However, I was flying Xiamen and Beijing was my final destination; I didn’t transit there.

  3. Sarah M says:

    I’d like to know….is it allowable to sleep in the Xiamen airport? Sounds like if you are willing to rough it , that might be the best option? Or do they close it down late at night?

    1. TProphet says:

      One guy ended up stuck there overnight in the baggage claim area. Doesn’t sound like he had much fun!

  4. Sinai says:

    I’m thinking in getting this flight but from Osaka to LA and there’s a 20h layover, I’m actually more worried about my baggage… did you collect your baggage or it goes directly to the next flight? I’m worried because it’s a lot of time and I don’t want to lose my belongings. This was very helpful thank you!

    1. TProphet says:

      You’re required to carry your bags through China Customs at the initial point of entry so you should be fine regardless, but Xiamen Air treats some of its domestic flights between Shenzhen and Xiamen as international for this purpose. Accordingly, the best thing to do is to ask that your bags be “short checked” only as far as your layover city when you check in.

    2. Michael says:

      There is a left-luggage service – open until “the last flight” arrives, just outside of the customs hall (in XMN) right as you walk towards the transit desk (where you get your hotel vouchers).

      The charge is around RMB10-20, per 24hr period, per piece and varies on item size. Bags are xrayed before acceptance and you pay when you give them your bags (not at pick up). You get a reclaim tag to show when you come back for your bags.

      One thing to note, the left luggage is NOT open 24hrs… it closes “after the last flight” arrives for the night (which looks to be around 00:00 or so), and reopens at 05:30 in the morning.

      I used it, and it did in fact open at 05.30 to the minute.. and given that most MF international flights open check-in no earlier than 6:00 (for the first-of-the-day departures) this worked out just fine. Took me less than :05 to get my bags back.

      I fly BKK-XMN-SEA a few times a year and this is how I mitigate the hassle of dealing with my checked baggage on the forced layover in XMN. It does add about 20 to 40 RMB (about $3-$6) each way to the total trip cost – but in my opinion, that’s a cheap price to overcome carrying my 2 checked bags to and from the hotel.

      What I tell people is that on the cost-side alone, you should add into to MF price about $28 for taxi (to and from the airport, two times- for a round trip ticket) plus about $6 (about $3 each way) for baggage storage charges.. so a total add-on of about $34 in total..

      In my past experience, MF is usually WELL below the other carriers fares, so even with a add-on of $34, I’m still looking a far cheaper total cost…

      But… I can’t put a dollar value on the added travel time (around 15 to 20 hours as opposed to taking a more traditional same-day connection somewhere else in Asia like Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei, etc) nor the “hassle” factor.. for that, everyone has to make that value for themselves.

  5. LeSleepyTree says:

    Thanks for that info! Sounds like I’ll be sleeping in the airport. Did you have any experience with using the Xiamen lounge? I wonder if they make that difficult too.

    1. TProphet says:

      Sorry, I didn’t try to use the lounge. It’s available as an alternative to the transit hotel, but it isn’t open 24 hours.

  6. jk says:

    It was all explained in the website. If you fly economy, you share a room. You fly business class you get a luxury room ALONE!
    Flew Xiamen business class and easily one of the best experience. Definitely no SQ or CX. But for that price, I don’t expect them to be.
    When you pay less, expect to get less.

  7. Carolyn says:

    I’m traveling with my husband and thinking about using the transfer offer Xiamen airlines provides. Will we still have to share a room with a stranger?

    1. TProphet says:

      No. The rule is two people to a room, so you will be able to share the room with your husband.

  8. Kenneth says:

    Hi, thanks for the info. It was very helpful! As for the taxi from Xiamen to the hotel: about how much should I expect to pay? As to not get ripped off myself if I can’t talk an employee to help me out lol. Thanks!

    1. TProphet says:

      It will depend what hotel they put you in. My taxi cost RMB 40 or so (a little over $6) but your mileage may vary.

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