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Official vs. Unofficial Star Ratings
The first thing to understand about star ratings is that there are official and unofficial star ratings. Any hotel can say that it is a five-star hotel or a three-star hotel. But unless you are sure that the star rating is official, take it with a grain of salt.
The original star-rating system was started by Forbes Travel Guide in the 1950s. Since then, several different evaluating bodies have assigned stars, so it's important to check who the evaluator is and what its system entails. For instance, in the U.S., Forbes is still one of the leading star-assigning bodies, as is AAA. In the U.K., tourist authorities such as VisitBritain and VisitScotland are in charge.
Various travel guides and booking sites have their own star ratings, which would be considered unofficial but still be more or less reliable as long as the criteria for evaluating the hotels is consistent. If you don't know who is giving the stars, then don't base your decision solely off that rating.
Additionally, it's important to note that even in terms of official star ratings, what's considered five stars in one country might be considered three stars in another. There is no universal system when it comes to star ratings, which also weakens the system's credibility. For instance, a hotel that has a long history in Thailand but is not outwardly luxurious might get the same star rating as a brand-new fancy hotel in Australia. Some countries, like the United Arab Emirates, use a completely different scale, with some hotels receiving six or seven stars.
Even though the star-rating system is somewhat diluted, in general, each system uses a set of criteria to evaluate hotels. In most systems, the stars are used to evaluate the key features, amenities and quality of the services provided by a hotel. This is why you'll see different systems in different countries, since something as simple as a bathroom with a hot shower might be considered an extreme luxury in some places. However, many companies and ratings programs worldwide, such as the popular hotel-booking site Expedia, use similar criteria, described here.
A one-star hotel offers basic rooms that might have just a bed and a side table. Bathrooms are likely shared with others on your floor, and any refreshments are usually found in a vending machine. A one-star hotel typically won't have any on-site facilities, and the hotel's reception desk probably won't be open 24 hours. Don't expect a TV, a telephone or even daily housekeeping services.
A two-star hotel is certainly an upgrade from a one-star hotel, but not by much. At a two-star hotel, the reception desk is likely open 24 hours. Rooms probably have clothing racks or closets, telephones and TVs, though the TV could be quite old. You'll have a private bathroom, but with only a shower, not a tub. The hotel won't provide many services, but you might get a continental breakfast.
A three-star hotel isn't too cheap or too fancy; it's just right. The owners want guests to feel relaxed and comfortable in their rooms without needing to spend too much money. There are typically restaurants and bars on-site, as well as assistance bringing your baggage to your room. The rooms are generally larger, more comfortable and with more furniture.
Four-star hotels are extremely nice, and you'll notice the difference as soon as you walk into the lobby and see the decor. The rooms are often bigger and fancier, with a large bed, a minibar, a safe, a workstation, bathrobes and a modern TV. The hotel usually offers valet parking, a spa, a gym, a pool and similar services.
A five-star hotel has all the amenities you'd hope to find in a hotel and more. Five-star hotels usually have luxurious spas and gigantic lobbies and provide welcome gifts and butler service. A typical room has an oversized bathroom lined with marble counters and a large vanity laden with high-end toiletries. Most five-star resorts have golf courses, tennis courts, health clubs with personal trainers and even child-care services.