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There are two types of hotels in China: Sino-foreign joint venture hotels, which are Chinese-owned properties with foreign management, and wholly Chinese-owned-and-managed hotels. The former tend to be four- and five-star hotels (see below for more on the rating system) with familiar brand names, while the latter can range from five-star outfits to unrated hovels. Two of the biggest Chinese hotel management groups are the Jin Jiang chain and the Hengshan chain, both of which started with flagship hotels in Shanghai, but have now extended their management to hotels around China.

The Chinese government ranks hotels on an almost meaningless star system whereby five-star accreditation is handed out by a central authority, while ranks of four stars and below are determined by local authorities, none of whom are beyond being wined, dined, and having their palms greased (a little or a lot). Five-star hotels have the complete facilities and services of any international luxury hotel, but even among its ranks, quality varies more than it should. Four-star hotels come close, often lacking only a few technical requirements (such as a swimming pool or other facility). Both levels are popular choices for Western travelers, providing English-speaking staff and clean, comfortable, even luxurious accommodations. Foreign-managed hotels have foreign staff at the top levels, though increasingly the Chinese are filling more of these positions even in joint-venture hotels. For Western travelers, your first choice should be foreign-managed hotels followed by the top Chinese-managed outfits. In general, four- and five-star Chinese-managed hotels do not match their foreign-managed counterparts in service or maintenance of facilities.

Three-star hotels are almost always Chine maintenance. Few of them have English-speaking staff. In the bigger cities, three-star hotels are adequate for the budget traveler who merely needs a decent place to spend the night. In many parts of China, however, the three-star hotel is the best you'll find.

Due to the comparative lack of cleanliness (rather than safety issues), two- and one-star hotels, as well as unrated hotels and basic guest houses catering to the rugged backpacking traveler, are generally best avoided, if possible. In some parts of China, these hotels are not even allowed to accept foreign travelers. Note: The zero- to three-star rating system we use in our reviews does not correspond to the Chinese star-rating system. 

In general, most hotel rooms, no matter how basic, have the following: a telephone whose line you can plug into your laptop computer; air-conditioning, either centrally or individually controlled, which often doubles as a heater; a television that usually receives only local Chinese channels, if that; and some sort of potable water, either in the form of hot water thermoses that are delivered to your room after you check in, or bottled water and an electric kettle. Except for the top hotels, most hotels do not have exclusively nonsmoking rooms. If they tell you they do, but put you in a room that reeks of every previous smoker, they mean the room is a nonsmoking room for the moment!

Note: It's quite common to receive telephone calls in the middle of the night (even in four- and five-star hotels, alas) inquiring if you would like anmo (literally "massage," but in this case, a not-so-subtle euphemism for sexual services). The caller usually hangs up if a woman answers, or occasionally if a man answers in a non-Chinese language. However, bolder callers have learned enough to say "Massagee?" when they hear a foreign male's voice. If you are not amused, and complaining to the hotel staff doesn't work (much of this calling actually comes from in-house), unplug your phone.

In general, payment for your room is made upfront; many, but not all, of the three-star-and-up hotels catering to foreigners accept foreign credit cards. Asked how long you're staying, always say 1 day (or you'll be asked to pay for however many days you plan on staying). You can then pay as you go. Keep all receipts, from proof of your room payment to any room key deposit you might have to make. The top hotels usually levy a service charge of 10% to 15%, though this may be waived or included in the final negotiated price at smaller hotels. Children under age 12 usually stay free in their parent's room.

With practically every international hotel chain and brand name represented in Shanghai, and more on the way (watch out for the Waldorf Astoria, W, and another Four Seasons, and two more Shangri-La's, among others, in the next few years), as well as the establishment of some very nice boutique hotels in the last few years, the visitor is spoiled for choice when it comes to high-end accommodations. Even more appealing, and unique to Shanghai, these luxury accommodations come in a range of styles, from modern luxury towers to restored Art Deco hotels to elegant colonial mansions. Prices are high, but the fierce competition from the glut of hotels has led to significant discounts during parts of the year. However, these discounts disappear almost entirely during big conventions, meetings, and special citywide events, such as the annual Formula One Grand Prix race in the spring. Midrange accommodations are plentiful in Shanghai, but few foreigners choose these mostly three-star hotels when big discounts are available from the top hotels. In the last few years, bed-and-breakfasts have started appearing in Shanghai, and have become a welcome alternative to the cookie-cutter chain hotels. Shanghai's budget hotels, few and far between, charge more than elsewhere in China, with the exception, perhaps, of Hong Kong and Beijing.

Because Shanghai is more of a financial, commercial, and industrial city than a tourism-driven one, hoteliers like to claim that they have no low season. In reality, you can get the biggest discounts between December and February, while rates are highest from May through October.

Chinese Business Motels

It may sound a bit dodgy, but for many Chinese business travelers to Shanghai, the no-frills business chain motels (such as the Jinjiang Inn, Super Motel, and Green Tree Inn chains) that have sprouted up around town have become a popular lodging option. Usually housed in dull, unremarkable buildings, these motels have basic, but relatively new and clean rooms (some even with very modern decor) with air-conditioning, hot water, television, telephone, and even broadband Internet for the business or professional traveler who would prefer to stay away from the backpacking hostel scene. There is usually a restaurant on the premises that serves jia chang cai (homestyle Chinese cooking), as well as a business center that can handle airplane and train bookings. Not much English is spoken at these places, so it may be more suitable for foreigners who already have some grasp of Chinese. Still, if you're bemoaning the lack of decent but affordable lodgings in town, here are three of the better-located choices. Jinjiang Star (Jinjiang Zhixing), located downtown in Huangpu District at Fujian Nan Lu 33 (tel. 021/6326-0505; www.jj-inn.com), has basic in-suite standard rooms for ¥349; Green Tree Inn (Gelin Haotai) at Yan'an Zhong Lu 1111, just west of Fumin Lu (tel. 021/3617-4888; www.998.com), has standard rooms starting at ¥399; while Super Motel 168 (Motai Yan'an Xi Lu Dian), located in western Shanghai at Yan'an Xi Lu 1119 (tel. 021/5117-7777; www.motel168.com), across from the Longemont Shanghai, has standard rooms starting at ¥298.

Airport Hotels

The closest five-star hotel to the Hongqiao Airport is the Marriott Hotel Hongqiao, which is still about 6.4km (4 miles) to the east. The Australian-managed 205-unit Argyle International Airport Hotel Hongqiao (Hua Gang Ya Ge Jiu Dian, Kong Gang Yi Lu 458; tel. 021/6268-7788; fax 021/6268-5671) is the nearest major hotel within a 5-minute ride from the airport. Modern efficient standard rooms start at around ¥ 600.

There are several hotels serving Pudong Airport. The best of the lot, Ramada Pudong Airport Shanghai Hotel (Shanghai Jichang Huameida Dajiudian, Qihang Lu 1100; tel. 021/3849-4949; fax 021/6885-2889; www.ramadaairportpd.com), is a 2- to 3-minute free shuttle ride or a 10-minute walk from the airport. The hotel has 370 units. Rooms (¥880-¥1,080 standard) are clean and comfortable with the usual amenities, including safes and in-room movies. Both Western and Chinese dining are available. If you want to be really close to the terminal and don't mind basic accommodations, the gigantic Motel 168 (Mote 168 Shanghai Pudong Jichang Konggang Binguan, Yinbin Dadao 6001; tel. 021/3879-9999; fax 021/6885-2526; www.motel168.com) is located right on top of the Maglev station, just a few minutes' walk from both airport Terminals 1 and 2. The hotel has clean rooms with all the basic amenities, including free Internet, all for price levels starting around ¥398.

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.