Who Decides If a Hotel Is Luxury or Not?
The word "luxury" has been degraded by overuse. But a "luxury hotel" has to deliver on that claim, because high-paying guests have a right to expect high standards. They expect excellence in service, in rooms, in dining, and in everything else a good hotel offers.
There are no set standards for "luxury hotels," and both four-star and five-star hotels generally describe themselves as "luxury." The luxury hotel "must" list below for true luxury hotels is Tripsavvy's. See if you agree with me about the things that travelers have every right to expect from a luxury hotel.
Easy, Intelligent, Respectful Hotel 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 any other way (through the hotel's association such as Relais & Chateaux, or via a Virtuoso luxury travel agent, through a discounter like LuxuryLink, or through a booking site like Expedia or TripAdvisor (Intrigued by al the options? Discover 12 cool ways to get a luxury vacation for less.)
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, and have no checkin or checkout lines, but roving personnel who do it all on iPads. Once you've checked in, your luggage should take no more than 10 minutes to arrive in your room.
On checkout day, a luxury hotel should offer video or express checkout and quickly settle any discrepancies on your bill.
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 all of these elements: room category or level; special room classification: (Pet-friendly? Allergen-free? Enhanced mobility?); physical location in the hotel (Near the lobby or secluded? city, garden, or beach view? Ground floor? High floor? Near the elevator? Away from A/C generators and ice machines?); a king or twin beds, as you desire; options like a plunge pool or balcony).
What a Luxury Hotel Room Offers Guests
Paying for a Great Room? You Want These Features
There's 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. Luxury travelers are paying for...
...a room that you like as soon as you walk in: with consistent design, high-quality furnishings, and no cheap touches such as rickety reading lamps. I look for overall attention to aesthetic detail (my bête noire is visible jungles of electric cords).
...a quiet room not near the elevator nor generators and A/C equipment. I need a room with fresh air and no odors such as old smoke, mildew, aggressive room freshener, or strong cleanser.
...real, not fake: real plaster (or adobe, stucco, wooden) walls; if wallpapered, not the plastic wipe-down kind. You hope for original art on the walls, whether paintings, numbered prints, or art photos (not generic Paris café shots, posters, or cheap prints). At least one window that can actually be opened, and pleasant (not fiberglass-like) fabric window curtains. with a layer that blocks the light.
A True Luxury Hotel Room's Furnishings
...a king bed (the default luxury travel bed) with a reasonably firm mattress, smooth all-cotton sheets, no synthetic mattress cover, a natural-fiber bedspread, and a variety of pillow types in the room or a phone call away.
...in the room, adequate storage (tabletop, counter, drawer, and closet space. (A distressing lumber of hotels have dispensed with drawers or even shelves for your clothes.) The closet should have sufficient hangers, and not the kind attached to the rod.
...a reading chair chosen for comfort, not artiness; a desk or work surface; a safe; a good-size TV screen (not pivoting from the ceiling, hospital-style); an iPhone/iPod dock or jack so you can hear your own music; a (quiet) clock, and not a 70s-style clock-radio; 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.
High-End Hotel Guests Should Not Be Changed For These
Luxury hotel guests should get these 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 don't you want in your room? Don't let your hotel get away with these cheap corner-cutting moves!
True Luxury Hotel Bathrooms Go Beyond
Luxury Travelers Are Into Hotel Bathrooms
Luxury hotel bathrooms have become an area of scrutiny and pride, much like upscale home bathrooms. Look for:
A ventilation source, even a fan; his-and-hers sinks; a partitioned, private john; sufficient counter space for your stuff; convenient outlets;
unstained, unchipped counters, whether marble or tile; a tub built for two, and not 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 (two bars: one for the sink, one for the shower); shower cap, Q-trips, and a mending kit; robes and slippers; plenty of fluffy, high-quality terry towels; makeup mirror that lights; enough racks or hooks for drying hand laundry (so easy to provide, yet so rare). In Europe and many other places, you should expect a bidet, and in Asian luxury hotels, a TOTO toilet.
Luxury Hotel Service: So Many "Shoulds"
Luxury hotel guests should get the feeling that they are known and valued. There's a Tahiti resort that resembles Paradise, but the staff's haughty, cold, derisive manner to n on-French speakers makes 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.
Housekeeping: Where Many Hotels Fall Off the Cliff
Hotel housekeeping should be quiet, thorough, and dependable. A maid should never remove anything of yours, including empty shopping bags, ribbons and gift wrap, 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 corridors, 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. More: see what hospitality guru Eric Weiss says hotels must do for guests;
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. Not a good way to start the day.
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; a social lobby area away from the drafty entrance, with couches, wifi, and bar service, laundry service, babysitting, petsitting, dog-walking, and personal trainer referrals; round-the-clock room service; a concierge who knows more than you can get from Google, and who does not push tourist traps onto guests.
But What About a Butler?
A private hotel butler is nice too. How sweet it is not to have to do travel's most tedious tasks yourself, like unpacking and packing. Butlers do this and more, and you'll never again leave behind a sock or scarf.
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." Hotels should 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 (a certain American-branded five-star hotel in Vienna charged guests 40 Euros for gym visits); pool access, lounger, towel; access to the spa's locker room, steam room, sauna, and basic hydrotherapy pools; at a large resort, shuttles around the property, to sister resorts, and to the nearby town.; local phone calls (especially important overseas, when you might not want to use your mobile phone); printouts at the concierge desk.
Examples of True Luxury Hotels
The Experts Approve?
These gracious hotels have been scrutinized by expert travel writers for Tripsavvy and found to be no-doubt-about-it luxury hotels.
Adirondacks, New York State: The Point
Baltimore: Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore
Washington, DC: The Jefferson
Palm Beach: Eau Palm Beach
Miami, Florida: Turnberry Isle
Chicago: The Langham, Chicago
Beaver Creek, Colorado: The Ritz-Carlton, Bachelor Gulch
Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Inn of the Five Graces
Las Vegas: Nobu Hotel Caesars Palace
Near San Diego: Fairmont Grand Del Mar
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: Zoetry Paraiso Bonita
Nicaragua: Mukul Beach, Golf & Spa
Vancouver Island, Canada: Wickaninnish Inn
London: The Langham, London and Corinthia Hotel London
Scotland: Cameron House and Andy Murray's The Cromlix
Algarve, Portugal: Bela Vista
Nice, France: Le Negresco
Amalfi, Italy: Monastero Sant Rosa
Zurich, Switzerland: The Dolder Grand
Helsinki, Finland: Hotel Kämp
Spain: Abadia Retuerta LeDomaine
Thailand: Ritz-Carlton Phulay Bay and Keemala Phuket
Bali, Indonesia: Fairmont Sanur Beach Bali
French Polynesia (Tahiti): Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora
Fiji, Micronesia: Turtle Island Resort
Japan: Palace Hotel Tokyo
Taiwan: Regent Taipei
North Island, New Zealand: Eagles Nest
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
Shangri-La Hotels, Asian Super-Chic
Corinthia Hotels, The Talk of Europe
Shangri-La Hotels, Asian Super-Chic
Regent Hotels & Resorts: Asian Icons
Ritz-Carlton's Hotel Service Mission