What Do Hotel Star Ratings Really Mean Today

Editor’s note – Monthly ticket is a CNN Travel series that sheds light on some of the most fascinating topics in the world of travel. In November, we discover the world of hotels and resorts.

(CNN) — Online user reviews are great, until you find out they’re fake. Or you remember how your uncle always leaves reviews and his taste is terrible.

Travelers want an appropriate set of standards, which generic hotel ratings seem to provide. After all, you see, “Five Star Hotel” and think, “That must be amazing,” just as you hear “One Star” and realize it’s going to be a rough honeymoon.

But what do these ratings really mean, especially now that the internet and its many hotel review sites have transformed travel? We’re here to straighten you out…right after we’ve confused you even more.

A moving standard

Hotel ratings were created “to help customers make acceptable and unacceptable choices, and then within the acceptable choices get a sort of hierarchy of best and worst,” says Chekitan Dev of Cornell’s School of Hotel. Administration.

An excellent idea, for sure. But the problem was that a number of different hierarchies emerged, with limited overlap.

Un-American approaches

“In most parts of the world, the system is controlled by the government,” says Dev.

These notes usually have one thing in common: they are not up to date.

“Those in government tend to be stuck in the past,” observes Dev. “They don’t update their criteria. They don’t consider service and more intangible issues.”

Even current ones can be a bit questionable.

Change of stars

It has long been almost impossible to find a five-star hotel in France. Why?

Their scoring system stopped at four. Then in 2009 they added an additional star category, bringing it up to the standard five stars. The following year, an additional category was added: luxury hotels reputed to be particularly extraordinary were henceforth given a full “Palace” designation by the French Tourism Development Agency.

Meanwhile, Dev notes that India has imposed a luxury tax on its five-star hotels, forcing properties falling into this category to modestly advertise themselves as four- or even three-star properties.

Hotels in some countries are going the other way, pushing to receive an artificially high rating so they can charge higher rates or even use the rating as leverage for loans.

The United States offers another kind of confusion.

The government does not control the ratings, resulting in multiple methods. Traditionally, the two most important ratings have been AAA, with its diamonds, and Mobil (now Forbes), with its stars.

Dev notes that diamonds are generally more laid back: “It’s common for hotels to have five diamonds and four stars.”

Now that you’re puzzled, let’s look at the levels.

On the scale of the stars

There is no single answer to the question of what the star rating actually means because there are so many systems shaped by so many factors.

Some tourism marketers are now even giving exceptional luxury properties an unofficial six-star designation. (Think stunning overwater villas in the Maldives with private butlers, like the ones in the video at the top of this page).

And keep in mind that not all properties under a brand are created equal when making assumptions about a chain’s star category – newer hotels are generally more modern and deserve a higher rating. .

But just to get an idea of ​​how it works, the odds traditionally run like this.

A star

Expect the hotel to be small to medium sized, most likely part of a national chain.

You will probably have a telephone and a television in your room. You can have a restaurant; you probably won’t get room service.

It should be “conveniently located to moderately priced attractions”. Think: Econolodge, Motel 6.

Back to basics: EconoLodge is one of America’s best-known budget hotel chains.

Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Two stars

Slightly more personal; public access may be restricted beyond certain hours. Think: Days Inn, LaQuinta Inn.

Three stars

About now, the lobby should be pretty nice. Fitness centers and swimming pools are emerging. Think: Holiday Inn, Best Western.

Four stars

The goodies that pleasantly surprise you in a three-star hotel have become commonplace, such as spas, concierges, and valet services. Think: Hyatt Regency, Marriott.

Five stars

The service is quite personal. The property will probably be quite large. The rooms will offer “elegant furnishings and quality linens”; your lobby can be described as “sumptuous”. Expect a concierge. Think: Ritz Carlton, Four Seasons.

Leading to the question…

How should the stars shape your decisions?

Four Seasons The Nam Hai Hoi An

The Four Seasons is one of the best-known hotel brands, considered worthy of a five-star designation. Pictured is his property in Hoi An, Vietnam.

Four Seasons

Those in the travel industry have mixed opinions on the use of stars.

Katherine Norton of Brownell Travel, North America’s oldest travel agency, is polite about them (“a rating is something a hotel should be very proud of”).

That said, “Brownell’s business is centered on long-standing relationships and personal experience.” This means that a “three star hotel could be chosen because we know they will go above and beyond for our customers”.

Likewise, Dev says it’s important to understand one basic fact: “A one-star hotel doesn’t have to be a bad hotel.” At best, these properties are minimal: they offer no bells and whistles; they charge less accordingly.

So when picking up your laptop to locate your next accommodation, how should you approach star ratings?

“If you focus only on star ratings, you’re missing out on a lot of potential benefits,” says Slav Kulik, CEO and co-founder of software company Plan A Technologies. He is well versed in this field, having provided custom software platforms, digital transformation solutions and countless other services for dozens of hospitality and travel clients.

What can consumers expect? “Thanks to AI, booking engines and loyalty programs can now deliver a personalized experience for every customer,” reports Kulik.

Considerations may include: What floor do you like to stay on? What products do you want waiting for you when you arrive in your room? Which restaurant should have a reservation ready to go, so you can have your favorite meal after a long day? What type of pillow do you prefer?

If you’re determined to get as many stars as possible, Dev suggests taking the price of a hotel and dividing it by the number of stars.

Then explain to your spouse why spending $500 on a four-star hotel instead of $130 on a one-star hotel may have technically blown the family budget, but it generated $5 in savings on average. What can count more than that?

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