What If We Took the Term "Luxury Hotel" Seriously?
Today, the word "luxury" has been degraded by overuse. Everything has its "luxury" component nowadays…from coffee blends to detergents.
But in the view of experienced, demanding luxury travelers, "luxury hotel" has to mean something specific. Here's our luxury hotel definition.
Who Decides Whether a Hotel Is Luxury or Not?
The hospitality industry generally accepts hotel star ratings designated by Forbes (formerly Mobil), AAA, and other critically-minded organizations. But there are no set standards for "luxury hotels," and both four-star and five-star hotels generally describe themselves as "luxury."
Hotel guests paying high luxury-hotel rates have a right to expect certain luxury hotel standards, in service, in rooms, in dining, and in everything else a good hotel offers.
The luxury hotel "musts" below are mine. See if you agree with me about the things that travelers have every... right to expect from a luxury hotel.
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Easy, Intelligent, Respectful Planning
Booking a Luxury Hotel Shouldn't Be Complicated
The reservation process should be simple, and you should get all the help you need. This should apply whether you book:
• Directly with the hotel
• Or through its association such as Relais & Chateaux
• Via a Virtuoso luxury travel agent
• Through a discounter like LuxuryLink
• Or through a booking site like Expedia or TripAdvisor
Think Outside the Hotel-Room Box
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Fast, Easy, Discreet Checkin & Checkout
Who Wants to Wait to Check In or Check Out?
Nothing's more frustrating than waiting on a long checkin line when you've spent the day just getting to the hotel. Luxury travelers hate to wait!
• Many hotels have taken a cue from the Apple Store, which has no checkin or checkout line, but roving salespeople who do it all on iPads
• Your luggage should take no more than 10 minutes to arrive in your room.
• A luxury hotel should offer video or express checkout, and quickly settle any discrepancies on your bill
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You Get the Room You Wanted
Your Room Is Just the Kind You Wanted
The room you're assigned to should be exactly the type of room you want. A true luxury hotel will accommodate your request regarding:
• Room category or level
• Physical location in the hotel (Near the lobby or secluded? City or water view? Ground floor? High floor? Near the elevator? Away from A/C generators and ice machines?)
• Special room classification: Pet-friendly? Allergen-free? Handicapped?
• A king bed, if that's what you want
• A plunge pool, if some rooms have and some don't
Want It, Get It
• See how to get the hotel room you want
What If You're Unhappy with Your Room?
• What to do if things go wrong in your hotel
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What a Luxury Hotel Room Offers Guests
Paying for a Great Room? You Want These Features
I have a long list of enhanced room features that must be present for a hotel to be considered luxury. This covers most of them. See if all your "musts" are here.
• A room that strikes you as lovely as soon as you walk in: with consistent design, high-quality furnishings, and no cheap touches such as rickety reading lamps
• A quiet room not near the elevator nor generators and A/C equipment
• A room with fresh air and no odors, such as old smoke, mildew, aggressive room freshener, or strong cleanser
• Real plaster (or adobe, stucco, wooden) walls; if wallpapered, not the plastic wipe-down kind
• Original art on the walls, whether paintings, numbered prints, or art photos (not generic Paris café shots, posters, or cheap prints)
• A king bed (the default luxury travel bed)
• A reasonably firm mattress
• High-quality, all-cotton sheets and a natural-fiber bedspread
• And no nylon or vinyl mattress cover
• A variety of pillow types in the room... or a phone call away
• Robes and slippers
• At least one window you can actually open
• Pleasant fabric window curtains, with a layer that block the light
• Adequate storage: tabletop, counter, drawer, and closet space
• Sufficient hangers, and not the kind attached to the rod
• A reading chair chosen for comfort, not artiness
• A desk or work surface
• A room safe
• A good-size flat TV (not pivoting from the ceiling, hospital-style)
• An iPhone/iPod dock or jack so you can hear your own music
• A coffee maker
• A full-length mirror, perhaps in the closet
• An effective and reasonably quiet heating/AC system that you can control easily, and keeps your room the temp you set
• A (quiet) clock – and please, not a vintage clock-radio
• Overall attention to aesthetic detail (my bête noire is visible jungles of electric cords)
• On the house: WiFi and bottled water (and if they're only for members of the hotel's loyalty club, go ahead and join!)
What You Don't Want in Your Room
• Don't let your hotel get away with these cheap corner-cutting moves!Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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True Luxury Hotel Bathrooms Go Beyond
Luxury Travelers Are Into Hotel Bathrooms
Luxury hotel bathrooms – like luxury home bathrooms – have become an area of scrutiny and pride. I look for:
• A ventilation source, even a fan
• His-and-hers sinks
• A partitioned, private john
• Sufficient counter space for your stuff
• Unstained, unchipped counters, whether marble or tile
• A tub built for two
• And that tub should not be too high to step into
• Good water pressure in the shower
• Prestige or artisan toiletries that smell neither too flowery nor masculine, and that, for now, are not made in China
• Bath gel as well as bar soap
• Shower cap, Q-trips, and a mending kit
• Plenty of fluffy, high-quality terry towels
• A makeup mirror that lights
• Enough racks or hooks for drying hand laundry (so easy, yet so rare)
• In Europe and many other places, you should expect a bidet
• And in Asian luxury hotels, a TOTO toilet
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Luxury Hotel Service: So Many "Shoulds"
Luxury hotel guests should get the feeling that they are known and valued. I once profiled a Tahiti resort that resembled Paradise, but the staff's haughty, cold, derisive manner made it feel like Alcatraz.
Luxury hotel guests should expect hotel personnel who greet guests with at least a smile at every encounter. And they should greet you by name if there's no one else to overhear.
Hotel housekeeping should be quiet, thorough, and dependable. A maid should never remove anything of yours, including empty shopping bags, half-drunk water bottles, and wet shower caps. Nightly turndown service is essential.
Housekeeping should not use heavily ammoniated or other highly chemical-smelling cleaners, or cheaply perfumed cleaning products. This applies not just to your room but to the hotel's common areas and restaurants. Non-irritating, more natural products are readily available to hotels that care.
Maintenance personnel and handymen... should appear at your room within minutes to attend to your locked safe, jammed coffee maker, or what ails you.
Gardeners and outdoor workers cannot interfere with a guest's enjoyment of the property. They should not criss-cross the lawn in front of your lounger, or work near your pool chaise. And leaf-blowers and the like have no place in a luxury hotel.
What the Pros Say
• See what hospitality guru Eric Weiss says hotels must do for guests
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Outstanding Hotel Dining
Luxury Hotels Offer Guests at Least One Very Good Place to Eat
Even a small boutique hotel should offer its guests a place to eat and, ideally, another place to drink. The restaurant and bar should be attractive, with good food.
• Room service must be offered. In urban hubs, it should be available 24 hours
Hotels Should Do Breakfast Right, or Not Do It at All
Many hotels, especially in Europe, include breakfast with the room rate. These breakfasts are usually excellent buffets.
• But American hotels that offer complimentary breakfast too often supply only packaged cereals, cottony bagels, and the like. Nt a good way to start the day
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Guest Activities and Amenities
A Luxury Hotel Furnishes Comfort and Entertainment
A luxury hotel should offer its guests these services. And not just guests who have upgraded to club-floor status.
• A 24-hour fitness center with at least a range of basic equipment: a Stairmaster, a treadmill, a stationary bike, free weights, and floor mats
• A pool, if at all possible given the hotel's space
• Round-the-clock room service
• A social lobby area away from the drafty entrance, with couches, wifi, and bar service
• Unpacking and packing services
• Laundry service
• Babysitting, petsitting, dog-walking, and personal trainer referrals
• A concierge who knows more than you can get from Google, and who does not push tourist traps onto guests
A Private Butler Is Nice, Too
How nice it is not to have to do travel's most tedious tasks yourself. I mean unpacking and packing. Butlers do this and more. And you'll never again leave behind a sock, scarf, or swimsuit drying in the bathroom.
• Meet a few of our travel writers'... unforgettable hotel butlersContinue to 9 of 11 below.
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Free at Last! Luxury Hotels Should Not Charge for Basics
A luxury hotel should offer these services at no charge to its guests, who are paying so much already -- and not disguise charges in a "resort fee." Offer these on the house:
• Bottled water and coffee maker in the room
• Morning coffee served in the lobby
• Room wifi (we all agree: asking guests to pay for this is especially infuriating)
• Fitness center
• Pool access, lounger, towel
• Access to the spa's locker room, steam room, sauna, and basic hydrotherapy pools
• Shuttles around the resort, to sister resorts, and to the nearby town
• Local phone calls (especially important overseas, when you might not want to use your mobile phone)
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Examples of True Luxury Hotels
These gracious hotels have been scrutinized by your Luxury Travel Expert and various Guest Authors, and have been deemed no-doubt-about-it luxury hotels.
• New York: The Pierre Hotel and The London NYC
• Adirondacks: The Point
• Berkshires, Massachusetts: Canyon Ranch Lenox
• Baltimore: Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
• Washington, DC: The Jefferson
• Palm Beach: Eau Palm Beach
• Fort Lauderdale: The Ritz-Carlton, Fort Lauderdale
• Miami, Florida: Turnberry Isle
• New Orleans: Windsor Court
• Chicago: The Langham, Chicago and Soho House Chicago
• Beaver Creek, Colorado: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch
• Santa Fe, New Mexico: Inn of the Anasazi and The Inn of the FIve Graces
• Las Vegas: The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas and Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace
• Sedona, Arizona: Enchantment Resort
• San Diego: THE US GRANT
• Near San Diego: Rancho Valencia and Golden Door Spa and Fairmont Grand Del Mar
• Santa Barbara: El Encanto
• San Francisco: Taj Campton Place
• Sonoma, California: Farmhouse Inn
• Maui, Hawaii: The... Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua
• Nevis, Caribbean: Four Seasons Resort Nevis
• Turks & Caicos, Caribbean: Parrot Cay by COMO
• Cancun, Mexico: Le Blanc Spa Resort and NIZUC Resort
• Riviera Maya, Mexico: Viceroy Riviera Maya and Zoetry Paraiso Bonita
• Puerto Vallarta, Mexico: Casa Velas
• Nicaragua: Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa
• Vancouver Island, Canada: Wickaninnish Inn
• Toronto, Canada: Shangri-La Hotel Toronto and Hazelton Hotel Toronto
• Quebec City, Canada: Auberge Saint-Antoine
• London: The Langham, London and Corinthia Hotel London
• Scotland: Gleneagles, Andy Murray's The Cromlix, and Cameron House
• Algarve, Portugal: Vila Joya and Bela Vista
• Nice, France: Le Negresco
• Zurich, Switzerland: The Dolder Grand
• Helsinki, Finland: Hotel Kämp
• Spain: Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine
• Venice, Italy: Luna Baglioni Hotel Venice
• Bologna, Italy: Grand Hotel Majestic Gia Baglioni
• Amalfi Coast, Italy: Monastero Santa Rosa
• Valletta, Malta: Corinthia Palace Malta
• Thailand: Ritz-Carlton Phulay Bay and Regent Phuket Cape Panwa
• Bali, Indonesia: Fairmont Sanur Beach Bali
• Fiji, Micronesia: Turtle Island Resort
• Seoul, Korea: Ritz-Carlton Seoul
• Tokyo, Japan: Palace Hotel Tokyo
• Taipei, Taiwan: Regent Taipei
• Queensland, Australia: Qualia Resort
• North Island, New Zealand: Eagles Nest
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True Luxury Hotel Brands
These Hotel Brands Are Truly Five-Star in Our Book
• Relais & Châteaux: Delicious & French
• Four Seasons, in Earth's Four Corners
• The Ritz-Carlton, America's Top Name
• Fairmont, from Canada with Love
• Waldorf Astoria, Luxury all the Way
• Viceroy Hotels, Sophisticated Style
• MGallery Hotels, French-Accented & Global
• Shangri-La Hotels, Asian Super-Chic
• Destination Hotels & Resorts, US Gems
• Corinthia Hotels, The Talk of Europe
• Shangri-La Hotels, Asian Super-Chic
• Regent Hotels & Resorts: Asian Icons
• Ritz-Carlton's Hotel Service Mission