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When browsing hotel listings, you’ve probably noticed some are rated with 3 stars while others boast 5 stars. But how exactly are these hotel star ratings determined? What do the stars actually mean?

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll look at how major hotel rating systems like Forbes and AAA assign star ratings. We’ll also examine what factors into the ratings, their limitations, and tips for looking beyond the stars to find your ideal hotel.

Overview of Hotel Star Rating Systems

Hotel star rating systems are used to classify hotels and provide guests with a general idea of the quality and amenities offered by a particular establishment. These ratings are determined by various organizations and serve as a benchmark for travelers when choosing accommodations.

Hotel star ratings are a common classification system used to rate hotels based on factors like amenities, services, facilities and overall quality. The more stars a hotel has, the higher quality it is considered to be.

Understanding how hotel stars are determined can help travelers make informed decisions based on their preferences and expectations.

Note: Some common criteria for 5-star/5 diamond hotels include: luxurious and spacious accommodations, 24-hour room service, fine dining restaurants, concierge services, fitness centers, spas, pools, and impeccable personalized service.

4-star hotels offer above-average accommodations and service with some luxuries, while 3-stars offer quality lodging and amenities considered good for the average traveler. 1 to 2 star hotels provide more basic, essential hotel services and amenities.

Forbes Travel Guide

One of the most well-known and prestigious hotel rating systems is the Forbes Travel Guide. With a history dating back to 1958, Forbes Travel Guide evaluates hotels based on a rigorous set of criteria. These criteria include service, amenities, cleanliness, and overall guest experience.

Hotels that meet or exceed these standards are awarded between one and five stars, with five stars being the highest honor. The Forbes Travel Guide website provides a comprehensive list of rated hotels, allowing travelers to easily identify top-rated accommodations.

AAA Diamond Ratings

AAA Diamond Ratings, provided by the American Automobile Association (AAA), are another widely recognized hotel rating system. AAA evaluates hotels based on criteria such as cleanliness, comfort, and safety.

Hotels that meet these standards are awarded between one and five diamonds, with five diamonds representing the highest level of luxury and service. Travelers can find AAA Diamond Rated hotels on the AAA website, making it easy to find accommodations that meet their desired standards.

Rating Forbes Travel Guide AAA Diamond Rating
5 stars/diamonds Outstanding, often iconic luxury with extraordinary service and amenities Ultimate luxury, sophisticated and stylish accommodations with extensive amenities
4 stars/diamonds Luxury accommodations with fine amenities and high levels of service Refined, stylish with upscale physical attributes, extensive amenities and a high degree of hospitality
3 stars/diamonds Well-appointed establishment with many amenities and comfortable lodgings Quality with notable enhancements in the physical attributes, amenities and level of hospitality
2 stars/diamonds Dependable lodging with most amenities and capable service Basic accommodations with modest physical attributes, limited amenities and average hospitality
1 star/diamond Functional hotel providing reliable basic essentials Acceptable accommodations with modest physical attributes and limited enhancements or amenities

Mobil Star Ratings

Formerly known as the Mobil Travel Guide, the Mobil Star Ratings system was once a prominent hotel rating system. However, it has since been discontinued. The Mobil Star Ratings were known for their stringent evaluations, considering factors such as customer service, room quality, and dining options.

While no longer active, the Mobil Star Ratings still hold historical significance in the hotel industry.

WorldStar Ratings

The WorldStar Ratings system is a newer hotel rating system that aims to provide a global standard for hotel classification. It takes into account factors such as service, facilities, and overall guest experience.

The WorldStar Ratings website allows travelers to search for rated hotels around the world, making it a useful tool for those seeking high-quality accommodations on a global scale.

It’s important to note that while hotel star rating systems can be a useful tool for travelers, they are not the sole indicator of a hotel’s value or suitability. Personal preferences, location, and individual needs should also be taken into consideration when choosing accommodations.

Additionally, hotels may choose not to participate in rating systems, so it’s always a good idea to read reviews and do further research before making a booking.

What Factors Determine a Hotel’s Star Rating?

When it comes to determining a hotel’s star rating, several factors are taken into consideration. These factors, which vary depending on the rating system used, play a crucial role in determining the overall quality and level of service provided by a hotel.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key factors that determine a hotel’s star rating.

Factor Description
Guest Rooms Size, décor, furnishings, amenities
Bathrooms Fixtures, amenities, size
Public Areas Décor, cleanliness, condition
Facilities & Amenities Business, fitness, restaurants
Service Staff training, availability
Dining Variety, quality, cuisine
Location Prestige, convenience
Intangibles Reputation, reviews

Quality of Guest Rooms

The quality of the guest rooms and accommodations is one of the most important factors in determining a hotel’s star rating. Key elements evaluators look at include the size and layout of the room, the quality of furnishings like the bed, desk, and other furniture, the decor and ambiance of the room, amenities provided such as toiletries, coffee and tea facilities, robes, slippers, and more.

Higher end star hotels provide rooms that are spacious with high-end furnishings made from premium materials. The decor is elegant, tasteful and creates an ambiance of luxury.

Amenities are extensive with high-quality branded toiletries, refreshments, and other supplies. There is attention to detail that enhances the guest experience.


The quality and features of the hotel bathroom also factor into the star rating. Bathrooms in 5-star hotels are very spacious, with high-end finishes like marble, elegant lighting, and generous amenities.

Fixtures like showers and bathtubs are oversized with options like jet showers and tubs. Heated floors, double vanities, and separate toilet stalls are also luxury features found in top-tier hotel bathrooms. Plush robes and slippers, luxury-branded toiletries, magnifying mirrors, and more amenities create a lavish bathroom experience.

Public Areas

The hotel’s public areas like the lobby, restaurants, bars, pools, fitness centers, and other shared spaces are evaluated for qualities like the décor and interior design, the spaciousness of the area, furnishings, lighting, and overall ambiance.

For higher star ratings, public areas need to feel luxurious and inviting with attention to design details and high-quality materials like marble floors, chandeliers, artwork, and more. These spaces must also be immaculately clean and well-maintained.

A 5-star hotel lobby will feel grand and elegant. Pools and outdoor areas are well-landscaped with luxury lounge areas. The public areas meet the highest standards of quality.

Facilities and Amenities

The types of facilities and amenities offered as well as the quality of those facilities is considered in the star rating. Higher rated hotels provide a greater variety of amenities and facilities including business services, fitness and spa facilities, restaurants, pools, entertainment, childcare, sports facilities, and more.

For example, a 5-star hotel may have a full-service spa, state-of-the-art fitness center, multiple restaurants including fine dining, a business center, indoor heated pool, childcare services, and concierge team. The amenities and facilities should also be well-maintained and offer high-quality experiences.

Level of Service

The level of service provided by hotel staff is a key component of star ratings. Staff at high-end hotels are extensively trained to provide courteous, polished and personalized service. There is a higher staff to guest ratio so excellent service can be delivered.

Many 5-star hotels have a dedicated guest relations manager for VIP guests. Services like 24-hour room service, concierge, porter, and valet are hallmarks of luxury hotels. Staff are able to fulfill requests and handle needs promptly and professionally. Service is attentive yet discreet.


The dining options and culinary experiences offered at the hotel are taken into account when determining star ratings. At luxury, high-end properties, there are often multiple dining outlets available on-site, with at least one high-quality signature restaurant for fine dining.

The cuisine is skillfully prepared and artfully presented. Attention is paid to sourcing quality ingredients and providing an excellent culinary experience with service to match. Sommeliers and wine programs further elevate dining. A range of cuisines and dining atmospheres tailored to varied tastes are important.


A hotel’s location and immediate surroundings factor into its star rating as well. Luxury, high-end hotels are typically located in prime locations that are desirable, prestigious, and convenient for both leisure and business travelers.

This includes city centers, near top attractions and landmarks, beachfront, or in remote luxury destinations like islands and mountains. Proximity to transportation, shopping, entertainment and business centers is ideal. Higher rated hotels capitalize on their location as a draw.


Certain intangibles also influence a hotel’s star rating, like reputation, brand, recognition, awards, and consistent quality. Guest reviews on sites like TripAdvisor may also impact ratings. Highly rated hotels meet guest expectations and deliver memorable, seamless stays. There is quality assurance across all areas. Prestige and status signal a higher star rating.

What Star Ratings Don’t Tell You

While hotel star ratings are a helpful tool for travelers to assess the overall quality and amenities of a hotel, there are certain aspects that they do not fully cover. Here are some important considerations that star ratings may not reveal:

Specific Room Features

Star ratings give a general indication of room quality, but they don’t specify exact room features. A 5-star hotel may have a range of different room types, sizes, views, and layouts. The star rating doesn’t tell you about specific room details like the view, balcony, tub vs. shower, or exact square footage. It’s still important to look at room details. A lower rated hotel could have better rooms than expected.

Quality Consistency

The star rating reflects the overall average quality, but doesn’t guarantee uniform consistency. While standards are enforced for stars, there can still be some variability. One room or service experience at a hotel may differ from another, even at the same star level. Ratings can’t always account for these inconsistencies, so guests should still pay attention to recent reviews.

Extra Fees

The star rating doesn’t reflect any extra fees, surcharges or added costs at a hotel. Many hotels now charge resort fees, facility fees or destination fees that aren’t included in the advertised rate. Parking fees, internet fees and other add-ons are also common. These extra costs can quickly add up. The star rating alone doesn’t reveal potential fees.

Loyalty Benefits

Participation in loyalty programs like Marriott Bonvoy or Hilton Honors is not denoted by the general star rating. However, being part of a major loyalty program can confer benefits to return guests. Earning and redeeming points, upgrades, perks and packages are worthwhile to frequent travelers but aren’t covered by the stars.

Subjective Experience

Star ratings reflect objective criteria, but they can’t always account for subjective experiences. How one person perceives a hotel may be entirely different from another guest. Levels of service that impressed one guest may dissatisfy another. Personal preferences also come into play in areas like décor, amenities, food, etc. The star rating can’t reflect subjective guest impressions.


A high star rating does not automatically equate to good value. Plenty of luxurious 5-star hotels also come with exorbitant price tags. Conversely, a hotel with a lower star rating could potentially offer great value depending on the rate. The stars don’t intrinsically indicate value. A 3-star hotel could represent a better deal than a 5-star property in some cases.

So while star ratings provide a helpful snapshot of hotel quality, travelers should still research and vet specific properties. Relying solely on stars will not guarantee the perfect hotel stay.

Tips for Looking Beyond the Stars

While hotel star ratings can provide a general idea of a hotel’s quality and amenities, it’s important to look beyond the stars to ensure you have a truly enjoyable stay. Here are some tips to help you make a more informed decision:

Read Recent Reviews

One of the best ways to get a sense of what a hotel is really like is by reading recent reviews from other travelers. While star ratings may indicate certain standards, they don’t always reflect the current state of the hotel.

By reading reviews on trusted websites such as TripAdvisor or, you can get a better understanding of the hotel’s cleanliness, service, and overall guest experience. Pay attention to both positive and negative reviews to get a balanced perspective.

Compare Room Types

Another factor to consider is the variety and quality of room types available at the hotel. Just because a hotel has a high star rating doesn’t mean all their rooms are of the same caliber. Take a closer look at the different room types offered and compare their features, amenities, and sizes.

Some hotels may have basic rooms that meet the minimum star rating requirements, while others may offer luxurious suites or upgraded rooms for an extra cost. Don’t be afraid to contact the hotel directly to inquire about specific room details.

Consider Location Needs

Location is another crucial aspect to consider when choosing a hotel. While star ratings focus on the hotel’s facilities and services, they may not take into account its proximity to attractions, transportation, or other important amenities.

Think about what you want to do during your stay and choose a hotel that is conveniently located for your needs. For example, if you’re planning to visit a specific tourist attraction, it might be worth sacrificing a star or two for a hotel that is closer to your desired destination.

Check Award Winners

Many reputable travel organizations and websites recognize outstanding hotels with awards. These awards can provide additional reassurance about a hotel’s quality and service. Look for hotels that have received accolades such as the TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice Award or the Forbes Travel Guide Star Award.

These awards are usually given based on rigorous criteria and reviews from real guests, making them a reliable indicator of a hotel’s excellence.

Remember, while star ratings can be a helpful guideline, they shouldn’t be the sole factor in deciding where to stay. By considering recent reviews, comparing room types, evaluating location needs, and checking award winners, you can make a more informed choice and ensure a delightful stay at your chosen hotel.

Other Hotel Rating Systems

While official hotel rating systems play a significant role in determining a hotel’s star rating, there are other rating systems that travelers can consider when choosing a hotel. These alternative rating systems provide insights into the quality and reputation of a hotel from different perspectives.

User-Generated Ratings on Sites like TripAdvisor

In addition to official star ratings and award designations, user-generated ratings and reviews on third-party travel sites provide helpful first-hand insights into hotels. Sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp allow guests to rate and review hotels based on their own experiences.

These crowd-sourced ratings can offer authentic, unbiased perspectives to complement star ratings. The volume of reviews helps identify consistent issues or praise at a hotel. User reviews tend to be more detailed than professional ratings, highlighting specific rooms, amenities and service encounters.

However, user reviews should be examined carefully. Ratings can be skewed by fake or biased reviews, or imperfect rating systems. Criteria and scales also vary by site. Still, traveler reviews can reveal recent renovations, cleanliness issues, staff attitudes, noise levels, and other on-the-ground intel useful for selecting hotels.

While professional ratings like star systems carry authority, real customer perspectives from sites like TripAdvisor add important context. Savvy travelers consult both ratings and reviews to make informed hotel choices. Multiple data points lead to better decisions and more satisfactory hotel stays.

Independent Hotel Awards

In addition to star ratings, hotels can earn recognition through independent hotel awards programs. These annual awards identify and honor stand-out properties based on merit, guest reviews, quality, and votes by travel professionals.

Some leading international independent hotel awards programs include:

Winning or placing on one of these notable independent hotel awards lists, especially repeatedly over years, demonstrates excellence according to travel experts and consumers. However, there are many hotel awards programs of varying credibility, so travelers should focus on the most reputable awards.

While star ratings provide a standardized assessment, independent hotel awards offer a more qualitative recognition of truly exceptional properties based on traveler opinions, specialized editors and overall merit. They can highlight hidden gems that don’t carry 5-star branding but still offer amazing experiences.


While hotel star ratings provide a useful snapshot of quality, they don’t tell the full story. The specific criteria and consistency varies between rating systems. Looking beyond the stars to recent reviews, room types, location, and independent awards can help find hidden gems.

The key is using star ratings as a baseline, but digging deeper into the factors that matter most to your travel priorities and style.

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