I recommend two hotel booking sites. One is elong. This is a US listed company with powerful resources in China flight and hotel booking. I think it is the only company that offers online flight ticket booking in China.
The hotel range is wide, and its booking service is quick. I made an online hotel booking, and they acknowledged receipt of request via email in two minutes and confirmed the booking through mobile phones in five minutes! I was impressed.
Besides good service, if you can read Chinese, go to their Chinese version and you will find lots of hotel users’ comments, very useful in helping you to identify a good hotel. Comments on some hotels are a few pages long. And the comment is aggregated into an overall rating.
It is a shame that the English hotel booking interface does not have user comment – well it is understandable. The site has much fewer English speaking users than Chinese users. It is another shame that the English page is not automatically shifted to the corresponding page in Chinese when you change the language option. You cannot therefore, just by one click, see the overall rating of the same hotel by Chinese users.
On elong, you can search hotels based on pricing. Once you push the pricing based search button, the cheapest hotels will come on the top. It is helpful for those on a tight budget.
Also, you don’t need a visa card to make reservation. Well, some hotels do require you to make the booking with visa cards if your checking in time is after 6pm and you want to be sure of a room during the public holiday like the Golden Week in May and October. But the visa cards they need usually are those issued in China. So avoid checking in after 6pm, or just take the risk of not having a room – the risk is minimal anyway.