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What do Star Ratings Mean for Hotels?

Star Ratings for HotelsPhoto from Unsplash

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Logan and I are traveling to national parks and staying at various campgrounds and hotels along the way. It got me thinking about why I was picking certain hotels. I use to travel a lot for business, and got into the habit of going to familiar hotel chains. It was good because I had a certain set of needs, and these worked well. But the criteria no longer apply, so I need to break the habit.

This got me thinking about how we pick or hotels, and realized the star system is not something I understood as well as I should.

When hotel star ratings came along, there was no internet. This is important because we have conflated star ratings for hotels and review ratings using internet reviews. I needed to understand the two ways of rating hotels to make the most economical travel decisions.

The Star System for Hotel Rating

The star rating system, despite its potential for confusion, is a quality designation. It considers various amenities that a hotel offers, from dining options (ranging from none to simple breakfast to full upscale dining) to recreational facilities like pools and exercise centers, and even services like concierge and business centers. Essentially, the more a hotel offers, the higher its star rating, setting a measure of “quality.”

So, the star system’s view of quality is based on how much a hotel does, not necessarily how well it does these things. It isn’t to say a 4-star hotel will get away with dirty rooms just because it has a nice restaurant; it’s likely to go out of business. But depending on your travel needs, a 2-star hotel may be just as good for you as a 4-star hotel.

Decide what you need before you Travel

We all have our preferences, which may change depending on our reasons for traveling.

A  business traveler may look for hotels that have a restaurant, business center, and workout facilities and are close to the facilities or companies they need to see. This would put them in the 3-Star or 4-Star range.

For personal travel, you may desire the same amenities, so a 3-star plus hotel is the right choice. But if you need only a clean hotel room, a 1-star or 2-star hotel may suit you.

When we travel, we often look for 3-Star hotels. With dogs, it is just easier to have some amenities around so we don’t have to look for them off-premise.

But this trip, as Logan and I are going to the national parks, we’re good with 2-star hotels. We’re staying at the Olympic View Inn in Sequim, WA. The amenities include “vending machines.” 

The hotel is older and on a main road. The furniture hasn’t been updated in a while. But it is well-maintained, very clean, and comfortable. Several restaurants are within walking distance. In short, it has everything we need.

Using Review Stars on Top of Star Ratings

Once you’ve decided what you need, it’s time to see how the hotels perform in terms of travelers’ experience.

There is a stigma about 1-star and 2-star hotels being poorly maintained or not in “good” areas, and this is not totally unfounded. Lower-star hotels don’t tend to earn the revenue to allow them to stay in more upscale areas or maintain the premises, but this is not universally true.  And “not upscale” doesn’t necessarily mean “bad area.”

So, go to the hotel consumer ratings and see what they say (Google, travelocity, booking, etc). Don’t just look at the average review ratings; read the reviews. Pick the relevant comments to help make your decisions.

Beware of low ratings from travelers who expected 3-star amenities but didn’t get them. “Had to drive to a restaurant” isn’t valid, and “No gym” doesn’t apply to a 2-star hotel. Look for the important things to you and see how people view those things: “Clean rooms,” “quiet areas” (or not), “felt safe” (or not), “friendly staff,” and such. If you see comments about missing amenities that put you off, then a 3-star+ hotel is probably a better choice for you.

As an extra step, we’ve looked at aerial views on Google Maps to see what surrounds the hotel. Even hotels that are dog-friendly are not necessarily in areas where it is safe or convenient to walk a dog. What needs do you have that may not be accounted for in star ratings?

When looking for hotels, consider what you need and find the hotel that offers those things well. You don’t need to pay for amenities you won’t use to get a nice, clean, comfortable room.

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