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What Hotel Ratings Really Mean

If you are in the market for a hotel for your next vacation, you might assume the first logical step would be to read reviews or check ratings for hotels around your destination. Upon perusal of such ratings, you might quickly discover that those stars mean different things to different people. In fact, a myriad of ratings might only serve to confuse the selection process, rather than narrow your prospects. If you are in a quandary over how to use hotel ratings to your advantage, we have tips to help you understand what those ratings really mean.

Consider the Source

The first step in understanding ratings is to consider the source where the rating comes from. Some hotel ratings, such as the AAA Diamond  and Mobile rating systems, are completed by professional travel reviewers, while others are done by fellow travelers who have stayed in the accommodations. Professional reviews are typically more objective and follow a set protocol, while reader or traveler reviews might be more subjective and affected by a variety of factors.

If you are traveling to another country, it is important to find out the source of their hotel rating systems as well. In the UK, AA is considered the premium source of hotel information, while Germans get most of their information from the hotel industry association. Some countries actually have the governments create the rating system, with specific laws governing how the assessment process must be done.

Read the Fine Print


Most review systems will provide fine print that explains the ratings and what they mean. This helps prevent you from comparing apples to oranges, since a three-star rating at Priceline may be somewhat different than a three-star rating at Hotwire. The fine print under the review should explain what is included in that particular rating, to give you a better idea of how to compare reviews.

What if a Hotel is Not Rated?

While every hotel rated by AAA or Mobile is recommended by that company, the lack of a rating doesn’t necessarily mean the accommodations did not measure up to their minimum standards. In some cases, the hotel may be too new, or may have undergone recent renovations and a current review has not yet been completed. In these cases, an FYI rating will replace the standard star system. However, some of these hotels may not have made the cut, so it is important to do further research before booking one of these hotels.

Read Full Reviews

While a star rating can provide a significant amount of information about what is included in hotel accommodations, there is simply no substitute for a full review written about a hotel. When possible, combine the rating system with a review written by a professional travel journalist to get the best information possible. You might pick up a detail or two in the review that indicates a particular hotel may not be the right choice for you after all.

Beware of Inflated Ratings

Sometimes when you are researching reviews, you might find a hotel with a six or seven-star rating. These inflated rating systems are typically offered by the hotels themselves and do not reflect an accurate assessment of the accommodations. Professional reviewers are still only giving five stars for the top-rated hotels across the country. Any more than this indicates that the hotel may be just trying to blow its own horn louder than the competition down the street. If you are paying attention to the source of the rating, you can rest assured you won’t be basing your hotel decision on what the establishment is saying about itself.

Four-Star vs. Five-Star

Many travelers are still unsure about the difference between a four and five-star hotel, since these ratings are both reserved for the cream-of-the-crop in travel accommodations. The primary difference between the two will mostly be seen in service, with five-star hotels greeting guests by name, providing turn-down service without a request and personalized wake-up calls. However, four-star establishments also provide first-rate service and high quality accommodations, so you may not even miss that extra star during your stay.

Hotel ratings are designed to help you make the best choice in accommodations for your needs – as long as you know how to use those rating systems to your advantage. With so many systems and criteria used for evaluating hotels, it can be difficult to know which ones are the most reliable and which are purely subjective. By learning the ins and outs of rating standards and the sources that provide them, you will be much better equipped to get the best value out of your hotel rooms.

How to Find the Best Prices on Hotels

When you are planning a vacation, your accommodations typically make up a large percentage of your travel expenses. By shopping around for the best value in hotels at your destination, you can put much more money in your pocket to use for entertainment and souvenirs during your stay. We have the best tips on how to save a bundle on your next hotel booking.

About Comparison Websites

The Internet has become the destination of choice for bargains of all kinds, particularly when it comes to travel. With a single click of the mouse, you can compare rates for dozens of hotels. Comparison websites do the hard work for you, collecting the best rates for your destination in one easy to use platform. However, it is important to understand how these websites work before you sign on, to ensure you know what you are getting into.

While some websites simply compare the rates of hotels in the area, other sites primarily focus on price. You won’t know which hotel you are staying in until the booking is made. Other websites combine the forces of all these comparison websites into a single venue, so you can shop around for the best rate without heading to dozens of individual websites to do so.

The Power of Negotiation

When you find a good rate through a comparison website, it can be beneficial to call the hotel directly before booking through the Internet. When you call, begin by asking about special discounts the hotel is currently running. Next, quote the rate you received through your comparison website and ask the hotel to match it, if that rate was lower than the initial prices the hotel agent quoted. Hotel agents are better tuned into the current room availability and will be more willing to negotiate if bookings are on the low side.

Show Some Flexibility

If you can be flexible with the precise location of your hotel or the specific dates you travel, you might be able to save a significant amount on your hotel rates. Accommodations in the heart of the city usually cost more than those found on the outskirts of town. Hotels in the business district might cost more during the week than on weekends, while accommodations near major tourist attractions might offer great deals on weekdays.

Go Off-Season

Every popular travel destination has an off-season, when rates for everything – including hotels – may be lower. In Europe, the off-season is in the middle of winter, while summer months in the Caribbean tend to see lower fares. If you don’t have a particular time of year that you need to travel, compare the rates for hotels at different times of the year to see when the best prices are available.

Consider Your Amenities

Many hotels today offer a wealth of amenities, including swimming pools, fitness facilities and spas. If you have no plans to take advantage of these amenities, you are paying a higher hotel fee for services you will not benefit from. Instead, look for a hotel of equal quality without the additional facilities. You may find the room rate is much cheaper for a hotel better tailored to your specific needs.

Become a Frequent Traveler

Most airlines and hotel chains offer frequent traveler plans that allow you to accumulate points that you can use toward future visits. Some airline programs even allow you to use your points to save on hotel accommodations as well as air fare. If you travel a lot, consider signing up for one of these programs to save big bucks on travels you take later on.

Working with Travel Agents

There is some question over whether working with travel agents really saves you money. While it is true that agents make a commission from the hotels they book, they also are often privy to special discounts not available to the general public. In addition, travel agents know what a good price for a hotel might be, so they can advise you accordingly. They might also get a few bonuses thrown into the mix, like extra amenities in your hotel room or a discount on entertainment or activities in the area.

There are plenty of ways to save on hotel rooms today, from comparison shopping online to negotiating directly with the hotel for the best price. With a little extra footwork and know-how, you can rest assured your travels will include the best hotel room at the best price possible.

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