What Makes a Hotel 5-Star?

The difference lies in the service

Fairmont Banff Springs resort in the majestic Canadian Rockies

Courtesy of Fairmont Hotels & Resorts

Since the 1950s, the United States and Canada have used the Forbes Travel Guide (formerly Mobil) star ratings and the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the Canada Automobile Association (CAA) diamond ratings to indicate hotel class and quality. The reputable organizations base their ratings upon actual visits by paid inspectors who assess the hotel's compliance with a long list of criteria.

Today, with the Internet and social media as the major means of travel research, the validity of hotel ratings has been blurred. The popularity of online hotel travel sites like Kayak, TripAdvisor, and Expedia offer their own user-submitted ratings (also based on a star system) that are written by regular people, not professional industry inspectors. Now, an online "5-star" hotel rating most likely refers to a customer's opinion, rather than a grade issued to them by a reputable organization. Still—a few standout qualities will assure a hotel is truly 5-star.

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The Property

Bellhop with hands behind back
UpperCut Images / Getty Images

Your jaw should drop when you walk into a 5-star hotel. The hotel's lobby will display decorative furniture, expensive artwork, and fragrant flowers. A 5-star hotel will also have highly-rated spas with professionally-trained therapists, a state-of-the-art gym, indoor and outdoor saltwater swimming pools, gourmet restaurants, and inviting check-in facilities. Guest rooms elicit the same excellence, with top-of-the-line beds and bedding (down pillows and linen sheets are common), impeccable cleanliness, and an inviting lounge area with the latest technology in both video and audio devices.

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The Service

Chateau Frontenac, Quebec City, Quebec
Buena Vista Images/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Sure, a 5-star hotel is aesthetically outstanding but more importantly, the service is essentially flawless. First, the staff is extremely well spoken, polite, and clear. They are trained to avoid slang and fragmented phrases and they carry themselves almost at attention, without hands in their pockets or folded in front of their bodies. Next, the staff will address you by your surname, whenever possible, and, from check-in to departure, they are at your beck and call. Lastly, a 5-star experience always includes an escort to your room, unless you specifically decline.

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The Amenities

Five-star amenities include a choice of at least two complimentary newspapers, offered and distributed, a welcome gift upon arrival, 24-hour room service, including hot food, and a thoughtful presentation during turndown service. Additionally, at least two types of premium quality snacks are automatically offered and distinctly presented during bar and lounge service. All mixed drinks are presented with modified or full club service. And work services undertaken by the staff are handled with complete professionalism—with documents returned neatly in folders or envelopes. Additionally, a 24-hour concierge service and valet parking are a must.

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"Five-Star" Versus "Luxury"

Four Seasons Toronto
 Courtesy of Four Seasons

Hotel managers, public relations professionals, and travel industry writers all conclude that a 5-star hotel rating is not what it used to be. In fact, this award can be arbitrarily designated, sometimes even by the hotel itself. Add to that the complicated, almost synonymous, language used to describe a hotel as "luxury" or "5-star," and the lines blur even further. 

The truth is, both a 4-star and 5-star hotel can be considered luxurious, however, they differ in regards to service. While a 5-star hotel offers amenities like 24-hour butler service, room service, and an in-room bar at no extra cost, a 4-star property will place a charge on top of your room stay for such services. 

 

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05 of 05

How To Find a True 5-Star Hotel

Ritz Carlton Toronto
Courtesy of Ritz Carlton

A true 5-star (awarded by Forbes) or 5-diamond (awarded by AAA or CAA) hotel will display their rating like a badge of honor on their website's homepage. Both the star and the diamond ratings are based on the hotel's physical facilities, service, atmosphere, and price. However, even though a website boasts a 5-star assignment, it doesn't mean it's from one of the respective organizations listed above. So check to see where the rating comes from. If it's from Forbes or AAA, it's worth the claim. But if the rating is established from reader-submitted reviews, fixed and biased submissions may be its basis.