Upper Tier Hotels: The Hongta (Shanghai, China)

Part of Marriott’s Luxury Collection, the Hongta is what I consider a “luxury-adjacent” brand hotel.  It’s far nicer than a traditional chain hotel but you don’t get quite the same refined experience as a Waldorf, Ritz, St. Regis, etc.  

Rooms were spacious (upgraded to a suite on the 15th floor as a Platinum member) with very well-appointed rooms.  It does need a refresh - the carpets are beat - but the lobby is quite beautiful, the facilities are very maintained well and you have to consider fancy/luxury hotels in comparison to the big big big names in the industry. You aren’t living like a true A-lister at a place like this, but it’s darn good enough to impress someone special to you.

Service is great - good English-speaking staff.  With breakfast and Executive Lounge bar happy hour (over an amazing view from the 40th floor), it was well worth the $100 or so per night. The happy hour at the Executive Lounge is truly an amazing perk as a top member with Marriott (and when I stay with Hiltons too). It’s really worth using your credit cards and spend right to ensure you get these benefits. Free meals add up quickly when reviewing your travel budget over the course of a year.

The location in Pudong was so-so, a bit far from the action but in a safe spot with a close Metro stop nearby.  Not in the prime part of Pudong by Jin Mao Tower and Shanghai Tower, but the only hotels there are super pricey.  Only caveat:  if you’re a snowflake, avoid walking close to the Holiday Inn Express across the street.  The hotel looks nice enough but it’s hooker central.  You cannot walk near the hotel without being approached by many many overeager street walkers.  It was safe and didn’t bother me.  But for snowflakes, it may be a bit too appalling to handle.  Frankly, there is something uncouth to be found in the nicest parts of every city - all of SF is a demilitarized zone of poverty, crack and mental health issues - but it was more a fun observation than anything.

The price, quality, easy location to the fantastic Metro and very nice style - they all make it a great place to go for any type of audience (business, bleisure, family, romantic).

Verdict: Solid enough (7.5 / 10)

Luxury Hotels: St. Regis (Beijing, China)

We planned our nine day trip to Beijing to hit two hotels - five nights in the Ritz-Carlton and four in the St Regis - to make sure we were in two different parts of the city. The Ritz got the leg up for being in the middle of a luxury shopping zone, but it was pretty far from the main parts of the city where tourists want to go. The St. Regis was still a ways off, but considerably closer.

More importantly, the hotel was far more luxurious for a far lower price. Just walking into the spacious lobby, we could tell it was an upgrade. The rooms were larger, better appointed, sharper and less dated, with fantastic views and the perfect bathroom with long tub suitable for even those of us who are tall.

The breakfast was pretty amazing - very high quality with lots of options. Service at the restaurant, front desk and around the hotel were 100% on point. They weren’t bad at the Ritz, but this just felt a lot more tailored to your needs. Oh, and every St. Regis offers YOUR OWN PERSONAL BUTLER SERVICE!

You can’t make them go all Alfred on you and built crime fighting caves or go to the point of excess, but it’s a huge element in the St. Regis brand that you just can’t ignore.

Oh, and the happy hour for two hours in the evening in The Press Club - a bar name that is so fitting for me - has excellent food and great drinks (complementary wine, beer, whiskey, champagne, etc.).

Even without comparing it to the average experience at the Ritz right before it, this place rocks. And the cost is pretty reasonable for a true luxury hotel. It won’t break the bank but it may make you want to stay in instead of exploring an amazing city - which is just how a luxury hotel should be.

Verdict: Do It! (9.5 / 10)

Brunch: The Rug (Beijing, China)

This spot is regularly rated as one of the city’s best, and it was pretty solid. Didn’t have the biggest meal or take advantage of the bottomless mimosas, but I’d go back again. The space is huge, airy and contemporary - and the food is darn good too. It’s located in the Sanlitun area, a popular expat neighborhood, and is surrounded by tons of popular bars and restaurants. With reasonable prices, it’s good for a lengthy brunch or a starting point before hitting the nearby night scene (De Refter across the street is great for cocktails. And on visiting, there were no white tourists, so it hasn’t, at least yet, become a tourist trap or craphole ignored by the locals.

Verdict: Good but not great (6.5 / 10)

Location: Courtyard No 4. Sanlitun, Gongti North Road, Chaoyang

Luxury Hotels: Ritz-Carlton (Beijing, China)

Ritz-Carlton is a leading name in luxury travel and you have to be a dumb dumb to not enjoy a stay at one of their properties. While this one wasn’t the best, it still was a pleasant stay made all the better by a Marriott Pointsaver deal - a rarity for Ritz - that only set me back 80,000 points for five nights.

In this high-end brand in the Marriott portfolio, hotels are either super classy or super modern/sleek. This falls into the former. Everything is nice and ornate, if a bit dated. The facilities are top notch, especially the breakfast, which has a huge selection of Chinese and global cuisine that really makes your day start off right.

The real downside to this trip was a conference that had taken over the hotel and forced military-style security precautions. While going through a metal detector on every entry to the hotel can get annoying, the tiny lobby felt a bit oppressive with all the security guards and hotel staff. And with the constant redirection (“go this way, sir”) and holding of elevators for others, it really didn’t feel like this Platinum member mattered much.

More disturbingly, we arrived to our room 15 minutes before our 4pm late checkout to find three staffers inside moving items around and getting ready to pull our stuff out. It’s not cool to plan on ejecting guests like this and jumping the gun on the agreed upon 4pm checkout time. Fortunately, we were mostly packed and we walked in before they could rifle through things.

That mishap at the end and the eerie security-state atmosphere were obnoxious but not worth raising a ruckus over. More importantly, the hotel just seemed to be living off its name, which is more than evident when you check out the St. Regis closer into the Forbidden City. That hotel is far cheaper, far nicer and better in virtually every way…that review is up next.

Verdict: Acceptable but overpriced (6.5 / 10)