Tough Question: What Is A Five Star Hotel?

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?
Is it 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’s definitely 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. Nevertheless 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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