Beijing has one of the largest airports in the world (PEK) and happens to be the access point to The Great Wall. If you are traveling through Asia you may already have a layover in this highly trafficked airport. If not you can strategically book a flight with a layover here so that you can see the wall without adding on an extra segment in your journey. The Great Wall should be on everyone's bucket list as this wonder of the world is truly a sight to be seen. Taking advantage of a layover can give you just enough time to see the wall and a bit of Beijing without making a big trip out of it
WHY SHORT YOUR TIME IN BEIJING WITH JUST A LAYOVER?
Well for starters, it obviously saves miles/money by not having to book an extra flight. And second, Beijing is super smoggy. I personally cannot spend a lot of time in cities where the sun doesn't shine because a cloud of dust pollutes the sky. The smog problem in Beijing has gotten so bad that there will be days where people can't leave the house without masks (if at all). So sad! You may get lucky when you go and have a somewhat clear day but ultimately this is not a place I want to spend more than one day simply because my lungs can't handle it. This smog index site is a great way to check the smog levels in cities when traveling.
How to do it
You may know by now nearly my entire ATW trip has been booked using miles thanks to my credit card savvy boyfriend (aka Mr Free Miles). So, using United miles I booked a flight from Bali to Hong Kong with a layover in Beijing. Normally the layovers online are only a few hours so I called an agent to book the second leg (Beijing to HK) the following day. It is important to call and book this day layover upfront rather than try and change it after booking in order to avoid any change fees. Too easy and good to be true? The only catch here is that you cannot spend more than 24 hours at your layover destination otherwise it becomes a separate segment and thus more miles. This rule is unique to United/Star Alliance policies. We spent about 22 hours by arriving in the evening then leaving in the late afternoon the following day. It was perfect because we got to see the wall without booking any flights to Beijing. By arriving in the evening we had enough time to rest and have dinner before seeing the wall the following morning - then directly to the airport from there. In and out like ninjas!
China's Visa policies
With China's 72-hr visa policy there is no need to get visas in advance as a U.S. citizen. We even got to cut a huge line in customs upon arrival by doing this. The relatively new policy allows you to get a Visa on arrival in certain Chinese cities (including Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou) if your stay is under 72 hours. This Visa is free and extremely easy to get rather than having to deal with going to an embassy in your country and paying for one. With the smog covering most of China I think 3 days is often enough anyways. So book your flight and just show up!