What is the Difference Between FOUR- and FIVE-star Hotels?

Words by:

Nyssa P. Chopra
It’s quite the debatable question in the travel, tourism, and hospitality industries. To make matters more confusing, not only are there multiple rating systems (Forbes, AAA, etc.), but also the standards upon which the stars are designated are completely arbitrary and they vary from country to country. I’ve had incredibly memorable experiences at 4* hotels and a few sub-par experiences at 5* hotels, so I view the ratings with a slight reluctance.
difference between four and five star hotels
Travel, tourism, and hospitality professionals weigh in and offer their two cents on the perennial question:
Ani Shah, a travel journalist specializing in emerging and luxury destinations: I’d say that the differences can be in subtleties. In a 5*, usually, the quality and variety of food (as a breakfast-lover) is better, concierge is more likely to be in-house than an outside hired service and the standard of room is more luxurious with all the touches and facility to make it more homely – Kettle / Nespresso machine, mini-bar (sometimes inclusive), reading material and useful local info, in-room seating area. On the whole, the 5* has more comfort and luxury. But it can be the case that it feels larger and less personal. I’ve stayed in some 4* hotels that got to me by name and became an extended family, whereas some chain 5* hotels have felt impersonal and intimidating.
Lacy Colley Yamaoka, a travel writer specializing in experiential luxury travel: The four- and five-star hotel discrepancy can be quite confusing to the modern traveler, especially with the shift in the luxury marketplace. After my time in the luxury hotel business, the distinction that never sways is guest experience – every request is carefully anticipated before the guest is even aware at a five-star hotel. Such luxuries are often made available at a four-star hotel, although not always delivered with service. Also to add more complexity, the rating system is not seamless worldwide. What is now more weighted in the industry over a shiny plaque in the lobby are online TripAdvisor ratings coupled with guest testimonials.
Katie Dillon, a luxury travel and lifestyle writer: To me, the main differences between the categories are personalized service and attention to details. While every hotel is a bit different, five-star hotels tend to anticipate a guest’s needs while also keeping record of them for future visits. Concierge desks can score hard-to-get reservations and there are enough staff members to flawlessly execute requests. I always feel well taken care of versus lost in a large hotel. In regard to exquisite details, these might range from extraordinary floral arrangements throughout the property to full tablesettings at each meal. I often find flaws in four-star rooms (chipped paint, forgotten newspaper delivery, etc.) which is rare in those that are five-star. I am always impressed by how many times I’m addressed by name in a five-star hotel, too.
Stephen Barth, a hospitality lawyer and professor: Today, for a variety of reasons (levels of service and amenities are often self-assessed and self-regulated, difficulty of accountability, proliferation of management companies, turnover of said management companies, focus on revenue rather than customer care) the ratings of hotels have become relatively suspect, particularly outside of North America, but North America is not exempt.
From the consumer perspective, the best approach to get what you are expecting due to the “rating” is to pro-actively wade through as many “on-line reviews” as possible (wisdom of the crowds). There are many travelers that relied upon the “ratings,” experienced a less than stellar stay, only to have their disappointment compounded by learning that legal recourse, unfortunately, is nearly impossible — remarkably time-consuming and rarely, if ever, cost-effective. From the hotel’s perspective, the best practice is if you “say it” then “deliver it.” Primarily  because it is the right thing to do, but also because there is always potential class action litigation lurking when enough consumers feel the pain, and the internet makes connecting those pain points much easier than ever before.
The key differences that I’ve noticed (take these simply as observations instead of hard-and-fast rules):
● Five-star hotels must provide enhanced services such as valet parking, concierge service, 24-hour reception, and 24-hour room service. At a four-star this may be offered, but is not compulsory.
● Five-star hotels must have at least one restaurant open to residents and non-residents for all meals seven days a week. (A four-star hotel’s restaurant doesn’t need to offer a full-on lunch service, however this may be offered.)
● Five-star hotels must have ensuite bathrooms.
● Five-star hotels should be up-to-date with the latest technology and the associated conveniences it brings to the customer experience.
● Five-star hotels must have additional facilities, such as secondary dining, fitness center, business center, spa, etc.
● Five-star hotels must offer luxury suites, comprising three separate rooms – bedroom, lounge and bathroom. Four-star hotels may offer suites, but it is not compulsory.
● Five-star hotels will have excellent staffing levels with well-structured and dedicated teams at all management levels, as well as exceptional levels of proactive service and customer care. You should be able to expect an exquisite attention to detail at five-star establishments.
● With four-star hotels, the service should come to you as needed, but with a five-star hotel your every need should be anticipated in advance (i.e., hotel staff of a five-star hotel will take control of luggage from guest’s arrival outside to prompt delivery in bedroom, full 24-hour room service, and 24-hour reception and concierge services).
● With a five-star hotel, from the biggest chain to the smallest boutique hotel, the customer is treated as an individual. The customer service experience is seamless.
● In order to maintain an exceptional level of service, you would expect a higher ratio of staff to guests in five-star hotels, while the inverse is expected in four-star establishments.
● In most five-star hotels you would normally expect a renowned chef who has achieved accolades, ranging from Rosettes to Michelin stars.
● In a five-star hotel every physical aspect of ‘look and feel’ has been specifically designed or chosen for that accommodation whether it’s tableware, bedlinen, fabrics, color schemes, etc. Even within a group of hotels in that chain, it will still feel custom-tailored to the property.
What are the differences for you?