What Hotel Ratings Really Mean

If you are in the market for a hotel for your next vacation, you might assume the first logical step would be to read reviews or check ratings for hotels around your destination. Upon perusal of such ratings, you might quickly discover that those stars mean different things to different people. In fact, a myriad of ratings might only serve to confuse the selection process, rather than narrow your prospects. If you are in a quandary over how to use hotel ratings to your advantage, we have tips to help you understand what those ratings really mean.

Consider the Source

The first step in understanding ratings is to consider the source where the rating comes from. Some hotel ratings, such as the AAA Diamond  and Mobile rating systems, are completed by professional travel reviewers, while others are done by fellow travelers who have stayed in the accommodations. Professional reviews are typically more objective and follow a set protocol, while reader or traveler reviews might be more subjective and affected by a variety of factors.

If you are traveling to another country, it is important to find out the source of their hotel rating systems as well. In the UK, AA is considered the premium source of hotel information, while Germans get most of their information from the hotel industry association. Some countries actually have the governments create the rating system, with specific laws governing how the assessment process must be done.

Read the Fine Print

Most review systems will provide fine print that explains the ratings and what they mean. This helps prevent you from comparing apples to oranges, since a three-star rating at Priceline may be somewhat different than a three-star rating at Hotwire. The fine print under the review should explain what is included in that particular rating, to give you a better idea of how to compare reviews.

What if a Hotel is Not Rated?

While every hotel rated by AAA or Mobile is recommended by that company, the lack of a rating doesn’t necessarily mean the accommodations did not measure up to their minimum standards. In some cases, the hotel may be too new, or may have undergone recent renovations and a current review has not yet been completed. In these cases, an FYI rating will replace the standard star system. However, some of these hotels may not have made the cut, so it is important to do further research before booking one of these hotels.

Read Full Reviews

While a star rating can provide a significant amount of information about what is included in hotel accommodations, there is simply no substitute for a full review written about a hotel. When possible, combine the rating system with a review written by a professional travel journalist to get the best information possible. You might pick up a detail or two in the review that indicates a particular hotel may not be the right choice for you after all.

Beware of Inflated Ratings

Sometimes when you are researching reviews, you might find a hotel with a six or seven-star rating. These inflated rating systems are typically offered by the hotels themselves and do not reflect an accurate assessment of the accommodations. Professional reviewers are still only giving five stars for the top-rated hotels across the country. Any more than this indicates that the hotel may be just trying to blow its own horn louder than the competition down the street. If you are paying attention to the source of the rating, you can rest assured you won’t be basing your hotel decision on what the establishment is saying about itself.

Four-Star vs. Five-Star

Many travelers are still unsure about the difference between a four and five-star hotel, since these ratings are both reserved for the cream-of-the-crop in travel accommodations. The primary difference between the two will mostly be seen in service, with five-star hotels greeting guests by name, providing turn-down service without a request and personalized wake-up calls. However, four-star establishments also provide first-rate service and high quality accommodations, so you may not even miss that extra star during your stay.

Hotel ratings are designed to help you make the best choice in accommodations for your needs – as long as you know how to use those rating systems to your advantage. With so many systems and criteria used for evaluating hotels, it can be difficult to know which ones are the most reliable and which are purely subjective. By learning the ins and outs of rating standards and the sources that provide them, you will be much better equipped to get the best value out of your hotel rooms.

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How to Find the Best Prices on Hotels

When you are planning a vacation, your accommodations typically make up a large percentage of your travel expenses. By shopping around for the best value in hotels at your destination, you can put much more money in your pocket to use for entertainment and souvenirs during your stay. We have the best tips on how to save a bundle on your next hotel booking.

About Comparison Websites

The Internet has become the destination of choice for bargains of all kinds, particularly when it comes to travel. With a single click of the mouse, you can compare rates for dozens of hotels. Comparison websites do the hard work for you, collecting the best rates for your destination in one easy to use platform. However, it is important to understand how these websites work before you sign on, to ensure you know what you are getting into.

While some websites simply compare the rates of hotels in the area, other sites primarily focus on price. You won’t know which hotel you are staying in until the booking is made. Other websites combine the forces of all these comparison websites into a single venue, so you can shop around for the best rate without heading to dozens of individual websites to do so.

The Power of Negotiation

When you find a good rate through a comparison website, it can be beneficial to call the hotel directly before booking through the Internet. When you call, begin by asking about special discounts the hotel is currently running. Next, quote the rate you received through your comparison website and ask the hotel to match it, if that rate was lower than the initial prices the hotel agent quoted. Hotel agents are better tuned into the current room availability and will be more willing to negotiate if bookings are on the low side.

Show Some Flexibility

If you can be flexible with the precise location of your hotel or the specific dates you travel, you might be able to save a significant amount on your hotel rates. Accommodations in the heart of the city usually cost more than those found on the outskirts of town. Hotels in the business district might cost more during the week than on weekends, while accommodations near major tourist attractions might offer great deals on weekdays.

Go Off-Season

Every popular travel destination has an off-season, when rates for everything – including hotels – may be lower. In Europe, the off-season is in the middle of winter, while summer months in the Caribbean tend to see lower fares. If you don’t have a particular time of year that you need to travel, compare the rates for hotels at different times of the year to see when the best prices are available.

Consider Your Amenities

Many hotels today offer a wealth of amenities, including swimming pools, fitness facilities and spas. If you have no plans to take advantage of these amenities, you are paying a higher hotel fee for services you will not benefit from. Instead, look for a hotel of equal quality without the additional facilities. You may find the room rate is much cheaper for a hotel better tailored to your specific needs.

Become a Frequent Traveler

Most airlines and hotel chains offer frequent traveler plans that allow you to accumulate points that you can use toward future visits. Some airline programs even allow you to use your points to save on hotel accommodations as well as air fare. If you travel a lot, consider signing up for one of these programs to save big bucks on travels you take later on.

Working with Travel Agents

There is some question over whether working with travel agents really saves you money. While it is true that agents make a commission from the hotels they book, they also are often privy to special discounts not available to the general public. In addition, travel agents know what a good price for a hotel might be, so they can advise you accordingly. They might also get a few bonuses thrown into the mix, like extra amenities in your hotel room or a discount on entertainment or activities in the area.

There are plenty of ways to save on hotel rooms today, from comparison shopping online to negotiating directly with the hotel for the best price. With a little extra footwork and know-how, you can rest assured your travels will include the best hotel room at the best price possible.

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How to Book a Hotel Online

In the Internet age, most travelers make the bulk of their reservations in front of their home computer. This is particularly true of hotel accommodations, where photos and listings of amenities can make the comparison process that much easier. However, booking a hotel online can be more complicated than one might think – particularly if your primary goal is to get the best possible room at the best price. To help you with your online booking, we have a few tips to consider.

Start Early

To ensure the best selection of rooms available, begin your online hotel search as early as possible. While some travel experts recommend waiting until the last minute to book to get the best prices, this could also mean “no room at the inn” if you aren’t careful. When you begin your search early, you will have a wider range of rooms to choose from, which may also mean you have more bargaining power if you are comparing the rates of three or four comparable hotels in the area.

Do Your Homework

Take the time to really research the hotels you are interested in before you book a room. While the pictures and descriptions on the hotel website may look enticing, keep in mind that this is merely marketing material for the company. Of course they will put their best foot forward! Instead, focus on professional rating systems or traveler reviews that will offer a more objective opinion of the accommodations. You can also talk to individuals who have stayed in that hotel to get their honest opinion on the quality of the place.

Use the Comparison Websites

Comparison websites quickly compare room rates for a variety of hotels around your destination as well as different rooms within a single establishment. Keep in mind that bidding sites will not give you a choice of hotels or rooms; in fact, you may not even know where you are staying until after your credit card is charged! While this might be an effective way to save money, it won’t help you much if you have specific requests involving your location, room or amenities.

Talk to the Hotel Directly

Once you have found a hotel, call the establishment directly to confirm the listing and the description on the hotel’s website. If you find a lower price on a comparison website than the hotel site is offering, ask if the reservation service can provide a similar rate to you. In addition to getting information directly from the hotel, you can also gauge the quality of the service provided by the front desk before you put any money down on a room.

Make Specific Requests at Reservation Time

If you want a specific location within the hotel or you have special needs to address, the best time to make those requests is when you initially book your room – when you have the most negotiating power. It is also a good idea to call the hotel directly right before your request to reconfirm that your request will be honored.

Consider Becoming a Member

Loyalty plans or privilege clubs offer the opportunity to rack up savings if you use the same hotel chain often. Some will even offer some sort of perk or discount just for signing up for the program. Most of the time, loyalty programs do not cost anything to join and the benefits you receive could make it well worth your time.

Get Direct Contact Information

When you book your hotel online, make sure you get direct contact information for the hotel where you will be staying, including an address and local phone number. This way, you can call the hotel directly right before your visit to confirm your room and any special requests you might have made at the time of your booking. You also have the necessary information if you run late for your check-in or need directions to the hotel once you arrive at your destination.

Ask about the Cancellation Policy

When you book your hotel room, find out what the cancellation policy is. Reservations purchased through some comparison websites are non-transferable or refundable. Some hotels also run the charge for the room through your credit card at the time of your booking, instead of waiting until you check in. If you have to cancel your reservation, you may have a more difficult time getting your refund.

Booking hotel rooms online is a quick, convenient way to plan your next vacation. With these tips in mind, you can rest assured your online booking process will go as smoothly and successfully as possible.

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8 Tips for Choosing the Best Hotel for Your Family

When you are traveling with kids, finding the right hotel can make all the difference between a family vacation that is relaxing and enjoyable for everyone – and one that is challenging at best. Ideal family hotels have space, amenities and activities for all ages, so that everyone in your clan enjoys their travels to their fullest. To ensure your vacation plans go off without a hitch, we have 10 features to look for when choosing a hotel for your family.


Sometimes the best hotel choice is the one that is closest to the chicken nuggets and movie theatre. When you are searching for a hotel, look at a map of the area to find out what other amenities might be close by. If your hotel is in the midst of fast food joints, kid-friendly activities and a grocery store stocked with emergency supplies, you are probably good to go. Plus, you may meet a number of other families in your hotel who selected their spot for the same reasons you did!

Room Size

A little extra space goes a long way when traveling with kids. A suite is often the best choice for families, so that parents get a separate sleeping spot from the kids. If your children are older, adjoining rooms that give each person a little extra space and privacy might be just the ticket. In addition to enjoying more sleeping space, you will appreciate the extra room that allows the children to play comfortably when you are in your room for an extended period of time.

Discounts for Younger Travelers

Many family-friendly hotels offer discounts for kids, whether it is a “kids stay free” deal or reduced prices on dining and other amenities. Some hotels also sell tickets for local, kid-friendly attractions at a reduced rate or provide coupons for family dining and activities. When you book your hotel, ask about any specials they might be running for families.

Dining Options

A free continental breakfast can be a great value if you are feeding a family of four or more. Some families also like to have a restaurant on the hotel site, to make it easy to grab a bite before heading out in the morning or after coming in from a busy day of sightseeing. If there isn’t anything available right at the hotel, ask about dining options in the vicinity so you can plan family meal times accordingly.

Room Service

Room service can be a really nice amenity for families that like to turn in early at night or grab a quick bite in the room in the morning. It is also nice to have the option to order a few goodies if you tend to come back to the hotel in the afternoon for naptime. For those families that run themselves ragged at the beach or amusement park during the day, a quiet dinner in the room with a movie might be the perfect end to a busy day.

Swimming Pools

Most kids love to splash, even if swimming is not their forte. A hotel swimming pool can be the perfect place for kids to burn off excess energy or for Mom and Dad to relax after a hectic day. Heated indoor pools allow for swimming fun no matter what the weather looks like outside and can be the perfect solution to whiling away a rainy day on vacation.


It is a fact; kids love snack time, but this can be an expensive issue when you are on vacation. If you choose a hotel room with a refrigerator, you can keep water bottles, juice boxes and a few assorted munchies on hand for when the munchies bite. It is also the perfect place to store food that was finished at the last restaurant meal, especially if you also have a microwave to warm up leftovers when Junior decides he is ready to eat them.

Babysitting Services

Some family-friendly hotels offer babysitting services so Mom and Dad can sneak away for a little alone time on vacation. These services usually come with a fee, but the individuals hired for the purpose are typically screened so parents can rest assured their precious little ones are in good hands.

Finding a family-friendly hotel is easy, once you know what to look for. The right mix of amenities, activities and comfort features ensure that everyone in your family enjoys the best vacation possible. With these tips in mind, you can search out the hotel at your destination that is sure to please everyone in your clan.

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6 Questions to Ask Before Booking a Hotel Room

When you are booking a hotel room to a destination you have never been to before, the process can be somewhat challenging. You have absolutely no point of reference, aside from some online reviews and a few Internet photos, to help you determine whether these accommodations will best meet your needs. To help you find the right hotel for your travels, we have a list of questions to ask when you book your room.

Are there any large events booked for your hotel during my stay?

Conferences, weddings and other major events can create congestion in common areas and make for really long elevator waits. You might also find the hotel to be extraordinarily noisy in the evenings when you are trying to get your rest. It is always worth asking about major events at the time you book your hotel. If you find that there is an event the hotel is hosting, you can ask for a room in a separate wing or look for another quieter hotel for your visit.

Are some of your rooms preferable to others?

While most hotels offer a hierarchy of rooms that extend from small, single rooms to deluxe suites, you might also discover that there are discrepancies within each category as well. For example, certain rooms within a hotel tend to be quieter or offer a better view than others. Perhaps a specific floor of the hotel was recently renovated or provides the easiest access to the fitness center. While these differences may result in a slightly higher room rate, a quiet floor or a view of the pool might very well be worth every penny.

What restaurants or services are nearby?

Many hotels offer stores and restaurants within their boundaries, but these tend to be pricier than your standard fare. This is particularly true of the basic necessities and toiletries typically offered through a hotel gift shop. Find out what eateries and stores might be near to the hotel at the time you book your room. This way you can research those places before your visit to find the best restaurants and services for your needs. By doing so, if you find you need a toothbrush or a bottle of pain medication during your visit, you will already know where to go to get them.

Can I get a discount on my room rate?

You may have spent time on the comparison websites to find the cheapest possible room rate already, but it never hurts to ask the hotel directly whether there are any special discounts going on at the time of your booking. Hotel desk clerks are usually much savvier to the current booking rate in the hotel, and may be more willing to negotiate if room capacity is light. You might also find certain specials on room rates that are not disclosed online through comparison websites or even the hotel chain’s website.

Are there any additional costs for staying at your hotel?

You might think you are getting a bargain on your hotel room – until you total up the cost of parking, Internet and phone calls that are tacked on. Find out precisely what is included in your standard room fare before you book your hotel to ensure you are comparing apples to apples. While one hotel may have a lower room rate, the additional charges assessed might make those accommodations much pricier than the hotel down the street.

Does your hotel offer complimentary breakfast?

This may not seem like a grand savings at the time you book your hotel, but those early morning eats can add up quickly if you indulge in them daily. This is particularly true for traveling families, who can eat their fill from the convenience of the hotel before starting out on their day. In addition to saving money, you will save the time of finding a restaurant nearby and heading there for your morning fare. If the hotel does offer a complimentary breakfast, find out what type of fare is served and the hours the restaurant is open to ensure the offerings will be appropriate for your travel group.

Finding a hotel room in an area you have never been before can be intimidating, but a little research goes a long way. Hotels are usually willing to offer information, but it’s up to you to get the right information out of them. By knowing the right questions to ask before you book your hotel room, you are more likely to get the best accommodations for your needs for a relaxing, enjoyable stay.

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