10 Places to See While in Beijing… COUNTDOWN

10. Chinese Doctor 

If you’ve never been to see a traditional Chinese doctor, it is an experience whether you choose to believe their practices or not.

I remember walking in a school of medicine downtown Beijing with my mom (as part of a tour) and sitting waiting to this doctor to do a free consultation. I was hesitant at first since the room they put us was not of a traditional US patient room it was more like a movie theatre (sketch or no?). I mean… comfortable chairs and a big screen tv in the front. We watched a movie for 5-10 minutes going over traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) and the ways they tell symptoms: through examining your tongue, and feeling your pulse through your wrist.

After the movie the doctor came in with his students started his consult with the person closest to the door… first feeling her pulse, then looking at her tongue. The translator asked a couple questions “are you in pain now” and “what is your stress level 1-10.” After 30 seconds the doctor diagnosed her with two herbal solutions to her back pain, and left shoulder problem. Total cost for those herbs ($500+ USD). I looked in shock. In 30 seconds this lady bought what was recommended. He moved next to my mom, said she was healthy then moved to me. I had made up my mind before even being consulting my answers to his comments were going to be no, because I wasn’t going to try anything from a man who couldn’t even speak my language to tell me what was in what he would recommend. He commented “you work in an office,” “you are happy…that’s good,” then asked,”do you have menstrual problems in your lower stomach?” I laughed and said no. He gave me a look like he could tell I was lying. Afterward I had asked Danielle (the lady who was with us on the tour and spent so much money on the supplements) why she trusted him. She mentioned that she has had terrible shoulder pain and when she is stressed it causes her arm to not go higher than her chest. She added that she was amazed that someone who didn’t know her could have known that so she wanted to try it. After her story I reflected back on what the Chinese doctor told me…. he was right, I do work in an office, I am happy (most of the time), and he was spot on about having troubles with my menstrual cycle. Now, looking back I will always wonder how he knew.

So, not say you have to go– but if looking for an experience and in China you should see what the Chinese doctor would say to you. Share with me if you do!

9. Silk, Jade, and Pearl Stores 

Do you know that silk comes from a worm? And that when layered across each other it is not humanly possible to break real silk? And, did you know to tell whether or not you are buying silk you just twist it, and if it wrinkles it’s fake? This is the stuff you’ll learn by going to a silk shop. I made the mistake in coming here as the last part of the trip, by then I hit my budget for what I could spend and did not have the $50 for the pillows that were softer than a babies bottom!

As for pearls… I GUESS if you try scratching a pearl with a knife and you wipe away the residue and it looks like it was never scratched then it’s real. I don’ know they are super cheap anyway, so if this style of jewelry is your thing get you some!

AND did you know that jade is the stone of China, since it brings luck, happiness, and longevity. Lord knows I needed it. And, it’s true if you go to the actual Jade factory they have the cheapest. I was a skeptic on how prices would jump up/down based on where I was and ended up missing the chance in buying a real jade from the factory, and instead bought a knock off that ended up costing the same (the Jade factory was too far to go back).

These thee places are traditional Beijing visits if looking to wander and be more immersed in culture.

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8. Beijing Zoo- Panda Exhibit 

I had seen koala bears in Australia, so I had to go see the pandas in China right?!

I am so conflicted in how I feel about zoos. The millennial in me hates the idea that we catch animals and put them for showcase and encourage the capture by paying an admission ticket. Then the other half of me rationalizes in saving animals in the wild that are going near extinct, nursing them to health and then mating them to increase their population, for future release. I’m on a tangent….

If you’re about the zoos, go see the biggest pandas you can imagine! You should see these!

7. Ming Tombs

I made the mistake in not researching this place to understand the historical importance, because I thought my tour guide would help bring me to speed. But when you can’t understand the tour guide you quickly learn the importance of knowing where you’re at before you go!

Let me fill you in… in China there is a rich history of many emperors and other government powers that have made lasting impressions to current cultures and traditions.. A lot of these have been dated back to the Ming Dynasty which spanned for nearly 300 years starting in the 1300s. The relics, clothes, replicas of goods (clothing, silvers, jewelry, sketches) found, buried, and treasured from this time cane found at the Ming Tombs.

The tour starts above ground where you can see the original brick and cement walls from the Ming Dynasty. As you walk toward the back you can start to enter different sacred buildings, prayer temples, and toward the end can go underground to see replicas of the tombs. If you’re at all a history guru, you should check out a tour here to feel a part of a history very different than our own.

6. Tea House

I have always enjoyed a good cup of tea! Little did I know that China is one of the main distributors of tea; I had thought it would have been India.

If you’re in China it is tradition in their culture to serve your tea to welcome you to their home, store, or hotel. Most commonly you’ll be served Jasmine. But, at the tea houses throughout Beijing you can enjoy Rose, Citrus, Jasmine, Black and Green Teas. They show you how to property pour tea, how to blend tea with cut-up fruit, and how to greet guests by using tea. This is an experience that had me wanting to return home for a tea party! This is a perfect stop if you’re looking to add some balance and zen in your trip to Beijing!

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5. Shopping Center 

If Time Square tickles your fancy, the Beijing shopping center will not disappoint! This city center was full of people, street food/venders, shops, and also the entrance way to the city center plaza where you can get a bunch of authentic Chinese delicacies including  living scorpions on a stick.

This was one of my most memorable stops of the entire trip to China, and one I would highly recommend! Food recommendations: caramelized strawberries, fresh mangos and pork buns!

4. Temple of the Heavens

This beautiful temple is located on Beijing’s south side, where many ceremonies occur. The temple was made to represent the balance between heaven and earth. If you visit I’d recommend going early, otherwise you’re bound to have someone if your perfect shot!

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3. Summer Palace

If you’re looking for the best IG photo-worthy photos, here is your place. And, you must go near sunset. This beautiful park is situated along the water and has many tiny treasures to find as you walk through, over and under the many trails and paths! It is here, too, that many of the locals fly their kites, make prayer/wish ribbons, and go to enjoy the tides that come and break near the bridges.

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2. Forbidden City/ Tiananmen Square

Have you seen Mulan? The large square at the end of the film you see where Mulan saves the emperor from the Huns… that’s near Tiananmen Square and part of the Forbidden City. If you’re going to China this is a MUST. What I didn’t know was the limited access one has to enter the Forbidden City, especially during Chinese New Year. Luckily for us (mom&I) we planned months in advance for this tour which allows us within the walls of the 100+ acres totaling 999 buildings (why not 1000? They count earth as the last room).

Spending the time/money to make it here won’t disappoint, just ask the 15 million annual visitors!

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1. Great Wall of China

What is a trip to China without seeing the iconic Great Wall of China. Yes, it is as beautiful and as grand as you see in photos. Yes, it’s worth the journey to go! Yes, it spans over the eye can see, and yes, this made this trip to China 100% worth it. So much so I will have a separate blog dedicated just for it!

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15 Things to Know if Visiting China

The stresses of planning for any trip can be a lot. Considerations to hotel, flight, food, and transportation are all things to consider prior to leaving. Especially, in China where the required visa forces you to have your trip booked in advance. Often times we forgot of the little nuances and cultural changes once we get to our destination. Below are 15 things to know if visiting China if you’re planning a trip.

15. No One Speaks English 

I used to think there were two universal languages, a smile and English. That was until I visited China. English is rarely spoken by most people, in fact asking for help is almost pointless unless you have the translation in the Chinese language, thank you Google Translate. I thought this language barrier would make it hard place to visit, but pointing and asking for a “photo menu,” in most places gets you where you are trying to go, or eat. To help, I recommend you bring a map that has the places you are looking to go before adventuring out because all road names are in Chinese & if trying to limit the use of your phone the good old fashion map works great. I found, most hotels have English & Chinese version of their maps, which was a huge help. 

14. Cell Service and WiFi 

Before leaving for this trip I was happy to find out that I would have, with Sprint, free 2GB of cell speed and texting in China. Call costs were minimal costing $0.20/minute. Researching AT&T for my mom, we found that cell service with the company was about $10/day. Needless to say, the costs are quite minimal if needing to connect. 

If you are looking for free, Wifi was available at most common areas, but when hopping on was extremely slow. 

*Tip: Bring a charging stick, or port. It was rare to find any charging stations when visiting places. As a result, when you did find them they were always packed. 

13. Don’t Rely on Your Credit Card, Bring Proper Chinese Currency

It is rare that I bring cash with me at all. But, after reading some blogs before I left on this trip I discovered that American credit cards are rarely accepted in most places. In fact, the only places that accept them we had found were in the shopping areas the tour groups would take you; and trust me you’re paying a premium for it; the cost of the products in these areas are a lot more than you can pay in the markets. 

If looking to transfer monies at the airport, the cost typically to do so is a $10 service fee and the exchange rate difference. To get more, this requires you planning ahead and knowing how much you want to take with you in advance and getting the currency exchange with your local bank. Estimated time to get the monies back is 7-days, for it to be guaranteed in time. By me waiting until I got to the airport I ended up losing $70USD in fees and exchange rate, where my mom only had $10USD with Chase. 

The Chinese money can take you a lot further than anywhere I’ve visited. Normally, I would say bring $50USD/day for food, transportation, and misc. costs. But, food on average is 50RMB/meal ($7USD). I’d say 650RMB ($102USD)/week would be comfortable (food & transportation). 

*Helpful Tip: The common currency in China is WeChat & UnionPay (credit card). Both of these require a Chinese bank account be established with pre-paid funds in order to make purchases. 

12. Get Comfortable in Bartering, or Accept Losing Money 

I’ve never been too comfortable in trying to find what something is worth. Maybe because I have been so used to the American culture where everything is fixed, where the value has been pre-determined and where supply/demand seems to have worked. In China, you’ll find it an easy place to barter especially when choosing to walk away and the price you were getting comfortable in paying is slashed in half, and has you again question the value. 

My suggestion is before buying anything walk around and understand the varying prices, this also helps with buyers remorse. 

From my experience food should never be more than 40RMB (and that’s for a full meal including drink), and gift goods should be no more than 50RMB. In one instance my mom and I were haggling for cheap earrings, she started at 100RMB, by the time we were walking away for the 4th time she was down to 20RMB, and we finally negotiated at 15RMB (Yu Garden). Same place, different store we were interested in potentially getting a necklace that would have the English name with Chinese translation next to it and she started at 150RMB, and when walking away negotiated herself down to 20RMB. That’s right. You’ll know which places allow you to barter, because whenever you walk away they will lower their price and the places with fixed pricing usually have it listed in the door way (almost none of them). 

And, if looking for real jade. Ask for the Jade of pearl. The ones with lighter green are worth more, and on average are around 80RMB (for 1 inch by 1 inch), and can go up to 3300RMB. In the Yu Garden you’ll find the best in what you’re looking for, and because there are so many vendors they are willing to take a lot less so they have your business rather than their neighbor. I ended up getting a Jade of pearl Buddha for 15RMB. 

11. Don’t Bother Renting a Car if Beijing or Shanghai is Your Destination

Typically, I like the option to leave, and feel liberated by having a car. However, due to many affordable and abundant public transportation options, and the high traffic & aggressive drivers I’d say using public transit would be more relaxing. 

By far, the most cost effective way to travel is by bus. It is 2RMB ($0.03USD) for each bus transfer. This allows getting around to be extremely cheap! The most difficult part of taking the bus is figuring out which bus to take and what stop to get off at. This is where going to the nearest hotel and pointing using your map becomes quite handy. 

If you elected to use your cell service, you can always use Google maps to find where you’re going and just hop off when you know you’re nearing. 

*Mindful Tip: If using the bus you must have exact change. If needed, your hotel can provide you small change. 

**We found that costs for taxi cabs started at 20RMB, and based on the distance went up from there. To best estimate we found it is approx. 5RMB/5 mins.

10. Booking at Hotel Near the City Center Pays its Benefits

By now, most of you know that I love AirB&B and prefer a more authentic cultural stay, than to stay at hotels. This trip I chose to book a hotel because (1) the tours I booked would pick-up/drop off from your hotel, very convenient, and (2) I wanted to visit many of the tourist attractions which most in China are near the city center and within walking distance of the “first ring” of hotels. 

The best way to find your hotel for your stay can be using booking sites like Hotels.com, and sorting by distance and cost to the city centers. 

If visiting Beijing I would highly recommend the Novotel Beijing Peace Hotel it was $100/night + breakfast. Because we were staying more than 4 nights they upgraded us to a suite with no additional cost. And, the breakfast…FABULOUS. All you can eat food, they had a pastry section, cereal, fruit, egg, lunch/dinner food area, tea, and coffee areas. The hotel was about a 20 minute walk from the Time Square of Beijing, which was full of high-end stores, as well as from the outside market(s) with authentic Chinese foods and stores. 

If visiting Shanghai I would recommend the SSaw Boutique Hotel. Right when you walk in it smells like an Abercrombie store, that was a great start. The hotel was the cheapest hotel within a 15 min walking distance to Yu Garden (a must see if looking for the Chinese style buildings, food markets, and handmade gifts). The cost was $89/night. Upon entrance they welcomed us with tea, recommendations based on the weather (raining) and time (since it was a holiday). Additionally, they went as far as booking our massage for us, and provided us a map and directions to the nearest bus stop in order to get there. Unlike any other hotel I’ve stayed, they had an online app that helped lay out unbiased opinions of where to go and what to see including estimated costs, open/close times, and feedback from their guests who have tried the places. This was a treat as this leg of our trip was not as planned as Beijing.  

*FYI: The beds are not mattress-like, what you expect in the US and other places. They are more of a box-spring. At home I have a plush and soft bed, so this was quite different. After the first night, I realized this relieved a lot of back pain. 

*Mindful Tip: Be prepared to have them put a hold on your credit card for incidentals, similar to what they do in the states. They run your card and pull the amount, and when you check out, they run it again to provide a refund. The first hotel we stayed held 1200RMB ($189USD), and the other held 400RMB ($63USD).

9. To Be Early is to Be on Time, and to Be on Time is to Be Late- BYE!

We found that in the Chinese culture, being early is to be on time. Most of our tours had hotel pick-up at 6:30a, and almost always showed up 15 minutes earlier. Keep this is mind because it goes for the use of bus, trains, and scheduled appointments. And, if you show up exactly when you’re supposed to then you’re too late and they leave without you. My mom and I watched many trains and tour guides leave without their necessary people. Maybe we Americans should start doing this to get people to value each others’ time just a little bit more. 

8. Second Hand Smoking, Expect It

I am convinced that the Chinese don’t wear the masks due to the smog/air pollution, but rather because of all the people smoking. I have never been in a place where avoiding walking next to a smoker was nearly impossible. Beijing was full of smokers. I ended up buying perfume to spray my clothes at the end of each night. 

7. Get Pushy, or Get Behind 

I used to think the asian women at the grocery stores in the states (weird saying because I’m asian, but I consider myself Americanized) were rude because they pushed you without saying excuse me. Well now, I believe it to be culture. People here push their way through to get from point A to B. I don’t know if it’s because there are so many people, or if because the value of time is so important in their country and they don’t want to wait on someone who isn’t ready. 

When my mom and I went to the zoo, we thought we were waiting in line for the cotton candy to find out a women with her money ready pushed her way to the front and got service. 

Because of this, I recommend planning out meeting points throughout the trip in case you get lost in the shuffle. Especially since when the “walk” line turns green it’s a free for all on how you make it across the street, and if you aren’t forceful enough you will be bullied behind everyone. 

Also, just know that people in China stand closer together, and personal space may not be what you’d be used to. Again, I think this goes along with saving the time.

6. Where’s the Toilet & Toilet Paper?

You better start learning how to squat before you leave. In most places there are no toilets as we are used to seeing them. They are holes in the ground. You use them facing the door, and when you’re done usually they auto flush if they have a sensor, or it will auto flush when you open the door. Also, bring/buy toilet paper before you need to go. Most places don’t have the luxury of carrying the paper for you. 

When on a tour your guide will generally lead you to the nicer “10 star rated” toilets. But, most of the time you’re on your own. 

5. No Tissues, No Problem, They Spit  

I read a lot before I came to China that a lot of people spit. Come to find out when visiting it is because they don’t use tissues instead you’ll see them plug one side of their nose and blow. Sounds unsanitary for us, but you’ll notice it quite a lot. For peace of mind, you’ll find in midnight hours the streets are thoroughly washed. But, keep this in mind if you ever drop something if it’s worth picking it up. 

4. Book a Tour Guide 

In most English speaking places it is easy to create a self guided tour. But, in China finding anyone who speaks Chinese is difficult, so best understanding significant places, is truly best by planning ahead through various travel agencies and travel sites. If you need recommendations just ask me! 

In Beijing, we had two tours planned, (1) Great Wall of China, Ming Tombs, Jade Palace, and a Tea House and (2) Tiananmen Square, The Forbidden City, Chinese Doctor & Foot Massage, a Silk Shop, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and a Pearl Store. These tours gave us an overall understanding of culture, understanding of customs, and historical significance of places seen. 

These tours in Beijing are quite cheap compared to tours I’ve booked in other countries. For an 8 hour tour, including lunch and transportation we paid $40-$70 per person. 

In Shanghai, we elected not to take any guided tours. Instead, we elected to do a hop on/off bus, that had English speaking recordings that are sensored when passing certain buildings. My mom and I have historically found these quite fun to give a good lay of the land when we are unfamiliar of where to go. 

3. Authentic Chinese Food is Different than American Chinese Food

Many people before visiting China told me not to expect the food to what we are used to having in the US. In my opinion the food was comparable, just not filled with salts and heavy sauces. The sauces were quite light. 

On one of our tours we found that based on the region of China you visit, the food varies. In the north (Beijing) the foods are more salty and fried, in middle/east region (Shanghai) the foods are more spicy, and in the south region the foods are more filled with rice and organic veggies. All of which were palatable and tasty. But, not what we are used to tasting in a US Chinese restaurant.  

2. If You Plan on Visiting More than One Chinese City, Use a Train!

Prior to visiting we knew that we were going to visit three different places throughout China. Similar to the US there are methods of airplane from one part of the country to the next, but can be quite expensive. We found that taking the train was the most cost effective and time saving option. 

We took a train from Beijing to Shanghai, then from Shanghai to Guangzhou. From Beijing to Shanghai the train was about 4 hours and cost approximately $200USD, and from Shanghai to Guangzhou took about 8 hours and was about $300USD. 

1. Arrive to the Airport Early, I Recommend at Least 3 Hours

To have more peace of mind I recommend that before you go to your flight make sure you call your airline and retrieve the ticket numbers, and your airline carrier name. Most people at the airport only speak Chinese so figuring out that these are the two things you need before you arrive will save you an hour; or at least that’s how long it took my mom and I. 

My mom and I had booked our flight to/from using Delta, however, when arriving to the Guangzhou airport we found out that “Delta” did not exist. Instead the carrier name was China Eastern. Once we found this out we thought our hurtles were past us. Come to find out that the American flight confirmation is not enough, the ticket number is also needed; which isn’t known until seat assignments have been arranged. Calling your flight carrier to retrieve this information is easy, so long as you have cell service. 

*Helpful Tip: You can not check-in if you are within 45-minutes of your flight, you are too late. And, you can’t board if you’re within 15-minutes to your gate.

Next Stop…China. But, why?

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I’ve always contemplated pinning up a map and throwing darts to decide where to go next. Well, wait, I did try that once but ended up being a small country in Europe that when I researched didn’t tickle my fancy, so I ditched the idea. Point is… there’s a reason for the places I pick to visit, and it’s time I start sharing in hopes that one day it will help you, too, decide!

So, why China?

(1) It’s a place I’ve never been; another country to cross off the list!

Fun fact about myself… I consider myself as an introvert to those I don’t know (so much so that I am now a member at Toastmasters to help get myself over the fear of talking to complete strangers). My initial interest in traveling abroad was to accumulate experiences and see, firsthand, places that I’ve never been so that I could relate more to people as I met them. Little did I know I would catch the travel bug after stepping out of the country for the first time, and I realized that traveling is more than relating to people when I returned, but submerging myself in cultures I never knew, and meeting people who live differently than I do. China, is a country I’ve never been and only heard/seen through others’ stories. I’ve been postponing this visit related to costs, and needing to research more about places to visit. I try to avoid visiting until I feel researched enough to not regret going and missing a landmark I didn’t know of…

And, it so happened that the time I was budgeting time off for this trip, landed on the Chinese New Year… I mean, c’mon! I mean if that isn’t a sign, what is!

(2) It’s a place with a landmark that I’m afraid if I wait to see I’ll never see again 

This sounds crazy, but it’s really a factor I consider… with all the crazy that happens in the world, I want to ensure that the places I see first are things that I worry about possibly not sticking around for when I get older. I know, you’re thinking the Great Wall of China is miles long and isn’t going anywhere, so may not be as relevant as other places to visit, but I don’t ever want to live in wondering “what-if.”

I’ll share with you a story…a couple summers ago I had waned to go to Disney World to ride the Tower of Terror. Instead, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter made the list. A year later when considering places to visit I again thought of Hollywood Studios at Disney and found out the ride was transformed to a different ride and no longer exists. Now, I have just the memories from when I was 7 replaying of what it was like when I went on it as a kid, and not relived in my adulthood. I know traveling to see landmarks internationally may not seem comparable, but this is what I fear in places that I visit. If it’s something I fear to be gone and not see in my adulthood, it moves higher on the list. Other places on the list, currently, is Egypt, Italy (I believe in global warming and am fearful the waterways won’t be there forever), and Machu Pitchu.

 

(3) There are multiple places that I’ve accumulated desires to go in the country

Nothing is more thrilling, to me, than visiting multiple places in one trip. Not only does this help give me a well rounded impression of the places I visit, but allows me to check off multiple places without having to go back in the near-future while I visit places I’veneer been.

Generally, I wait until I have a list of 5 places before I book a trip. For China it included: Great Wall of China, Ming Tomb, National Olympic Stadium, Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, Summer Place and Temple of Heaven. After doing some research, I have found some inspirations for the Avatar movie, and may have to come back and visit! Sounds silly, as I haven’t even got there yet, but I try not to push too much into each day in hopes I can live in the moment and truly appreciate where I am!

*If you’re looking to figure out what not to miss try starting by doing a quick Google search of the place you’re visiting, and see Google’s recommended top places. If you’re looking for something more tailored to your liking search for tours in the area and write down your favorite spots, and pin all the places into a map and create your own self-guided tour!

(4) Affordable downtown hotels/Air B&B’s that are within walking distance of public transit 

Believe it or not, being able to get all the places on the wish list/itinerary needs to be considered before leaving for a trip! How can one travel on a budget if the cost to get to places on the itinerary costs the same as getting there!

To start my search I use AirB&B to see how much rooms are downtown (I generally don’t book unless the room costs are $50 or under), see if there is public transit nearby (see how much it would be for multi-day passes if staying a while), and last pin all the locations you want to visit to see if it’s centrally located. To be most cost beneficial stay at the same place if in the same city. This will reduce the transaction costs for booking, and will save time/costs to transport luggage if you’re not solely a carryon traveler.

I was surprised to see how many options there were in Beijing. I had always heard that the city was very populated, and had made the assumption that going would be very costly. I was pleasantly surprised to find that costs ranged from $20-$400/night. This made hitting my $50 or less budget quite easily! Because I booked it cheaper, I went wild and booked a $80/night hotel in Shanghai the second leg of the trip; I’m being serious!

(5) Flight prices are within $1000 to/return

No matter where you’re traveling around the world, you should be able to find a hotel flight there with the base cost to/from for $1000, or less. It’s all about tracking prices and knowing when to book. A cheat for this is going during the off-season of the place you’re visiting, or booking ahead (3 months or earlier) before leaving on a busy time! The easiest way to track the flight prices is typing in the dates and places you’re visiting through Google.com/Flights> tracking prices!

Additionally, if you’re trying to use points making sure you have a credit card that gives incentives for using the credit card for travel purchases; example is the Delta Skymiles Credit Card; that way, you get discounts for going to places you would anyway, and often times (I’ve found) get double points that allow you to use those points for your next trip!

AMEX Delta Skymiles: You get 2 free checked in bags each flight, up to 70,000 free sky miles for your next trip (I used mine for a free trip to Vegas), and $100 credit card credit if you spend $3,000 or more within the first three months! Here’s a referral link to get the perks above! Apply for the Platinum Delta SkyMiles® Credit Card with this link. We can both get rewarded if you’re approved! Apply Here!