Hotel stars - Who/what decides how many

Having just come home from my vacation and two weeks in different hotels I wondered if anyone knows who or what decides how many stars a hotel has. Can they decide for themselves, is there some sort of organization running around grading hotels. Or could there be some sort of checklist with criteriae a hotel has to fulfill in order to get stars, e.g fulfilling 15 of 20 gets you 4 stars or something similar.


Michelin and AAA/CAA are probably two of the best known ‘raters’ of lodgings and restaurants. (Okay, they are the only two I know of.)

Let me clarify one thing first:

Michelin uses stars for their rating (one to three - I could be wrong).
AAA/CAA uses diamonds for their rating (one to five).

Most places that are rated by either of the two comapnies will also advertise the name (“AAA three diamond hotel”), since these companies have stringent standards, including convenience (e.g., on-street vs. off-street parking, while valet parking gets a hotel more points towards a higher rating), amenities (spa, gym, in-room coffee makers, etc.), and of course, cleanliness and service. IIRC, AAA will not even consider a rating a lodging unless it has basic safety features in place - door peep-holes and window locks.

Restaurants are also held to a higher standard as the number of AAA diamonds rise - general ambiance, as well as noticable touches such as tablecloth quality, meal presentation, not forgetting the quality of food and service.

In general, I would be leary of anything without some sort of known name and parameters attached to the rating. (“We’re a 5 star hotel!” - but they don’t tell you that 20 is a top-rating.)

Even less precise are hotel room names - standard, quality, superior, deluxe - here again, one needs a definition to accurately judge - one hotel’s “standard” room (bed, chair, table, shower - minimal furniture and amenities) may be another hotel’s “deluxe” room, both of which overlook the parking lot and trash compactor. Even a listing as “ocean-view” can be deceiving - you may be able to see the ocean, you may have to cross an eight-lane highway and hike the boardwalk to get there.

Well, not necesarilly wrong. But…

(At least in Eurupe) the famous Michelin stars are awarded for resturants. They occur in the must-have Guide Michelin, a red bible covering all worthwile eating places in France. (And elsewhere). Having three stars in there is quite an achievement - I believe there was quite an uproar when the first three-star resto was awarded ‘abroad’, People were shocked when they learned that there were one or two chefs i England who could cook!.

Of course this four-level scale (0,1,2 or 3 stars) became famous in its own right, and Michelin quickly adopted it for their Guide Verte the green tourist guide.

The stars are supposed to mean:
(no star) - interesting (otherwise it wouldn’t be in the book)

    • Worth stopping
      ** - Worth a detour
      *** - Worth a trip!

The actual (French) hotel stars however are awarded by a more or less oficial agency. All French hotels have the same kind of metal plate by the dour, stating how many stars they got in the last inspection, and when that was. (I believe it is done on a per departement basis.)

As to how it works in America - No clue. I’ve stayed in hotels there marked as one…four stars, and while there was a difference, the level of luxary was by no means clear by the number of stars (or price) alone…

Just stumbled over to the site, looks like most of the red guide is accesible.

What I have found in Europe is that the number of stars tends to reflect things that Americans would not put such a great importance on. For me, the main thing is the quality of the room itself, because that is where I will spend most of my time when I am at the hotel, and the second most important thing is the quality and availability of restaurant facilities. I’ve found that often 4 and 5-star hotels will end of skimping on room facilities and quality to focus instead on having a marble and brass entryway, the “breeding” of the chef (regardless of the actual food quality), and the things like tablecloth quality (as screech-owl noted). Many of the best hotels I have stayed in were 3-star ones. And most 4-star ones seem extremely overpriced. The only 5-star one I can recommend is the Sheraton in Warsaw, Poland, which is a great hotel at a great value, for being 5-star.

IMO, the best reference for a hotel is a personal one, and the second best are some of the large websites and message boards that deal with hotel recommendations.

Screech-Owl got it right on the star/diamond ratings. Some things they look for are 24 hour room service, irons/ironing boards in rooms, employee to guest ratio etc…

I worked at one very nice resort that would never be considered for a 5 star rating because the hotel had outside corridors.

Anthracite has the best advice, word of mouth, people with similar service expectations as you provide a good jumping off point.

Also remember the free market economy. If there is a convention in or you are arriving at a high demand time, rates will be higher.

One last thing generally if you call far enough in advance, you should never pay the amount of the first rate quote. Always ask if they have any special rates. (They will)

I believe there’s another company called Zagat’s that also does hotel ratings. In short, depending on which guidebook you read, you could get different ratings. Just like asking friends and relatives.

It also works like this in Italy, and probably some other European countries as well.

It is worth noting that the French and Italian systems do not indicate the quality of the hotel, only the services available. You can have two hotels with the same number of stars, and one is pricey and nice, the other dumpy and cheap, but they both have contintental breakfast and private baths. This is different than the AAA method, IIRC.

Mobil does stars and AAA does diamonds. You can get a list of what qualifies for what.

For instance a four star hotel needs 24 hour room service but this can be virtually anything.

In Chicago we have no 5 star hotels. Why because you need to have your lobby on the ground floor.

So the Fours Season loses one and is equal rank with say the Drake when it is SO MUCH BETTER.

So you can have a 3 star hotel with no 24 hour room service that is 10 times nicer than a 4 star hotel that serves microwave food that gets it a four star rating.

To confuse it more you can have a 5 DIAMOND resturant in a 3 Diamond hotel…

And so forth…

In the UK the two main motoring clubs (Automobile Association and the Royal Automobile Club)award the stars for hotels. As well as rating the hotel facilities they go into a hotel incognito and assess the general standard of the hotel while pretending to be ordinary guests. Sometimes a hotel will have AA 4 stars and RAC 5 stars.Local tourists boards also have a rating system but that is usually for smaller guest-houses and bed-and-breakfast establishments.