Tough Question: What Is A Five Star Hotel?

Tough Question: What Is A Five Star Hotel?

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Yesterday I wrote about how an EDITION hotel is coming to Tampa, and how it will be the city’s first five star hotel. A reader raised an interesting question in the comments section — what makes this a five star hotel, and not the existing hotels in the city, be it the JW Marriott or Grand Hyatt? That got me thinking…

Hotel star ratings are mostly baloney

Admittedly there’s no right or wrong answer as to what constitutes a five star hotel, because we don’t all have the same agreed upon metrics for what makes a hotel great. Sure, you have organizations like Forbes and AAA that might give hotels five stars, but at times they use some odd metrics to decide on these ratings.

Similarly, you have other star ratings out there not based on the absolute quality of a hotel, but rather based on how the hotel compares to expectations. That’s what you’ll find on TripAdvisor, and for that matter in my reviews that’s how I go about giving star ratings to hotels. When someone on TripAdvisor gives a Ritz-Carlton two stars, it’s not because they’re suggesting it’s equivalent to a Motel 6, but rather because it didn’t meet their expectations.

There are many ways to go about rating hotels

If you ask me, hotel star ratings suffer from the same issue as so many other areas of society that we have to rate. For example, if you take an Uber ride, it’s expected that you’ll give the driver five stars. If a driver consistently gets three stars, they’d be fired. Yet to me, three stars would be average, and giving everyone five stars simply for getting you to your destination in one piece defeats the point of having a rating system, and makes it tough to recognize those who go above and beyond.

Hotels have the same problem. In theory hotels can be one to five stars, yet it seems like almost every hotel wants to consider itself four or five stars, which makes it very hard to differentiate between brands. The major hotel groups love to refer to most of their brands as being “luxury,” “upper upscale,” or “upscale,” even for limited service properties.

Yes, admittedly a Hyatt Place is more luxurious than a Knights Inn, but is it actually “upscale?”

Given that so many hotels love to refer to themselves as five stars, we’ve seen some hotels take it to the extreme. For example, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai refers to itself as the world’s only seven star hotel. It seems that this star rating was self-awarded, so…

The Burj Al Arab claims to be a seven star hotel

The reader points out the following:

If EDITION is the first 5 star.
JW Tampa a 4 star?
The Epicurean 3 star?
So Marriott or Westin 2 or 3 star?
Sheraton is obviously below that so 1 star?
Courtyard 0 star?

That’s a totally valid point, and I think that’s kind of the issue here. Broadly speaking, here’s my take:

  • Brands like JW Marriott and Grand Hyatt are “upper upscale,” and are four stars (I’d say 4.5 stars, but that’s not really a thing)
  • Brands like Marriott, Westin, Hyatt Regency, etc., are “upscale,” and are four stars
  • Brands like Hyatt Place and Courtyard are more mid-range properties, and are three stars

Of course the quality of individual properties can vary significantly, but that’s how I view the brands in general.

How do I define a five star hotel?

I typically use the term “five star hotel” and “luxury hotel” interchangeably, because to me they mean the same thing. I’ve written before about my favorite luxury hotel brands. In addition to brands like Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Rosewood, etc., I’d say each of the major global hotel groups has some luxury brands:

  • Hilton has Conrad, LXR, and Waldorf Astoria
  • Hyatt has Alila and Park Hyatt
  • IHG has Regent and Six Senses
  • Marriott has EDITION, Ritz-Carlton, and St. Regis

Of course let me acknowledge that there’s huge variance in terms of the quality of hotels within each brand. For example, the Hyatt Regency Tashkent, Uzbekistan, markets itself as a five star hotel. It’s the city’s best hotel, and by Tashkent standards, it definitely is five stars.

The Hyatt Regency Tashkent is the city’s best hotel

Conversely, there are some hotels belonging to luxury brands that really don’t feel luxurious. Nonetheless I think there are certain amenities, services, and features you expect at a luxury brand, that you don’t get at other hotels.

One minor example that comes to mind is daily turndown service. A vast majority of luxury hotel brands offer daily turndown service to all guests, while it’s extremely rare to see that at a four star property. It’s a minor thing I can point to that easily captures the difference.

Ah, turndown service chocolates!!

Let me also be clear that luxury hotels aren’t necessarily better than non-luxury hotels. I’d often rather stay at a 50-room boutique four star hotel than a 400+ room five star hotel. My point isn’t to suggest that luxury hotels are good and all other hotels are bad, but rather to just generally share a framework for how I go about labeling a hotel as being five stars (even if it’s a hotel that doesn’t personally appeal to me).

The Ritz-Carlton Turks & Caicos is five stars, but is it really?

Bottom line

There’s no right or wrong answer as to what constitutes a luxury or five star hotel. Personally I think the major hotel groups take too many liberties with how they market their hotel brands. Suggesting that most brands have four or five stars, and are “luxury” or “upper upscale,” makes it tough to differentiate between them.

Personally I think each major hotel group has two or three luxury brands, with the rest falling somewhere below that. I tend to define luxury hotels as being five stars, and then the other “upper upscale” brands as being four stars. Sadly there’s not much differentiation there, since that ends up including everything from JW Marriott to Sheraton.

I’m curious to hear from OMAAT readers — what do you consider to be a five star hotel, four star hotel, etc.?

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  1. Whit Guest

    The fact that I do not know what a "turn down service" is, says much of my knowledge of hotel stays—cheers from Texas.

  2. Nicolas Guest

    I really like your blog, but please try not to be condescending. I just finished a holiday in Uzbekistan and I was at the Hyatt Regency Tashkent last week. It is a true five stars by global standard no need to say "by Tashkent standard". It would also be awarded 5 stars in Japan, Europe and North America. Facilities are great, very nice spa, great rooms, good service, bar, impressive lobby... On the way back,...

    I really like your blog, but please try not to be condescending. I just finished a holiday in Uzbekistan and I was at the Hyatt Regency Tashkent last week. It is a true five stars by global standard no need to say "by Tashkent standard". It would also be awarded 5 stars in Japan, Europe and North America. Facilities are great, very nice spa, great rooms, good service, bar, impressive lobby... On the way back, i stayed at the courtyard Marriott in Tashkent which is 4 star, but was also definitely a very strong four stars. So no complain about the "Tashkent Standards", they seem to be strict with their hotel evaluation.

  3. Alan Guest

    Review ratings are one thing but the normal star ratings for a property normally refer to facilities - pool, gym, restaurant, etc.

    Yes, you're right about Uber but sadly that seems to be the US approach to things and they've baked it into the app. It's totally ludicrous and as you correctly say 3 stars should be average. I'd say it's a bit like routinely tipping for average service - makes no sense to me but seems to be part of the culture

    1. DCharlie Guest

      Agree completely. This idea of starting with a five start and then removing on the basis of deficiencies makes little sense.

  4. Keith Guest

    Ok. Let's give the the Four Seasons George V five stars, and let others try to match the service and the style. That would make it, say 10 other properties anywhere in the world. And perhaps we could award the fifth star only to properties that can repel attacks from the lower orders :-).

    1. Eskimo Guest

      "repel attacks from the lower orders"
      Are we talking about hotels or the actual George V and WW1?

    2. Emily Guest

      Totally agree. Although would you also agree to those surpassing the level of service and amenities being offered at the FS George V to be eligible for 6 stars or maybe a 5 Star Deluxe rating? From my experience, there are hotels which surpass in terms of luxury and hospitality beyond the excellent FSHGV. Although there comes a point where basically the levels of service and hospitality do become subjective.

  5. Eskimo Guest

    And after few dozen comments, I still see the major trend of anchoring to a "star". And that was the point from the previous post which I called out a star system offender. I'm merely trying to get people not to get fixated by these self proclaimed stars.
    As in the case of Tampa I'm quite sure many would already rate JW or GH a 5 star and Courtyard a 3 star? You gotta...

    And after few dozen comments, I still see the major trend of anchoring to a "star". And that was the point from the previous post which I called out a star system offender. I'm merely trying to get people not to get fixated by these self proclaimed stars.
    As in the case of Tampa I'm quite sure many would already rate JW or GH a 5 star and Courtyard a 3 star? You gotta see Courtyards in China, or Aloft in Asia would make US Sheratons look like Motel 6.
    Truth is, there is no standard and "stars" are just gimmick so marketing people and consultants have a job.
    I'd still think it's more useful that hotels position themselves as the market segments not stars. Upscale or Luxury is more useful than 4 or 5 stars. (but not the upper middle up-scale, weirdo crap)
    Staying at a global chain at least sets your expectation accordingly and you pay some premium for that vs. local hotel. As much as you trash Ritz for being a factory, it's still a factory that I know what to expect.
    Even for more expensive room your contributions do make a difference. I always get better treatment when paying for the non-upgradable specialty suites vs the cheapest room.
    Or a repeat customer and elites get you better treatment, and therefore more stars?

    I don't have any nepotism lineage from some medieval house so any service between Ritz Aman or Burj Al Arab is just luxury that is more sincere and personalized (and paid for).

    While I do agree with OMAAT on most parts of this post, I'd say I'm very indifferent about the turndown service. But if I'm fixated on stars, no 5 stars will ever have bath amenities in a dispenser ever. Sadly many of these 'green' B$h*t has taken them away even at luxury hotels.

  6. MT Guest

    Conrad a 5 star / luxury hotel brand in the context of what you have written?
    Not the ones I have stayed at and certainly not the Conrad London.

    Really shouldn't be in the same sentence as some of the other ones in my opinion. Truthfully you almost need a separate clarification for say FS, MO, Rosewood etc compared to the major group version of 'luxury'. Ie true luxury compared to mass market luxury.

  7. Peter Guest

    I just want everyone to stay away from me unless I ask for something; which I almost certainly won't; and not go into my suite, at all, apart from the daily service that should take-place within a time-frame which I will specify.

    That's five star to me, not the intrusive butler service bringing pots of "welcome tea" and offering to unpack for me. Horrible. Please leave me alone.

  8. Sebastian Guest

    We are right now staying at the ‘Palace’/Club section of a “5-star” resort in Bali, not one belonging to a major chain but a locally branded large resort with 400+ rooms. I am sure it used to be true 5 stars when it opened in the 80s, but now the facilities are dated and tired and the service is very hit and miss. The decor is nice and the staff are friendly and try hard...

    We are right now staying at the ‘Palace’/Club section of a “5-star” resort in Bali, not one belonging to a major chain but a locally branded large resort with 400+ rooms. I am sure it used to be true 5 stars when it opened in the 80s, but now the facilities are dated and tired and the service is very hit and miss. The decor is nice and the staff are friendly and try hard but the hardware they’ve got to work with make it a truly underwhelming experience. We’re pondering of moving on for our last 3 nights, even taking a 1-night cx penalty because I’d have a better experience at the Conrad down the road, in a standard room, for 2/3 the price.

    Just before this we stayed at a small 30-room/suite resort in Ubud, again not a major brand but local chain, advertises as 4 stars, and the experience was on a completely different level.

    1. Pete Guest

      Next time try Kayumanis. We're addicted to the Nusa Dua property, it's heaven...

    2. Sebastian Guest

      Great tip! We’re right next door, but went to Kayumanis for dinner the other night which was excellent. Also had them show us one of the villas and it’s definitely on the list for the next trip, together with The Bale villas.

  9. TheTruthIs Guest

    I've found that 5 star hotels in most of Asia are superior by maybe two stars to those in the US. Priced better! Better service! Then again, so are most of their 1st class and business class airlines.

    However, I think most of the readers of OMAAT travel enough to know the difference of an American 5 star compared to others around the world. I live in St. Pete, FL and think it's great...

    I've found that 5 star hotels in most of Asia are superior by maybe two stars to those in the US. Priced better! Better service! Then again, so are most of their 1st class and business class airlines.

    However, I think most of the readers of OMAAT travel enough to know the difference of an American 5 star compared to others around the world. I live in St. Pete, FL and think it's great to get an Edition but don't believe they can sustain those rates here.

    Just thought I'd throw my two cents in.

    1. Maryland Guest

      Agreed. Flowers in my room! But I would like to report the most fantastic elevation of services I have ever received. Week before Christmas when the Plaza was owned by Fairmont I had a fantastic park facing room. For $200. When we checked in, in a snowstorm, we were asked to give up the room for a handicapped person. I said no problem but my "friend?" Said we wanted a suite. Bottom line O'neil secured...

      Agreed. Flowers in my room! But I would like to report the most fantastic elevation of services I have ever received. Week before Christmas when the Plaza was owned by Fairmont I had a fantastic park facing room. For $200. When we checked in, in a snowstorm, we were asked to give up the room for a handicapped person. I said no problem but my "friend?" Said we wanted a suite. Bottom line O'neil secured a 2 bed fireplace suite, champagne & cheese board was delivered! Best deal ever. But that exemplifies a 5 star. Customer service! And we cannot rate hotels and resorts equally. It's different.

    2. Emily Guest

      I agree with you. The hospitality and attention to detail give the hotels in Asia an edge (yes I am aware that I am generalizing greatly here). I also think that Asian customers can be demanding, so the hotel staff are prepared. In Asia, I generally select hotels on the basis of aspiration and heritage since I know the service will be excellent regardless of the property. In the States, I generally stick to loyalty...

      I agree with you. The hospitality and attention to detail give the hotels in Asia an edge (yes I am aware that I am generalizing greatly here). I also think that Asian customers can be demanding, so the hotel staff are prepared. In Asia, I generally select hotels on the basis of aspiration and heritage since I know the service will be excellent regardless of the property. In the States, I generally stick to loyalty since the service will be consistent. Having said that, the Four Seasons brand is my go to whenever I am returning to the States, and the Four Seasons George V is one of two from the west that tick all the boxes on my top 10 aspirational properties.

  10. EthaninSF Member

    As many have stated, star coded systems are a (somewhat standardized) way for hotels to define services offered onsite a property. They do not necessarily correlate to the "amount of luxury" (eg, condition of asset, quality of bedding, staff training, extra amenities, etc.). Marketing teams love to use the term "five stars" to push their brands. Yes, if a hotel is defined as five stars (in some places by law), it will usually be on...

    As many have stated, star coded systems are a (somewhat standardized) way for hotels to define services offered onsite a property. They do not necessarily correlate to the "amount of luxury" (eg, condition of asset, quality of bedding, staff training, extra amenities, etc.). Marketing teams love to use the term "five stars" to push their brands. Yes, if a hotel is defined as five stars (in some places by law), it will usually be on the higher-end. But, we have to turn to places like this blog to capture the experience at a hotel. Some higher end hotels tend to operate as luxury factories. This is especially true in the US and I think Ritz Carlton is a brand most guilty of this. They're basically a mid-range Marriott with wood paneling in the lobby and marble in the bathrooms and charge the same price as a Four Seasons (not that FS is perfect, but they are more consistent). Of course, a brand new hotel is typically much nicer than one that was last remodeled 15 years ago. Ultimately it is up to the ownership of a hotel (and not the management) to maintain its standards. If the customers keep coming back, it is a good sign. The best way to say this is YMMV if solely reliant on "five stars"!

  11. Jay29 Guest

    The star rating has been watered down in certain countries a/e Egypt ... Every hotel in Cairo claims to be 5 stars and only the new St. Regis and both Four Seasons hotels are up to 5 star international standards, the rest of the hotels in Cairo aren't worthy of that prestigious claim. Same with the cruises on the Nile ... only the Oberi would get that designation. Very subjective.

  12. Ian M Guest

    The thing that differentiates a ‘true’ five star is true attention to detail AND service. It’s not so much about box ticking but you know it when you see it.

    Five star is about putting the guest experience centre. A friend of mine stayed at the Four Seasons George V in Paris and told me her mum wanted a specific type of juice which wasn’t on the menu. Rather than saying ‘no’, this was...

    The thing that differentiates a ‘true’ five star is true attention to detail AND service. It’s not so much about box ticking but you know it when you see it.

    Five star is about putting the guest experience centre. A friend of mine stayed at the Four Seasons George V in Paris and told me her mum wanted a specific type of juice which wasn’t on the menu. Rather than saying ‘no’, this was arranged by somebody going to the kitchen, finding the specific fruit and juicing it. When I stayed at a Four Seasons in Maui, the lounge team worked out I enjoyed sparkling water, so turndown service left sparkling rather than still water by the bed.

    When staying in Ile de Re in France (an island off the coast, close to La Rochelle and Bordeaux) at Hotel de Toiras (a few years ago now) my father left his phone in the room after checkout - we were coming back later to pick up luggage. Not only was my dad’s phone waiting with ‘reception’ for our return, but it had 100% battery as they had put it on charge. It’s that kind of ‘we’ve got your back’ kind of service. It’s NOT about “is everything ok” every five minutes! If you have to ask and don’t know, you are doing it wrong! You know before the guest does what the guest wants or needs. And you share information and work as one team. IE housekeeping don’t see something and shrug and think ‘that’s room service’ - they may co-ordinate with room service, but they own the issue and follow it through to a conclusion (I.e. guest has left a tray in corridor etc).

    Then I think it’s about the hard product - I.e. if your beds are uncomfortable, towels scratchy and paint peeling, you are not a five star.

    Controversially, I also don’t think you can be a five star property if you have to unplug the lamp to charge a device when you’re sitting at the desk.

    Then there has to be something special about the hard product - it doesn’t have to be grand, but whatever it is, everything has to be quality - the desk shouldn’t wobble when I put a glass on it; the curtains shouldn’t be see through and so on! The decorative theme needs to set the tone and be consistent - whatever that means in the context of the place.

  13. Mike Guest

    It’s very easy to tell the Americans and not Americans within your responders. Looks like in the US the whole star definition is open to interpretation. I think it is the same in Australia.
    In most places in Europe that’s not the case. There are clear definitions of what a hotel needs to have to be five starts, and those are very very specific (so it wouldn’t have something like “good service” but rather...

    It’s very easy to tell the Americans and not Americans within your responders. Looks like in the US the whole star definition is open to interpretation. I think it is the same in Australia.
    In most places in Europe that’s not the case. There are clear definitions of what a hotel needs to have to be five starts, and those are very very specific (so it wouldn’t have something like “good service” but rather somethings like “swimming pool” or “24 hour concierge”)
    Like others say- that doesn’t necessarily mean that a 5 star hotel is better. Personally I had amazing stays at 3 and 4 star hotels and very ordinary ones in 5 star hotels. Most of the additional requirements for 5 stars mean little to me, while the service and atmosphere don’t quite make it into the rating.

  14. Filip Guest

    In my country there is government legislation that states requirements for number of stars. It is several pages of requirements stating room size, room equipment, services etc. And government agency assigns stars after inspection based on legislation. This seems very legitimate.

  15. AC Guest

    Random question, but curious to get Ben's / anyone else's thoughts on turn-down service? How do you approach it? I always find it awkward to be in the room and someone to offer service - do you just awkwardly stand by or ask them to come back? Or do you typically just take whatevers offered and avoid the bed being made? Just curious others thoughts.

    1. Petri Diamond

      Normally, when I check in, I let the hotel staff to know that I'll be having dinner every night from 8pm to 11pm, and they are free to do the turndown service anytime during that period. It has always worked.

    2. Justin Guest

      I usually call down to guest services/housekeeping/room butler and let them know when I’m about to head out for dinner and request the turn-down service then. If they come while I’m in the room, I tell them to come back later and let them know when I will be going out for dinner. I can’t remember ever being in the room during turndown. I do like the service though and make sure to take advantage of it.

    3. ThetruthIs Guest

      I take the chocolate and refuse the turndown.

    4. Jcil Guest

      I don’t get the point of turn down service either. I always refuse it

    5. Ian M Guest

      I do appreciate it but never would let them do it when I’m in the room - it’s nice to come back from dinner / drinks and have the room set up for sleep! But if I’m in the room, I will normally say “thanks for offering but I don’t need any service thank you - but do you have a bottle of water?” I tend to get through the complimentary water and 9.9 times...

      I do appreciate it but never would let them do it when I’m in the room - it’s nice to come back from dinner / drinks and have the room set up for sleep! But if I’m in the room, I will normally say “thanks for offering but I don’t need any service thank you - but do you have a bottle of water?” I tend to get through the complimentary water and 9.9 times out of 10 the housekeeper will have bottles of mineral water stashed on their trolley so will look relieved, smile and hand you three bottles!

      As others have said though, I don’t think there’s any harm in asking for what you want and as I get older and perhaps grumpier, I care less and less about what others think! Generally, the key to a good stay is clear communication and stating what it is you would like.

  16. John McMahon Guest

    Here is site that try’s to make sense of it all with past guest reviews and ratings

    https://www.fivestaralliance.com

  17. derek Guest

    I look at stars at what the hotel wants to view itself as. Sometimes, it wants to be a 2 star hotel to attract the budget crowd. That's particularly true in France. In France, some individuals think of themselves as worthy of a 3 star hotel and want to stay at those. Others want a 2 star hotel. A few want a 1 star hotel.

  18. AndrewP Guest

    Great Post Ben.

    I don't get the star thing at all and when you add the branding confusion into it as well it gets worse e.g. Hilton vs Doubletree, Mercure vs Novotel, Marriott vs Delta and then you can have very different hotels within the same brand in the same country.

    My findings - service is not related to stars - dodgy lodges can give great service and 5* be adequate

    Find a good hotel and stick with it

  19. Emily Guest

    Pretty simple. Oberoi Hotels!

    Actually, scrap that. I’d consider the Oberoi and the Taj luxury properties as seven stars when compared to the main chain dribble that pass for five stars.

    1. Eve Guest

      Is India the only country you EVER visited…

    2. Emily Guest

      @Eve - I feel so special that you went out of your way to comment (however poorly) on my post! Are you following me now, my darling Eve?

  20. Super Gold

    I'm confused - I thought there were requirements to be considered 5 stars (staff to room ratio, concierge availability, features like a spa) of which a hotel would have to accomplish X amount. I know it's not standardized everywhere, but the definitions are out there so it's not that questionable whether a hotel would be 4 or 5 stars.

    Are you simply disagreeing with those requirements or am I misunderstanding the scenario?

  21. c.z. Guest

    Agree with almost everything, except that... to me, Conrad is competing in the same market as Grand Hyatt, JW Marriott, and Intercontinental.

  22. brianna hoffner Member

    In many countries there are detailed, published criteria for each star and those things are independently verified. The ‘Hotel Rating’ Wiiipedia page has a long country-by-country list of these.

  23. ECM New Member

    EU has some standardized metric for what qualifies as 5, 4, 3 star hotels. These are promptly displayed at the entrance of the hotels in Italy, Spain and France for example. France even has the designation "Palais" for the top echelon of hotels there, with only a handful (and mostly in Paris) attaining this rank. All rankings are subjective of course, but some sort of base-level criteria helps, especially when pricing has been so crazy lately!

    1. UGC Guest

      Indeed it all started in Europe in the early 1900, when the “star” system was introduced to rate the physical characteristics of hotels and the eventual availability of certain services. It was not meant to be an overall evaluation of the facility nor their state of maintenance, and it is still like that.
      Among the criteria there are:
      - size of the room and of the bathroom(s)
      - reception opening hrs
      ...

      Indeed it all started in Europe in the early 1900, when the “star” system was introduced to rate the physical characteristics of hotels and the eventual availability of certain services. It was not meant to be an overall evaluation of the facility nor their state of maintenance, and it is still like that.
      Among the criteria there are:
      - size of the room and of the bathroom(s)
      - reception opening hrs
      - Availability and size of air conditioning, minibar, safe box, TV, etc
      - on site bar(s) and restaurant(s), and opening hrs
      - availability and size of gym, spa, swimming pool, parking garage, etc…
      - availability of concierge, valet, room service, turnover service, laundry service, etc…

  24. pstm91 Diamond

    There's an old saying that gets it perfectly (apologies if I mess it up a bit): "A 4 star hotel has everything you could ever need. A 5 star hotel provides those things without you having to ask for them."

  25. Bobby J Guest

    The Auckland Four Points by Sheraton is a perfect example of this dilemma. In my estimations, it would easily qualify as a 5 star hotel and puts to shame many Ritz Carlton’s around the world. But…it’s a Four Points, presumably because the owners didn’t want to deal with the stricter (and more expensive) standards that come with a more exclusive name. Compared against Four Points in the US (looking at you, San Diego), it’s a...

    The Auckland Four Points by Sheraton is a perfect example of this dilemma. In my estimations, it would easily qualify as a 5 star hotel and puts to shame many Ritz Carlton’s around the world. But…it’s a Four Points, presumably because the owners didn’t want to deal with the stricter (and more expensive) standards that come with a more exclusive name. Compared against Four Points in the US (looking at you, San Diego), it’s a wonder how they are willing and able to deliver the amenities and service they do when they could just go for the bare minimum plus a few roaches.

  26. Clem Diamond

    So I really thought that the stars rating of an hotel was given by an "official" organization, that would differ from country to country or continent to continent. I'm talking about the stars you will actually see on their website, or at their front door, not the review stars from TripAdvisor etc. Are hotels allowed to give themselves the number of stars that they want?? I realize I have no idea how that works, really.

    So I really thought that the stars rating of an hotel was given by an "official" organization, that would differ from country to country or continent to continent. I'm talking about the stars you will actually see on their website, or at their front door, not the review stars from TripAdvisor etc. Are hotels allowed to give themselves the number of stars that they want?? I realize I have no idea how that works, really.
    All I really noticed is how it differs from a a location to another, and depending on where I go I will decide the minimum number of stars I'm OK with. For instance in Europe, I won't go below 4 stars, but in Japan 3 or even 2 stars is likely completely fine.
    As for 5 stars hotel, I'll always expect something somewhat luxurious, clean, with decent service - once again with huge variability depending if you're in the US or in Asia for instance.

  27. Bob Guest

    The whole system falls apart when you travel enough to realize there are better Best Westerns than Hyatts.

    Consistency in a hotel brand is hard to achieve especially when comparing different regions of the world.

    A Quality Inn in Atlanta is not the same as a Quality Inn in Norway

    Hyatt is the best at selling underwhelming overpriced properties just because how its named.

  28. SamB Gold

    For me, 5 star hotels are all about quality and consistency. Rooms should be immaculately clean and well maintained. Mattresses and bedding should be of the highest quality. Phone operators should pick up within a certain number of rings and staff dispatched up to a room almost immediately if necessary. There should be a high level of security, privacy, and discretion. There are other amenities, like 24/7 room service and turn down service, which might...

    For me, 5 star hotels are all about quality and consistency. Rooms should be immaculately clean and well maintained. Mattresses and bedding should be of the highest quality. Phone operators should pick up within a certain number of rings and staff dispatched up to a room almost immediately if necessary. There should be a high level of security, privacy, and discretion. There are other amenities, like 24/7 room service and turn down service, which might be superfluous for most travelers, but do help distinguish them from lower tier hotels.

    I will say that smaller boutique hotels often have much more interesting décor, more charming service, and a better sense of place. However, the predictability and wide range of services 5 star hotels can be invaluable, for example, for business travelers, families with children, and people with special needs or food restrictions.

    One pet peeve online is that on websites like TripAdvisor and Hotels.com, for example, searching and filtering for 5 star hotels may bring up dozens of results in a destination. In reality, most places only have a few true 5 star hotels. I think it's misleading and I wish they had better standards.

  29. Justin Guest

    I have long personally used a similar star scale as Ben describes. "5-star" or "Luxury" refers to chains/properties like Peninsula, Raffles, Four Seasons, Dorchester Collection, Auberge, Park Hyatt, Preferred LEGEND, Belmond etc. Like Ben, I also use the term "4.5-star" or "Premium" to refer to properties like JW Marriott, Sofitel, Intercontinental, Conrad, Grand Hyatt, Fairmont - premium hotels that aren't true Luxury but offer a better experience than a typical 4-star. "4-star" goes to the...

    I have long personally used a similar star scale as Ben describes. "5-star" or "Luxury" refers to chains/properties like Peninsula, Raffles, Four Seasons, Dorchester Collection, Auberge, Park Hyatt, Preferred LEGEND, Belmond etc. Like Ben, I also use the term "4.5-star" or "Premium" to refer to properties like JW Marriott, Sofitel, Intercontinental, Conrad, Grand Hyatt, Fairmont - premium hotels that aren't true Luxury but offer a better experience than a typical 4-star. "4-star" goes to the mainstream "business" brands like Marriott, Hilton, Sheraton, Hyatt Regency. "3.5-star" is for brands like Courtyard, Four Points, Holiday Inn, Hyatt Place, which aren't basic, but are below the mainline business brands. "3-star" would be a standard Best Western and "2-star" are for the true economy brands like Travelodge.

    1. MG Guest

      I'd agree with your ratings. You are, however, too generous with Travelodge(at least in the states) and two stars, haha!

    2. Justin Guest

      Fair point! One of my favorite quotes from an old British sitcom: “Exactly how good is a 1-star hotel?” “Let me put it this way, there is no such thing as a no-star hotel!”

    3. K4 Guest

      The Sofitel St. James is far better than many super premium properties that offer tiny rooms, E.g. The Connaught or very dated E.g. The Dorchester. Sure the vibe at the bar and on-site restaurants are not good at the Sofitel but it isn’t quite right to relegate a chain to 4.5 stars like this.
      The Hyatt Regency in Delhi is somehow far more luxurious than the Grand Hyatt in Dubai, go figure.
      Sadly...

      The Sofitel St. James is far better than many super premium properties that offer tiny rooms, E.g. The Connaught or very dated E.g. The Dorchester. Sure the vibe at the bar and on-site restaurants are not good at the Sofitel but it isn’t quite right to relegate a chain to 4.5 stars like this.
      The Hyatt Regency in Delhi is somehow far more luxurious than the Grand Hyatt in Dubai, go figure.
      Sadly you just need to know where to stay and can’t rely on star ratings.
      There is an emerging trend of chains you can rely on, Cheval Blanc, Aman, etc. However, it’s to be seen how long that lasts.
      Delhi is another striking example, the ex-Aman Lodhi Hotel is hardly a better option than the Oberoi. Admittedly it’s no longer an Aman, but it does go to show that with the expansion of Cheval Blanc and Aman they might also not be the benchmark they aspire to.

      The Conrad in London, by the way is awful. It is nothing more than a Holiday Inn with different branding. Even the on site restaurant isn’t a restaurant it’s a pub.

  30. Tom Guest

    This is an interesting topic and I agree with almost everything here, except the statement made that five star and luxury are interchangeable. To me they are not, all luxury hotels are five star but not all five star hotels are luxury - luxury hotels constitute a subset of the most high-end five star hotels. So, e.g., a Ritz-Carlton in the US may be five star, but it's not typically a luxury hotel. A Rosewood...

    This is an interesting topic and I agree with almost everything here, except the statement made that five star and luxury are interchangeable. To me they are not, all luxury hotels are five star but not all five star hotels are luxury - luxury hotels constitute a subset of the most high-end five star hotels. So, e.g., a Ritz-Carlton in the US may be five star, but it's not typically a luxury hotel. A Rosewood or a Four Seasons is typically both a luxury hotel and five star, in contrast.

  31. Khatl Diamond

    To me, it's about expectations and experience. A hotel can be expected to be 5* because of turndown service, frette linens, michelin starred restaurant (as well as the things normally given for free at lower end hotels - paid wifi, paid parking, resort fees), but the experience and the people at the hotel is what I feel truly makes it 5* - personal greeting and service, staff recognizing and greeting you the following morning, things...

    To me, it's about expectations and experience. A hotel can be expected to be 5* because of turndown service, frette linens, michelin starred restaurant (as well as the things normally given for free at lower end hotels - paid wifi, paid parking, resort fees), but the experience and the people at the hotel is what I feel truly makes it 5* - personal greeting and service, staff recognizing and greeting you the following morning, things arriving you didn't expect (bottle of wine, chocolate), everyone taking ownership of even the smallest issues, spotless public areas and so on. Too many "luxury" hotels forget about the experience of guests. Instead, the focus is on the owners of the hotels. With that focus, coupled with huge demand everywhere and high staff turnover, guest experience has been getting much worse at many of the "luxury" chains you note and I don't think any give a consistent 5* experience. The past few years, I've had many bad experiences at hotels such as Nobu, Kimpton, St. Regis, Park Hyatt etc. Though it is definitely the case that some still manage to pull it off and, generally, the smaller the hotel, the more likely I get the experience I expect. Either all that is true... or I'm just getting very picky :-)

  32. Leo Liang Guest

    Well, The Shanghai Hongta, A LC hotel is nowhere as luxurious as any JW Marriott at Shanghai, I think a five star hotel have less correlation with brand, more with what the particular hotel offers

  33. Olivia Guest

    Insightful post. Thank you for sharing.
    As someone that travels a lot of work, I noticed that those not into hotels/loyalty. Etc, look at stars and base their judgements on that. The more stars means better to them, but they don’t know what better means and the difference between 4 and 5 star for example.
    Thank you for this post, I’ll be sharing it with people from work before I book stays.

  34. BeeDazzle Member

    One thing that drives me nuts is how almost every Mexican / Caribbean all-inclusive advertises itself as 5 star, even ones that have multiple tiers to their resorts. Example: Iberostar Paraiso is 5 resorts that are all "5 stars", even the lowest tier ones have no room service, lack good branded alcohol, and only allows guests to have non-buffet dinners 3x per week. They have 3 resorts above that in the same complex, and there...

    One thing that drives me nuts is how almost every Mexican / Caribbean all-inclusive advertises itself as 5 star, even ones that have multiple tiers to their resorts. Example: Iberostar Paraiso is 5 resorts that are all "5 stars", even the lowest tier ones have no room service, lack good branded alcohol, and only allows guests to have non-buffet dinners 3x per week. They have 3 resorts above that in the same complex, and there is a big disparity between the offerings of the lowest and highest tiers. They advertise all of them as 5 stars.

    1. Murph Guest

      Please don’t bring up Iberostar Paraiso. Advertised as 5 star and we stayed there for a friends wedding. I’d rather have stayed at a Motel 6 along Skid Row. When I saw that they labeled one of the lower tiered resorts as 5 stars is when I stopped paying attention to star ratings.

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pstm91 Diamond

There's an old saying that gets it perfectly (apologies if I mess it up a bit): "A 4 star hotel has everything you could ever need. A 5 star hotel provides those things without you having to ask for them."

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Murph Guest

Please don’t bring up Iberostar Paraiso. Advertised as 5 star and we stayed there for a friends wedding. I’d rather have stayed at a Motel 6 along Skid Row. When I saw that they labeled one of the lower tiered resorts as 5 stars is when I stopped paying attention to star ratings.

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Bob Guest

The whole system falls apart when you travel enough to realize there are better Best Westerns than Hyatts. Consistency in a hotel brand is hard to achieve especially when comparing different regions of the world. A Quality Inn in Atlanta is not the same as a Quality Inn in Norway Hyatt is the best at selling underwhelming overpriced properties just because how its named.

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