Star Ratings for Hotels – How do they Work?

With the emergence of sites like Yelp and Google for Business, you can find reviews and ratings for nearly all business establishments. However, hotels have been rated since long before the internet became widely used. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel or motel, you likely heard it referred to in quality by a star rating. 

Those achieving three or four stars generally even display the accomplishment on their front doors or prominently on their website. While those on the lower end of the scale are less likely to openly advertise that fact, it’s easy for guests to find out, as most booking websites have it visible. But, how do star ratings work, and who decides how many a hotel deserves?

The Star Rating System Explained

You may be shocked to learn that there is no governance across the world, or even across the country, for rating hotels. To some extent, hotels may choose their rating based on their perceived value to their guests. However, some standards are widely accepted in the United States that generally guide the number of stars an accommodation deserves. The standards take into account room specifications like furniture, amenities such as restaurants, pools, and spas, and quality of service.

Star Ratings from 1 to 5

To achieve one star, lodging accommodations don’t need to provide much to their guests. Simply a bed and access to a community bathroom will suffice. Other than reception (which may not even be accessible all the time), there is likely no one on-site to make sure your stay is enjoyable.

A step up from this is a two-star establishment, which gives guests a slightly more comfortable experience by offering rooms with private bathrooms, televisions, and/or closets. Some food may be provided, such as a free or paid continental breakfast, but there is likely no traditional restaurant on site.

Three-star hotels focus heavily on guest experience while still providing rooms at reasonable rates. Generally, these establishments offer larger rooms and furnish them with comforts such as desks, sofas, and larger bathrooms. In three start hotels, you’ll likely find employees working hard to ensure guests are comfortable and satisfied with their stay. There will always be someone available at reception, as well as the addition of a concierge to help handle travel logistics, book reservations or provide other guest services. Almost always, these hotels have either a restaurant or bar (or sometimes both) on the premises as well.

Generally thought of as the best class of hotels in the U.S. are those with four stars. Rooms come equipped with safes for your valuables, higher-quality linens, and updated technology. Most will also have a desk suitable for those traveling for business as well. Four-star hotels nearly always have a pool on-site as well as a gym, and offer services like valet and laundry to make your stay extra comfortable.

Five stars are usually reserved for luxury resorts offering over-the-top service and amenities to guests. These establishments are pricey, but that extra cost gets you on-site activities like golf courses and day-spas. The number of staff attending to guest needs is also high at five-star hotels. Unlike in other hotels, these employ childcare providers, personal trainers, personal assistants, etc.

Other Rating Organizations and Websites

As mentioned above, hotels can choose their star rating based on the amenities and services they provide. However, a few organizations exist that rate hotels externally, often influencing guests when booking a place to stay.

American Automobile Association

Don’t let the name fool you, AAA doesn’t just focus on automobiles. They also have strict criteria for rating hotels. Rather than the star system, AAA uses diamonds for their ratings. The highest achievable level is Five Diamond, signifying “world-class luxury,” but requirements are so strict that only 0.4% of establishments achieve this.


The folks at Forbes rely on personal experience when determining their ratings for hotels. They send inspectors inside each location to better evaluate service levels and the actual quality of the amenities rather than simply ranking on their existence. When developing their coveted travel guides, Forbes only includes those hotels in the top two tiers of their rankings.

Star Ratings vs. Guest Reviews

We live in a world where information is shared in seconds. There has been a shift in recent years in regards to how consumers purchase items and experiences. The hospitality industry has not been immune from this. While some travelers still prefer to use ratings like the star system to guide their purchasing or booking decisions, others prefer to hear testimony from previous guests.  

Websites such as, Yelp, and TripAdvisor have only made this process easier. You can now access millions of reviews of hotels, restaurants, and other businesses with a couple of clicks. These are indeed helpful as they tend to highlight extreme cases of great service or very poor service. However, they don’t quite give the full picture of an establishment, and thus are commonly used in conjunction with ratings so consumers can make an informed decision for the experience they wish to have.

Impact of Hospitality Employees on Reviews and Ratings

A hotel doesn’t just include its walls, furniture, and amenities. It’s also a combination of the services provided by all those employed. Many roles in hospitality directly influence guest experience and ultimately, hotel success. For a hotel to receive excellent cleanliness reviews, housekeeping must be diligent in their work with each room they clean. Those at reception and the concierge desk hold the responsibility to do anything within their means to ensure guests are happy upon checkout. 

While sometimes difficult, a job in hospitality is a chance to directly influence guest satisfaction. If providing exceptional service is something you strive for, then a role in hospitality may be right for you. We keep an updated list of openings, stocked with a variety of roles within the industry.  Your next role is out there – today is the day to take the first step!