Here's the skinny on getting tickets, booking a place to stay, and making your way around Beijing.
How to Get Tickets
The Beijing 2008 Olympics kick off August 8, but tickets are already going fast. Skip the official website of the Olympic Games: Only residents of mainland China are eligible to order tickets through it. For Americans, the best way to buy tickets is through CoSport (877/457-4647, cosport.com). Alternatively, if you're willing to pay marked-up prices, you can snap up tickets from ticket brokers, such as RazorGator (800/542-4466, razorgator.com), which obtain tickets and resell them a few months in advance of the Games.
CoSport's ticket-request lottery—the first round of sales—is over. Check CoSport's website in October for announcements on when it will put its remaining tickets on sale. "Typically, the most popular events are the opening and closing ceremonies, swimming, diving, and women's gymnastics," says Donald Williams, vice president for sales and marketing at Cartan Tours, which offers vacation packages. Other favorites are track-and-field events and soccer matches, says Williams, who has sold packages for 13 Olympic Games (summer and winter).
Your best bet is to nab tickets for track-and-field events. Seats are comparatively easy to come by, given the enormity of Beijing's National Stadium (91,000 seats) and the high frequency of track-and-field events, which happen twice a day from Aug. 15 to 22. Williams also recommends looking into sports that wouldn't ordinarily interest you. "People always thank me for that advice afterwards," he says.
Good news: Ticket prices are lower for most events in the Beijing Olympics than they were during the Athens Olympics—as low as $5 per person for preliminary baseball and $9 per person for preliminary basketball or preliminary beach volleyball. Of course, some hot tickets are exceptions, such as those for the best seats during the opening ceremony, which cost nearly $800 a pop.
Where to Stay
Pricing premiums are in effect for Beijing hotels from August 6 to 24, and by now, Olympic officials, delegates, sponsors, and tour operators have sewn up the city's rooms. For example, a standard room at the InterContinental Beijing Financial Street—ordinarily $185 a night—is going for roughly $750 a night. Worse, the rooms during the 18-day period were all booked up by last January. A hotel clerk says these reservations are 80 percent paid up, so possibilities for cancellation are slim. Plus, the waiting lists are growing.
So, unless you are planning to arrange a homestay—rare in Beijing's cramped quarters—you should consider buying a package tour. For example, Cartan Tours (800/818-1998, cartan.com) offers packages at varying prices and types of hosting (fully guided or semi-independent). Packages can run as short as five days and typically include airfare, transfers, breakfasts, public transportation, and other services. You can also add side trips to the Ming tombs and the Great Wall—remote, must-see sights.
The least expensive option is to skip Beijing and instead visit a cohost city that isn't drawing as many visitors, such as Hong Kong (for equestrian), Qingdao (for sailing), and Shanghai (for preliminary soccer).
Getting Around Beijing
Navigating China's capital will be less intimidating than you might think. Even though Beijing is a sprawling city, the bulk of events—including the most popular ones—will take place within the confines of the Olympic Green, which is about six miles north of the Forbidden City. The Olympic Green is home to the new National Stadium, National Aquatics Center, National Indoor Stadium, Olympic Green Tennis Center, and other centerpiece structures. The area around Peking University, west of the Olympic Green, hosts wrestling, table tennis, and martial arts. Canoeing takes place in the northeastern part of the city. The area due west of Beijing's city center is where cycling, basketball, baseball, and shooting events take place.
How to Use Frequent Flier Miles
Air transportation is sometimes an optional component of packages. Cartan Tours allows frequent flyers to obtain their tickets using miles and to subtract the price of airfare without penalty. If you have enough miles, this is a good option, as group airfares are typically not discounted for the Olympics.
Getting a Visa
You'll need to pay fees. Follow the tips in Budget Travel's Sept., 2007, article "Veni, Visa, Vici."