The move would "strongly spur the development of the tourism industry, speed up building of an international city (and) expand contacts with the rest of the world," the Beijing Tourism Administration said on its website.
The policy only applies to travellers in transit to a third country, and not for return flights to the capital, whose attractions include the vast Forbidden City.
Eligible nationalities include the United States, Canada, European Union countries, Brazil, Argentina, Australia, South Korea, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.
The city will "starting on January 1, 2013, implement a policy allowing foreigners from 45 countries with visas and plane tickets to a third country to transit through Beijing for 72 hours without a visa", the tourism body said.
But travellers would "face punishment" if they left the capital and lawbreakers would be banned for life, Gao Huada, deputy director of the city's exit-entry bureau, was quoted in the China Daily as saying on Thursday.
China's financial hub Shanghai already allows some foreigners in transit to visit the city for 48 hours, its government says on its website, including those from the US, some European countries, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.
Other travellers passing through the country are required to remain in the airport.
Beijing's airport is the second busiest in the world, having handled 47 million passengers in the first seven months of this year, according to the industry body Airports Council International.
Shanghai airport ranks 20th busiest with 26 million travellers during the same period.