The Dirty Truth About Hotel Ratings

Think you know what a five-star hotel looks like? Think again. With no standardized system across the globe, hotel ratings can be confusing, not to mention totally unreliable. We investigated the four major systems out there—and ranked them in order of trustworthiness.

No. 3: User-Generated Rating Systems

VERDICT: User ratings are more valuable en masse. The key is to focus on what the majority of reports seem to indicate about a property and to ignore extremely positive or negative reviews, which may be biased. Use these sites as a reference but not your sole reference.

User-generated sites are built on feedback from the masses: TripAdvisor, for example, features more than 50 million traveler reviews sounding off on nearly 495,000 hotels worldwide. While the company, which launched in 2000, bills itself as having "World's most trusted travel advice," the sheer volume of sources—and TripAdvisor's inability to vet them all for accuracy—make these reviews something to take with a grain of salt. (A general rule is to ignore the ecstatically positive and totally negative reviews in favor of those in the middle.) While the site has stringent guidelines ("reviews should contain only original content and no quoted material from other sources…we do not allow quoted material from personal email correspondence with a property manager") and even has moderators to flag posts that seem fishy (like a hotelier giving his property rave reviews, for example), there's no way to catch every questionable review. Even with the caveat, peer reviews can be helpful, as they're often more detailed ("the room smelled of moldy hotel carpeting") and straightforward ("the check-in staff was great, but the hotel was on a yucky street") than those from third-party organizations or tourism boards.


No. 4: Government-Run Ratings Systems

VERDICT: Government-run ratings systems may be self-interested—the better a destination's hotels, the more tourists it'll draw—and unregulated by a third party. Proceed with caution, and always refer to at least one or two other sources.

Most European countries have their own government-produced ratings, as well as countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. (There's no standardized system across Europe, but in 2009, an organization called the Hotelstars Union launched a drive to establish a common system across the EU. So far, 11 countries, including Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, are participating.) In Europe, reliability varies by country—the U.K.'s system is uniform across Great Britain and fairly trustworthy, though tourist authorities have toyed with the idea of including user reviews. In France, on the other hand, ratings aren't based on quality but on the presence of certain features (air-conditioning and bathroom facilities, for example). In Italy, a hotel can earn a single star just for changing the sheets on the beds once a week (don't let the bedbugs bite!). Also low on the reliability scale: Asia, South America, and Africa, where national tourism boards have no standardized criteria or oversight.



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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.

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