How to Reduce Cost of Tibet Tour
Most of the travelers would like to arrange a Tibet tour as cheap as possible, in my opinion, the most effective way is to arrange your trip in low season – in winter, almost 40% discount of that in peak season. You can get the cheapest price in winter if you do not mind the cold weather. Warmer than winter, April, May, December could be the better choice than Winter, though the price raises a bit than it is in low season. More than Tibet, for those travelers ahead to Nepal after Tibet, the best season of traveling Nepal in April, May, October, and December. You can not only get the relatively lower price in Tibet but also enjoy the best time in Nepal.
Then, using cheaper domestic transportation can greatly reduce the price. In my experience, if travelers enter and leave Tibet by flight, the airfare will be approximately 50% of the domestic tour fee. The airline companies seldom reduce cost on flights to and leave Tibet. Comparatively, a convenient train from Beijing to Lhasa or Shanghai to Lhasa is more popular than flight in recent years. You can benefit from cost and appreciate the beautiful scenery of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. I guess you heard about this famous train in the USA. Take train from Beijing to Lhasa for example, this 45 hours train journey takes you to Lhasa for 2 days and 2 nights, the comfortable sleeping berths (6 persons share a compartment, divided to lower berth, middle berth, upper berth) only cost you about 130-150USD/person, which is just half price of flight tickets from Beijing to Lhasa.
Then, let me introduce how to reduce cost after entering Tibet. The tour price is affected by 7 elements.
1. Tour Guide
Though tour guide fee is just a small part of the tour price, it could not be removed, because Chinese Government requires a fully guided tour for foreigners in Tibet. The English Speaking Guides, Chinese Speaking Guides are cheap for this great population, while tour guides for other minority languages are expensive in Tibet.
2. Vehicle and Driver. You can save a lot on Vehicle by renting a tourist bus because a tourist bus that can load about 10 travelers is cheaper than a Land Cruiser that can only load 4 travelers.
3. Accommodations. The the cheapest accommodation is dorm bed in a guesthouse, but this kind of accommodation is always privately-owned hostel/inn, dirty and no hot water supply. Though it is cheap and some backpacker love to stay in it, I do not recommend them for tour groups. The best choice for budget tour groups is to live in cheap hotels, like the 2-star hotel, or quasi 3-star hotel or Tibetan Style Inn, with 12-24 hot water supply and private bathroom. Comfortable, cozy and quiet. Some hotels provide free breakfast.
4. Entrance fee of visiting Monasteries, tourist sites. The admission fee for tourist sites in China is very expensive. Tibet is no different from that. Take 8 days Lhasa-Mt. Everest- Katmandu tour, for example, the total amount of admission fee is more than 120USD. This can not be removed because your main purpose is to visit them in Tibet.
5. Meals in Tibet are very expensive, I thought they are double of the price in China mainland. For example, if a normal quality meal is about 30RMB in China mainland, that would be 50-60RMB in Tibet. But some cheap and simple food is about 15-20RMB/person, which can be affordable.
6. Shopping. You may save from Shopping. Do not buy too many things in Tibet.
7. Tips for guide and driver. If you join in a tour group, you can tip about 6-12 USD for driver and 10-15USD for tour guide per day for the total. In the end, Try to find more travelers to share the cost, or seek the help of travel agency to hunt more partners. Tibettravel.org offers a lot of Tibet tour groups in each month.