On direct, nonstop flights, China's own international airlines always offer rates slightly lower than those of foreign carriers. Cabin staff try to be helpful but are never quite sure how. Air China only recently suffered its first and only fatal accident and should not be confused with China Airlines from Taiwan, at quite the other end of the scale. Departure tax is now included in the price of your ticket.
Beijing's international airport (PEK) is about 20km (12 miles) north of downtown. A new terminal, T3, was added in 2008 to handle the extra traffic during the Olympics. Several major airlines moved their operations to the shinier new building, including Air China, British Airways, Singapore Airlines, and Dragon Air.
Getting into Town from the Airport
Taxi -- You will be pestered by taxi touts as soon as you emerge from Customs. Never go with these people. The signposted taxi rank is straight ahead and has a line that mostly works, although a few people will always try to cut in front of you. Line up at the two-lane rank, and a marshal will direct you to the next available vehicle as you reach the front of the line. Rates are clearly posted on the side of each cab. All cabs are ¥2 per kilometer. After 15km (9 1/3 miles), rates increase by 50%. If you only want to go to the hotels (such as the Westin, Kempinski, Hilton, or Sheraton) in the San Yuan Qiao area, where the Airport Expressway meets the Third Ring Road, your taxi driver may be a bit grumpy, but that's his bad luck.
Expect to pay around ¥80 to the eastern part of the city and around ¥100 to the central hotels. These estimates include the meter rate and a ¥10 expressway toll, which you'll see the driver pay en route. Fares to the central hotels will increase significantly if you travel during rush hours (8-9am and 3:30-7pm). For most of the day, you can reach hotels on the Third Ring Road within about 30 minutes, and central hotels in about 45 minutes -- the latter trip may rise to more than an hour during rush hours.
Airport Buses -- Air-conditioned services, run by two different companies, leave from in front of the domestic arrivals area. The Airport Shuttle Bus (¥16) runs five routes; the most useful, Line 2 to Xidan, runs every 10 minutes from 7am to last arrival. Destinations include San Yuan Qiao (near the Hilton and Sheraton hotels), the Dong Zhi Men and Dong Si Shi Tiao metro stations, and the CAAC ticket office in Xidan. Lines 1 through 5 all pass through San Yuan Qiao, but only Line 2 lets off passengers at a location convenient for picking up taxis to continue to other destinations. Most hotels in the center of the city can be reached by taxi for under ¥30 from there. If you're staying in the university district, save yourself a bundle and take Line 5 to Zhongguancun Bridge. From there it is a ¥10 to ¥20 taxi ride to most of the major universities. For more detail on the airport buses and where they stop, check out the airport's website, www.bcia.com.cn.
There is also a Kong Gang Bus for ¥1 to ¥3 available at the exit of both terminal buildings. It stops at destinations very close to the airport (Ying Hua Yuan, Guo Tai Guang Chang, and the Airport Hotel).
Express Train -- The new airport express train to Dong Zhi Men is a mixed blessing. For ¥25, you'll get yourself to downtown Beijing in about 20 minutes. You can use regular metro cards for the journey. Unfortunately, the logistics of taking the train can be incredibly annoying. The mandatory X-ray machine at the airport station often means waiting in line and then heaving your heavy suitcases onto the conveyor belt. Getting to street level at Dong Zhi Men involves a short escalator and then a steep set of stairs (there's an elevator after the escalator but it doesn't take you all the way to street level). Then there's the madness of hailing down a cab around the hordes of public buses just outside the station. Passengers are funneled into the northeast exit of Dong Zhi Men, and if you want to get to any of the other three corner exits, you will have to pay the ¥2 subway fare to walk through the subway station. If you want to switch to the subway, expect more stairs and yet another X-ray machine. The express train also stops at San Yuan Qiao, a short cab ride away from the hotels on Third Ring.
Foreign visitors are not permitted to drive their own vehicles into China, unless arrangements are made far in advance with a state-recognized travel agency for a specific itinerary. The agency will provide a guide who will travel in your vehicle, or in a second vehicle with a driver, and make sure you stick to the planned route. You will have to cover all the (marked-up) costs of guide, driver, and extra vehicle if needed, and of Chinese plates for your vehicle. The agency will book and overcharge you for all your hotels and for as many excursions as it can. Forget it.
From Hung Hom station in Kowloon (Hong Kong), expresses run directly to Beijing's West Station on alternate days (see the Intercity Passenger Services section on www.kcr.com.hk for schedules and fares). From Moscow weekly trains arrive via Ulaan Baatar in Mongolia, and weekly via a more easterly route directly to Harbin in China's northeast and down to the capital. There's also a separate weekly run from Ulaan Baatar to Beijing. Trains run twice weekly from Hanoi in Vietnam to Beijing West via Guilin. There's also a service between Beijing and Pyongyang in North Korea, but you'll be on that only if you've joined an organized tour.
Ferries connect from Incheon in South Korea (http://english.visitkorea.or.kr) and from Shimonoseki and Kobe in Japan (www.celkobe.co.jp) to Tianjin, a couple of hours from Beijing.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.