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Opening a hotel seems quite the thing to do in Beijing these days. That said, it's not always easy to choose a hotel: the Chinese star system is a little unpredictable, and Web sites are often misleading. For lesser establishments, try to get recent personal recommendations: the forums on Fodors.com are a great place to start.
"Location, location, location" should be your mantra when booking a Beijing hotel, especially if you're only in town for a few days. It's a big city: there's no point schlepping halfway across it for one particular hotel when a similar option is available in a more convenient area. Consider where you'll be going (Summer Palace? Forbidden City? Great Wall?), then pick your bed.
There's an abundance of furnished short- and long-term rental properties in Beijing. Prices vary wildly. The priciest are luxury apartments and villas, usually far from the city center and best accessible by (chauffeur-driven) car. Usually described as "serviced apartments," these often include gyms and pools; rents can be over $2,000 a month. There are a lot of well-located midrange properties in the city. They're usually clean, with new furnishings; rents start at $500 a month. Finally, for longer, budget-friendly stays, there are normal local apartments. These are firmly off the tourist circuit and often cost only a third of the price of the mid-range properties. Expect mismatched furniture, fewer amenities, and—we won't lie—varying insect populations.
Property sites like Wuwoo, Move and Stay, Sublet, and Pacific Properties have hundreds of apartments all over town. The online classifieds pages in local English-language magazines such as The Beijinger, City Weekend, or the Craigslist Beijing page are good places to start.
Single travelers can arrange homestays (often in combination with language courses) through China Homestay Club. Generally these are in upper-middle-class homes that are about as expensive as a cheap hotel—prices range from $150 to $180 a week. Nine times out of 10, the family has a small child in need of daily English conversation classes. ChinaHomestay.org is a different organization that charges a single placement fee of $300 for a stay of three months or less.
Budget accommodation options are improving in Beijing. However, the term "hostel" is still used vaguely—the only thing guaranteed is shared dorm rooms; other facilities vary and some hostels do include private rooms, so it is worth checking into. There are several clean youth hostels downtown, including three HI–affiliated properties, but flea-ridden dumps are also common, so always ask to see your room before paying. Try to pick a hostel close to a subway, and avoid properties beyond the Third Ring Road. A private room in a low-end hotel is often just as cheap as these so-called hostels; some guesthouses and hotels also have cheaper dorm beds in addition to regular rooms. Hostelworld.com is a good site to visit, especially for peer feedback on everything from service to cleanliness.