Hotel Star Ratings Demystified: What Do The Stars Really Mean?

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Five gold stars representing hotel star ratings on a concrete background.

Hotels should ensure that they can deliver the finest guest experience for everyone. Many hotel guests frequently rely on ratings and reviews to find the best accommodation for their budget and needs. The hotel ratings system serves as a guide for travelers and guests to know what they can expect from a certain hotel classification. Basically, a one-star hotel offers basic amenities, while a five-star hotel provides a more elevated hotel experience. 

The leading hotels in the world always boast about having five-star ratings. I have experienced staying in different hotels with different star ratings. When I’m on a tight budget, I go for one star, but if I have more than enough cash on hand, I will always opt for four-star to five-star hotels. But does a hotel’s star rating really matter every time you choose a hotel? Continue reading this guide to hotel star ratings and how this could influence your future booking decisions. 

First, let’s go back to when the five-star rating system started.

The five-star rating system was started by an oil and gas company.

So, the quality of a hotel is usually represented by stars. But did you know that this widely adopted rating system did not originate from the hotel industry?

In 1958, international oil and gas corporation Mobil started funding a project that supports and pays anonymous assessors to review hotels, restaurants, and spas. After gathering comprehensive reviews of the said establishments, the five-star rating system and the Mobil Travel Guide were born. After decades of being known as Mobil, the company renamed its brainchild as the Forbes Travel Guide last 2009.

Many countries all over the world consider the star system as the ultimate basis for classifying regular suites and luxury hotels. But up to this day, star ratings don’t have fixed and universal regulation policies. 

This means that using a five-star system in the U.S. is different from using it in other countries. For example, a specific rating in American countries could have a higher or lower star rating in European countries like Spain and Germany. Star ratings in the U.S. are based on popular opinions, while European ratings only have four stars at the maximum. 

What does a hotel star rating mean?

A hotel star rating refers to the system used by a hotel or any accommodation company to describe the quality of their sites and amenities. Most hotel rankings are determined by official star ratings given by past guests and assessors. To ensure a trustworthy source of information regarding hotel quality, it is essential to consider reviews and assessments from recognized groups and experts in the hospitality industry.

For most people, knowing the differences between a 1-star and a 5-star hotel is enough. But if you want a deeper understanding of the hotel services that your accommodation offers, learning the general interpretation of each star rating is better. See what hotel stars mean and how every star category matches every guest’s needs.


A one-star hotel offers basic accommodation; no special features or amenities, but rooms comfortable enough to sleep in. A single star rating doesn’t mean that the hotel is bad or dirty. It just means that the property doesn’t have groundbreaking features that will make it stand out among other hotels.


Two-star hotels are a notch higher than the single-star ones. This type of hotel can offer clean and comfortable accommodation, regular cleaning visits, and depending on the location, a free breakfast. Additionally, 2-star hotel rooms have basic to mid-range equipment and appliances like televisions and phones with activated IVR.


Oh, the great mid-ranger. If you’re in need of decent accommodation that offers comfort, a more elevated guest experience, and unique amenities, a 3-star hotel is perfect for you. Many 3-star hotels have well-equipped facilities like a cafeteria, gym, pool, and wellness centers, and even gift shops.


Described as “upscale comfort”, a four-star hotel can give you an experience that is closer to luxury. A 4-star hotel surpasses the mentioned hotel types with its superior rating, providing outstanding amenities and an exquisite VIP experience to fulfill the guests’ desire for utmost comfort and luxury. This hotel offers various amenities such as multiple pools, spacious guest lounges, fitness centers, spas, fine dining options, and concierge and valet services.


The crème de la crème. 5-star hotels provide luxury accommodation, exceptional service, and a full suite of top-notch amenities, including gourmet dining, concierge services, and often, personal butler services. Apart from state-of-the-art facilities and first-class amenities, 5-star hotels provide an optimum level of security and privacy for their guests. This is also the reason why 5-star hotels are preferred by high-profile guests such as celebrities, politicians, and even royalties.

What are the factors that influence the hotel star rating system?

Star ratings across the world may be different, but the standards set by guests and assessors when it comes to star ratings are pretty much similar. Star ratings are awarded based on the following criteria:

Property Quality & Location

The quality of the property plays a crucial role in a comfortable hotel stay. A hotel should be well-built and maintained so that guests can stay safely, even in bad weather and natural disasters. In addition to this, a hotel must be easily accessible to its guests from different parts of the world. Additionally, the hotel’s proximity to essential healthcare, shopping, and recreational facilities could potentially contribute to increased guest satisfaction. An improved guest satisfaction rating may result in higher star ratings. 


A hotel may be clean and cozy, but if it lacks amenities, the hotel management might need to step up their game. Every time guests check into a hotel, they want an experience that feels like home, or even better. In the 2017 survey, 98% of American travelers shared that comfortable beds are the most important amenities that influence their booking decisions. This is why many world-class hotels, regardless of the star ratings, invest in beds, mattresses, and toiletries made with the finest materials. 


This one’s obvious. Whatever rating system is used, guests will always prefer a clean hotel. When I mention clean, I don’t mean basic cleanliness. Top hotels in the world are known for adopting two major types of cleaning: manual and mechanical. 

The hotel’s housekeeping team will be in charge of the regular cleaning schedules for guest lounges, rooms, activity centers, pools, etc. It is also a standard for hotels to have all the necessary cleaning supplies and equipment to make things easier for their staff and guests. 

Food Services

Everybody loves good food. And when a hotel promises a luxury experience, guests tend to expect the best food items on their menu. From local cuisine to global delicacies, hotels hire the most experienced chefs in the industry to elevate their food services. The exquisite food provided by a hotel can up its rankings and potentially give it an extra star. 

Room Variations

Different hotel brands don’t just focus on amenities. Hotel owners also prioritize having an array of room options to host more guests. Besides the number and size of beds, pricing and hotel services should also be considered when making new range of rooms available to guests. Offering a diverse range of room variations can enhance a hotel’s inclusive and unbiased reputation. While this may not ultimately increase a hotel’s star ratings, this is an excellent idea to increase revenue.

Activities & Entertainment

Guest loyalty programs and activities are very common in the hotel industry. But leisure events and entertainment can give a hotel a higher rating. Hotels can host concerts and have in-house performers to entertain guests and give them a more fun and enjoyable stay. Some world-class hotels seal partnerships with musical artists, respected musicians, and performers for special activities. 


Nothing beats the experience of staying in a hotel with a magnificent view. Whether it’s a panoramic view of the city lights, or a breathtaking scenery of nature, a fantastic view can give the best hotel reviews. Hotel owners spend a long time choosing where to build their hotel so that guests can enjoy a nice hotel stay with a beautiful view.

Hotel Star Ratings Around the World: Same Stars, Different Standards

Here’s a fun yet confusing fact: there’s no universal standard for hotel star ratings. A 3-star hotel in Italy might not offer the same experience as a 3-star hotel in the U.S. This is because different countries and regions have different criteria for their star ratings – some are assigned by governmental organizations, while others are given by independent bodies or even the hotels themselves.

Star ratings really mean different if you’re looking at it from a credible assessor’s perspective. These organizations will help guests with everything they need to know about hotel star ratings. They follow a specific set of criteria, and most of them are hospitality experts with extensive knowledge of official hotel operations and protocols. 

AAAPerfect for guests on a tight budget, provides the essentials, good for brief stays.Decent physical attributes (clean exteriors and interiors), enough amenities for a comfortable stay.Upgraded quality and quantity of amenities, more modern and uniform style, improved levels of comfort.Major upgrades; style and services are more refined, more professional and experienced staff, and upgrades are seen in detail. Sophisticated, luxurious, and exceptional in all areas. Perfect for staycations and special holidays. 
ExpediaSmall yet functional hotels that offer basic accommodation.Hotels with daily housekeeping services and decent amenities. More convenient check-in procedures, luxurious exterior and interiors, fine dining, and world-class crew.Decorations are more noticeable and elegant. Higher levels of services, especially concierge and turn down services. More convenient check-in procedures, luxurious exterior and interiors, fine dining, world-class crew.
ForbesForbes doesn’t review or verify hotels that are not classified as 4 or 5 stars.Categorized as “recommended properties” with good service and facilities, fair pricing, and consistent service. Superior quality of services and facilities that embrace both traditional and modern hospitality trends.Flawless service with top-notch staff and extraordinary facilities. Preferred by high-profile guests. 
Hotels.comSmall to medium-sized properties that offer basic accommodation with a phone and TV. No room service provided.No restaurant on site, but near important buildings. Basic, clean.Bigger rooms, well-designed lobbies, better cafeteria/restaurant, with a decent fitness center or pool.Hotels with more elegant styling and better lighting. They offer continental breakfast, dedicated reception areas, and room service. Huge lobby, more personalized services, exceptionally great food and ambiance, reliable concierge services, and a superb level of security and privacy.
MichelinThey are now focusing on rating restaurants and bars; their 3-star rating system is now being implemented and managed by TabletHigh-qualityExcellentExceptional

There are still lots of hotel assessment and review sites that travelers can refer to. These five sites and organizations are the most reliable. Their reviews come from experts, and it’s almost impossible to tamper with the ratings. 

Star Ratings and Their Impact on Pricing and Expectations

By now, you might be thinking, “More stars mean more dollars out of my pocket, right?” Well, yes. Generally, a higher star rating translates to a higher price tag. This is due to the enhanced services, increased amenities, and often, a more desirable location. But remember, higher stars also set higher expectations. It’s critical to know what each star entails, so your hotel experience doesn’t fall short of your expectations.

The Relevance of Star Ratings in the Digital Age

In the age of online reviews and ratings, does the traditional star rating system still sparkle? The answer isn’t as straightforward as you might think. While online reviews offer personal experiences and insights, star ratings provide a simple, albeit vague, snapshot of what to expect. It’s best to consider both while making hotel booking decisions.


Understanding hotel star ratings can be your secret weapon to choosing the perfect accommodation that aligns with your comfort needs and budget. While it’s not an exact science due to varying global standards, it’s certainly a useful guide in the universe of hotel bookings.

Your Next Steps

Now that you’re well-versed in the language of hotel stars, take this knowledge along on your next travel adventure. Remember, the best guide to a great hotel stay is being an informed traveler. For more expert advice and insights, stay tuned to our blog at Happy travels and clear skies at your chosen hotel destination!

Are you curious to know what is the minimum age to rent a hotel room? Check out our blog post titled “How Old Do You Have to Be to Rent a Hotel Room?

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Charvel Rebagay is the founder and main author behind With an impressive entrepreneurial background and a genuine passion for travel, Charvel brings a unique perspective to the hospitality industry. He meticulously reviews and recommends hotels, providing readers with an invaluable guide to the best global accommodations.

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