The mystery of hotel star ratings, solved

We’ve always been taught ‘not to judge a book by its cover’. However, when deciding where to stay for your all-important holiday, this rule simply goes out of the window. For many of us, our first instinct is to find out the rating of the hotel. Sounds easy, right? Wrong.


The hotel rating system lacks consistency and can vary from country to country, and in many cases, even within countries. The validity of travel ratings has been blurred, even more, due to the internet being the main means of travel research.

The most stressful part of your holiday should be deciding what ice cream flavour to have, rather than decoding what stars, diamonds and rosettes mean in terms of ratings before you’ve even booked your holiday. However, in 2006 it was made standard procedure that the only grading schemes that could operate in the UK were the AA (Automobile Association) and the national tourist boards; Visit England, Visit Wales, Scottish Tourist Board and Northern Ireland Tourist Board. These bodies share common quality standards, meaning that they all follow a uniform set of criteria – based on the five-star system. The assessment criteria are broken down into sub categories (such as ‘hospitality’ and ‘cleanliness’). This was done to make hotel grading more consistent and easier for guests to understand. Earlier this year the common quality standards were updated, lending a greater focus to the quality of experience and less emphasis on the provision of facilities.

Regardless, what do the stars actually mean? Even though an attempt has been made to create a clearer star rating system, there continues to be differences between the rating boards. Here is an overview of key (along with some surprise) requirements for each star.

One star hotels

When staying at a one star hotel you shouldn’t expect a lift, as they are only optional. However, assistance with luggage should be available upon request. Sometimes, bathroom facilities will be shared and there will likely not be any sort of restaurant or bar on site. Also, hot water is usually only provided between 7 am and 10 pm. All beds will be made daily and bed linen will only be changed once or twice a week. The most important thing – a mirror, will always be provided. If there is only one mirror it will be full-length.

Two star hotels

The difference between a one star and a two star hotel is extremely small; however, there will be higher levels of cleanliness, maintenance and services that the hotel has to maintain. A two star hotel may have a small pool but typically the amenities will be quite limited. A lift is required when there is a guest bedroom that is three floors higher or lower than the entrance level floor.

Three star hotels

In a three star hotel you can expect a restaurant, basic gym facilities and a conference room. All bedrooms will have an en suite, with access to hot water 24 hours a day. Room service will be provided, consisting of hot and cold drinks and light snacks. Finally, Wi-Fi! But don’t get your hopes up as it is only available in public areas such as the reception. Tea/coffee-making facilities can be available in one and two star hotels already; however, a three star hotel has a wider range of hot drinks and biscuits.

Four star hotels

This is where the hotels start becoming more luxurious as services such as afternoon tea, offer of luggage assistance, meals at lunchtime and table service on request at breakfast are offered. Wi-Fi is provided in bedrooms. The provision of a lift is important, but also the size, comfort, quality and speed. There may also be a gym, swimming pool and several restaurants on site. Staff must also be on duty 24 hours as opposed to just being on site (for the previous stars).

Five star hotels

We’re really starting the push the boat out here – the hotel must also offer fitness and spa facilities, butler services, valet parking, concierge services, 24-hour reception and room service, and a full afternoon tea. There must be some multilingual receptionists. Some may feature bespoke coffee machines in rooms. There must be at least one permanent luxury suite available comprising three separate rooms – bedroom, lounge and bathroom. The hotel opens seven days a week, all year round.

Are hotel stars meaningless?

Do four stars mean the same in London as in Rome? Oh how simple life would be if that was the case! Unfortunately, the hotel rating system becomes extremely complicated on a global scale. The USA has a number of rating systems: diamonds, pearls and the star system. Whilst the standard rating ranges from one to five stars, cities such as Dubai in the United Arab Emirates showcase hotels with six and seven star ratings.

For the stars to serve a meaningful purpose, surely the entire world would need to use the system? The system is often subjective, as one person’s idea of a five star hotel may be someone else’s three star. The question needs to be asked as to whether we need hotel grading, or has it become superfluous with the growth of brands and internet information, such as TripAdvisor?


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