What Do Hotel Stars Actually Mean?

reception in a big international hotel with a shiny bell on the counterDmitry Kalinovsky / Shutterstock

Tonight, I live in a 400 year old Spanish castle that has been turned into a hotel. Luxurious, no? Well here is the thing: it's a two star hotel.

Hotel stars probably do not say what you think. In most cases, they do not constitute a quality assessment; they are a measure of the proposed facilities. A one-star hotel is not a dirty dive; it's just basic and no frills. And, even if a three-star hotel is theoretically more luxurious, if the cleaning staff do not do their job properly or if they have not been renovated in a few decades, your stay at this hotel could be much worse.

Let's dive deeper.

The starry mess

two star hotelA classic two-star castle.

There is not one universal star system for hotels in the world. In the United States, different groups, such as AAA rate hotels. In Europe and Asia, it is usually the tourist board or other government agency that decides on the rating of a hotel, although inclusion is sometimes voluntary. And, of course, there is not even a standard number of stars: in France, hotels are ranked out of four. There is no guarantee that the three-star hotels in Paris, New York, London and Rome will offer you the same experience.

Even online booking sites such as Expedia are active and use their own star system, except in cases where government-imposed sites must be used.

Simply put:

The star systems of hotels are a measure of facilities and not a quality of subjective experience. The hotel I am staying at tonight is a two star property as it is a small 400 year old protected building. Without emptying the interior, it could not be equipped with "luxury" like large rooms, baths or a swimming pool. But it's a maddening castle.
Hotels with more stars will have more facilities, such as bathtubs, 24 – hour receptions and minibars, than hotels with fewer stars, but the overall experience might not be as good. not be better. It is often better to stay in a beautiful three-star hotel than a generic four-star hotel, as long as you do not have a bar or 24-hour room service.
The stars of a hotel, unless an international rating agency like Michelin or a booking site like Expedia, differ from one country to the next. The judgment criteria are not the same. A good four-star French hotel looks more like one of AAA's five-star American hotels.

A general guide

five star hotelAnyone can at least agree that the Ritz is a five-star hotel.

That said, if the stars of hotels are a disaster, we can do it all, even if there are many differences in each category.

One-star hotels (and motels / pensions) offers simple and unadorned accommodation. Rooms will usually be small. The 24-hour front desk, daily housekeeping and en suite bathrooms are not guaranteed. You will have somewhere to sleep, but not much more.

Two-star hotels are a step forward compared to a star properties. You'll probably get a 24-hour front desk, a daily cleaning service, and an attached bathroom, even if you may only have a shower. Your room will probably have a television and a telephone. You could get a continental breakfast and a bar in the lobby, but it's not guaranteed. These are basic hotels, although in old cities they are just old buildings that can not be renovated.

Three star hotels are what most people consider a "standard" hotel. Expect a 24-hour reception, room service, daily housekeeping, a private bathroom (possibly with a bathtub), a bar and a restaurant. Your room will probably have a place to sit, like a desk or table, and the wifi will probably be available. If you want to live at the hotel, do not go lower than a three star.

4 stars hotels are like three star hotels, but more enjoyable. They could have a pool or a gym. The lobby will probably be large and will include a bar, cafe and restaurant. Valet parking, concierge and baggage handling are probably available. Fast internet is pretty much guaranteed. Most beautiful hotels are four stars.

Five-star hotels are the luxury option. Expect an upscale experience with highly qualified staff. The bar and restaurants will be first rate. The beds will be seriously comfortable. The bathrooms will be big and glamorous. There could even be a spa. These are the hotels where you recreate your fantasies of movie stars.

Navigate the stars

So, as the stars of the hotel only tell you the basic criteria a hotel is subjected to, you have to dig a little deeper into the research if you want to know what they really are.

If you want to stay in a nice hotel, the best thing to do is to consult the user reviews published on sites such as TripAdvisor. Take a pinch of salt and remember that people who write reviews online may not be looking for the same things as you, but are a good place to start.

If you want to compare hotels, use a site such as Expedia, which has a consistent rating system between countries and properties and also displays user reviews. You can also usually find the ranking criteria or how stars are assigned to Google. For example, here how Expedia awards stars.

If a particular establishment, such as a hotel bar or in-room safe, is a must for you, contact the hotel directly (or check out its website). Do not assume this because you have stayed in a three star hotel with a good bar before all three star hotels have good bars.

Everyone involved in the hotel star system knows it's a disaster. Some countries and rating agencies are taking steps to remedy this by assigning half-stars, silver stars, gold stars, quality marks, and so on. to better properties of the same category. Keep an eye on them.

Although the hotel's star system is messy, it's not that bad once you understand what the stars really mean. Then you can work with this solution rather than be surprised when you settle in a dirty four-star hotel or you will have a great stay in a two-star rural area.

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