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What do hotel stars really mean?

What do hotel stars really mean?

The Surin - Phuket

Have you booked a three-star hotel in France and wondered how in the world such a run-of-the-mill hotel could get three stars? Or stayed at a four-star hotel in Thailand and received first-class service? Perhaps you have also wondered how the charter companies seem to be able to have their own classifications of the hotels with stars and plus plus?

For many years I have wondered what the hotel stars actually mean, to the mild degree that I finally found out for myself. The answer turned out to be both quite simple and quite difficult. Namely, there is no universal star classification. Were you more confused now than before? Come along!

Tanque Verde - Tucson
Amazing Tanque Verde Ranch in Tucson, Arizona

International stars - what do they mean?

As there is no international standard regarding the classification, I have checked what applies in some of our biggest tourist countries.

Hotelstars Union – Classification within the EU

The EU had long wanted to achieve a common hotel classification among the member states. In 2009, the Hotelstars Union was therefore formed, which has since worked to harmonize the hotel categories. The result was a set of regulations of 217 points.

Examples of things that should be included in the hotel's stars:

A star

  • Daily cleaning
  • 100% of the rooms must have a toilet and shower/bathtub
  • 100% of the rooms must have a TV
  • There must be soap and bath towels
  • Reception
  • Breakfast available

Two stars

  • Internet available at the hotel
  • Pay by credit card
  • Breakfast buffet available
  • Shower cream in the shower

Three Stars

  • Telephone in the room
  • Reception open at least 14 hours
  • Hair dryer

Four stars

  • Minibar
  • Reception open at least 16 hours
  • Lobby with seating area and hotel bar
  • Minibar
  • Armchair and small table
  • Hygiene products

Five stars

  • Safe in the room
  • Reception open 24/7
  • Concierge
  • Parking service
  • Room service 24 / 7
  • Hygiene products in bottles
  • Turndown service in the evening
  • Personal greeting in the hotel room

Sweden is part of the Hotelstars Union and so are Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Switzerland.

NOTE: The major hotel countries France, Great Britain, Italy, Spain, Ireland and Portugal have therefore NOT joined.

If you want to read the full set of regulations, you can find it at Hotel stars.

Hotel Indigo Barcelona
The fine boutique hotel Hotel Indigo in Barcelona, ​​Spain

Hotel stars in Spain

Spain does not have a national system for classifying hotels, but the regions set their own stars. The criteria that can be read about online are quite few and to get five stars it seems to be enough that the room is at least 17 m2, the bathroom is at least 5 m2 and there is a telephone, heating, air conditioning, lift, bar and safe. A rather cramped 5-star room in my eyes?

Hotel stars in the US (and North America)

In the United States, AAA (American Motorists) maintains the official classification of hotels and motels. Here, diamonds are set by secret inspectors, who travel across the country to test the hotels. The grade seems to be set depending on the overall experience and on everything from how good the service was to how nice the premises are. The classification simply indicates the type of experience you will get if you book the hotel.

Number of diamonds
En = Budget. Easy.
Two = Affordable and of good standard. Most common motel classification.
Three = A little nicer, a little more service and with good guest comfort.
Four = Slightly more luxurious, well equipped and with good service.
Let's do it = Ultimate luxury, sophisticated and super comfortable. Personal and perfect service. Fully equipped.

Read more on AAA's page on classification of hotels and restaurants here.

Hotel stars in the UK

The classification of hotels in Great Britain is put together by the AA, Visit Britain, Visit Wales and Visit Scotland. The 4 different systems have agreed on a standard, which (of course) differs slightly from the EU's general standard. Wifi in the room, for example, seems to only be guaranteed for four-star hotels, but on the other hand, a four-star hotel should be able to offer Afternoon tea. A bar with full rights you can expect from a one-star hotel and up.

Read more about the criteria for getting hotel stars in the UK on VisitEngland Assessment Services (external pdf)

Read more
Hike with the family in the Dolomites

Hotel stars with the charter companies

The charter companies set their own classifications for hotels, it is not uncommon for 4-star hotels on to receive more stars in the charter companies' catalogs. How can that happen? The charter companies do not compare the hotels' class between countries and destinations, but assess the hotels in relation to other hotels in the same destination. An example of this is Hotel Helios in Balchik, Bulgaria. According to Ving does the hotel have 4 stars. According to, only 3 stars.

The Cambrian - Switzerland
The Spa facility at The Cambrian in Adelboden, Switzerland

Good things to consider when booking a hotel

It's good to be a little skeptical! As there is no universal standard, my best advice is to always take the number of stars with a grain of salt. If there is no standard, it may be the hotel itself that has set its stars - which can often be a bit misleading. I've seen really crappy campsites calling themselves 5-star on booking sites. Allow me to doubt that classification…

The stars on an officially classified hotel basically only indicate the type of service the hotel offers, the stars say nothing about how fresh and stylish a hotel is. A new boutique hotel that has 4 stars can be infinitely fresher than an old five star hotel that has not been renovated in 10 years.

Read the reviews from other travelers, but also take them with a grain of salt. Are there very few reviews? Ignore them. Is it over a hundred reviews? Then there is surely a grain of truth in them. If half of the travelers write that the bathrooms are mouldy, I would probably think about booking another hotel - regardless of the number of stars. Keep in mind that travelers usually seem to post when they are either super happy or super unhappy. Few have the time to write reviews when they only think the hotel is "Perfectly OK".

Look at the hotel's own and other travelers' photos of the hotel. Sure, pictures can lie, but it feels a bit far-fetched that someone would Photoshop a crack into the tile. If the pictures look bad, I wouldn't book that hotel - regardless of the number of stars.

What kind of hotel do I usually book when I travel?

I really book both high and low! When we are out driving in, for example, the USA or in New Zealand, we almost only stay in 2 or 3 star motels. When we go to big cities, I often book 4-star boutique hotels. In Thailand, I book exclusively 5-star resorts. Every trip has its budget and purpose. However, I have now learned that I should not automatically filter on 5-star hotels when I book the holiday accommodation. Me and my flip-flops honestly don't need valet parking or "personal greeting in the room" in Thailand. Now if they use that classification in Thailand. :)

Regent Singapore
Hotel breakfast galore at Regent Singapore

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Read comments (3)
    • I would guess that it is just as wonderfully random with campsites as with hotels! Looking forward to hearing about the criteria for a five star campsite in the UK! Afternoon tea and pub perhaps? :)

  • Interesting reading. I always filter on at least three stars when I search, but focus mostly on reviews and googling when I choose and not so much on the number of stars. Lived a lot in two-star motels in the US in the past, but have become more picky over the years and now I prefer four-star :-) Nice, by the way, that you stayed at Hotel Indigo in Barcelona, ​​I was about to book that hotel both times we were in Barcelona but then there were other hotels instead. Still very curious about that hotel though.

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