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The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai needs to step up its game if it wants to earn its name. The pros: beautiful suite, management responded well to complaints. The cons: subpar food and so-so service.

As you would expect from a city of 24 million people, Shanghai has no shortage of luxury hotel options, including a newly opened St. Regis, a quirky and colorful W and two Ritz-Carltons. My trip to China was supposed to end with a few days in Lanzhou, but that trip got canceled, giving me the opportunity to check out a new hotel before heading back to the States. I wanted to stay near a friend, so I opted for the Portman Ritz-Carlton in Jingan. Although this hotel is three tiers and 10 stories lower than the Ritz across the river in Pudong, I was eager to give it a try.

Booking

The Ritz-Carlton is known for being stingy with its upgrades for elite members, so I decided to splurge for a club-level room instead of risking not getting upgraded. My total for four nights was 8,933 CNY (about $1,400), versus 6,648 CNY ($1,050) if I’d booked a standard room.

I earned a total of 20 points per dollar on this stay — 15 for being a Platinum elite and five for booking with my Marriott Rewards Premier Business card. This came out to a total of about 28,000 points, plus an extra 3,000 thanks to Marriott’s quarterly MegaBonus promotion. The 31,000 points I earned from this stay are worth about $280, according to TPG’s latest valuations.

Location

Like the JW Marriott I’d stayed at to start my trip, the Portman Ritz-Carlton was also on West Nanjing Road, one of the city’s main commercial thoroughfares. The Ritz was about 20 minutes further west, though, in the high-end shopping district of Jingan.

For a hotel in such a prominent location, it proved surprisingly hard to find. It was set back from the street in a small shopping center, so you had to find the driveway without any signage. To make matters worse, Google Maps showed two different locations for the hotel, which created a 45-minute headache for me as I walked completely confused several times around the wrong block.

Check-in

I took a taxi from the JW Marriott and was excited to start my stay with a Signature Club-level check-in experience, but that wasn’t in the cards. Despite acknowledging my club-level booking and handing me a welcome letter listing club check-in as one of my benefits, the agent checked me in in the crowded downstairs lobby. There was also no check-in line for elite members, so I ended up waiting about 10 minutes to be helped. Off in the corner was a cute Ritz Kids check-in table with stuffed animals and a coloring book that I contemplated using while I waited.

With low expectations, I asked about the possibility of a suite upgrade. While there were none available that first night, the agent offered to upgrade me for the last three nights of my stay once one opened up. With that piece of good news, I was off to the 41st floor to check out my first room.

Rooms

I spent the first night in a club deluxe room.

It was spacious and had a large marble bathroom, but I won’t focus too much on it, as I moved into my suite early the next morning.

My club premier suite was more than twice as big, at 840 square feet.

There was a half-bathroom right inside the door before the room opened up into a spacious living room.

There was a Nespresso machine and a few water bottles on a table in the corner.

The bed was in a separate room, and somehow felt even bigger than the king bed I’d been in the night before.

The main bathroom felt almost as big as the bedroom, thanks to the plethora of mirrors in the space.

There was a separate soaking tub which came stocked with salts, soap and an extra towel.

Opposite were the shower and toilet. While both were spacious, I found the shower to be poorly lit, as you can see in the picture below. Additionally, the door got stuck several times and was hard to open.

Both of my rooms offered solid views of the city, but I was facing the wrong direction to see the Bund or any of the more identifiable buildings.

Food and Beverage

One of the biggest selling points of the Ritz-Carlton club level is the five meal services per day, including breakfast, midday snacks, afternoon tea, hors d’oeuvres and cocktails and, finally, chocolates and cordials. I managed to sample almost every serving during my stay (more on that later), and not a single one lived up to expectations.

The breakfast spread was certainly large, spanning all three areas of the club.

Options ranged from fruit and cold cuts to salad, yogurt and an array of dumplings. There were also a few hot options, including lamb chops, cooked veggies and fried rice.

Unfortunately, the quality of the food was dubious at best. The dumplings tasted stale and not nearly as good as the ones you could find on the street. The hot options were equally unimpressive, so most days I just had fruit and yogurt.

Even the fruit was hit or miss: One day, they put out a bowl of strawberries that were completely unripe (solid white) and inedible. The one redeeming feature of breakfast was the fridge full of fresh fruit juices. When the staff bothered to restock it, I really enjoyed the fresh grapefruit juice.

On my second day at the hotel, I headed to the lounge in the afternoon to get some work done before going out. I was in the lounge from about 2:15pm to 3:30pm and, despite that being time for afternoon tea according to the schedule, there wasn’t a single dish or drink on offer the entire time I was there. Even though I was one of maybe three people in the entire club, I was never offered anything to drink.

The one night I made it to cocktail hour, I found that several of the bottles of liquor were empty (and stayed empty the whole time I was there). The hors d’oeuvres looked like the same dumplings served with breakfast, so I passed.

The hotel also featured a number of restaurants, including the Portman’s Restaurant and the Ritz Bar and Lounge in the lobby.

Amenities

The hotel featured a beautiful pool with both indoor and outdoor sections, as well as a spa and gym. The gym was large and well-equipped with a number of treadmills and machines.

The service at this hotel was a mixed bag at best. Strike one was not being checked-in in the club lounge despite having paid extra for that benefit. Strike two was the poor quality control that resulted in the subpar food that was served at breakfast. Strike three was the complete lack of food during one of the signature meal services.

After all that, I sought out a manager. He was quick to apologize for the hotel’s shortcomings and asked me what he could do to make it right. I requested a refund for the premium I’d paid to access the club level, and he refunded me 1,166 CNY ($185).

About an hour after this conversation, the club manager emailed me asking to speak to me personally about my concerns. I couldn’t meet that day, but came back to my room that night to find a lovely tea spread alongside a handwritten note from the manager.

We ended up meeting at breakfast the next day, at which point she once again apologized for my subpar experience and explained that the hotel was in the process of training new staff. She also mentioned that she’d personally begun a review of the food safety and quality-control process. When she found out I was leaving early the next morning, she offered to settle my bill a day in advance to save me time. She even arranged a to-go breakfast box to be delivered to my room before I checked out.

Ultimately, my complaints were all minor, and I found the prompt response to be adequate. While I’m sure I could have received points or a larger refund if I’d pushed harder, I felt that I’d been fairly compensated and was just as happy to put this out of my mind and get back to enjoying my trip. I’m not sure if I got marked in the system after this conversation, but service was noticeably better the next morning. When I went to the club lounge for breakfast, I was greeted by name, shown to the same seat by the window I’d been favoring my whole stay, and proactively offered coffee.

There were some other instances where I felt that the experience fell short of Ritz-Carlton standards. For instance, on my first night, I came back to my room to find this card left lazily unsigned by whoever cleaned my room. Why bother putting the card out if you’re going to leave it blank?

Additionally, the elevator required you to swipe your keycard to access the club level and club-level rooms. Only one side of the elevator had a card reader, so people were constantly bumping into each other trying to get to their floors, and none of the keycards seemed to work more than half of the time.

I think my stay can be perfectly summed up by the fact that the most personable service I received the entire time was at 5:30am on my last day, from a bellhop who spoke zero English.

Overall Impression

The Portman Ritz-Carlton advertises its club level as “a bespoke experience in a boutique setting.” While the lounge was aesthetically pleasing, the experience, even when it delivered as promised, was not what I would call bespoke. My suite was beautiful and the staff receptive and responsive to my complaints, but I’m not sure I could justify returning to a hotel with such inconsistent service. If I do, I certainly wouldn’t pay a penny extra to access the club level.

All photos by the author.

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