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Hotel Star Ratings Explained

At first glance, the hotel star rating system seems straightforward. You choose a destination, find a four-star or five-star hotel to book, and then the countdown begins. But sometimes when you arrive, that hotel doesn’t quite match your expectations. This is because the hotel star rating system is actually quite complex. A four-star hotel in London, for example, can be worlds apart from a four-star hotel in Turkey. And then there are places like Dubai, where you often read about seven-star hotels that don’t seem to exist anywhere else! All of this can make choosing a hotel incredibly difficult. But that’s where we come in.

What is the Hotel Star Rating System?

The hotel star rating system was originally introduced as a method for categorising hotels based on their quality. Back then, this meant taking the basic facilities into account such as en-suite bathrooms and a clearly defined reception area. But now, the objectives of hotel rating have expanded. It’s not uncommon for more holistic factors such as the overall experience, and ambience to be taken into account too.

However, there is no standardised hotel star rating system around the world. This means that when you travel, you will notice a difference between similarly priced four-star or five-star hotels. Guests who stay in two hotels with the same star rating are likely to receive similar amenities and services. But similar does not necessarily equate to the same quality. Instead, in the context of hotels, “similar” refers to the same level of features.

Hotel Star Ratings in the UK

In the UK, star ratings are awarded and managed by four Hotel rating boards, but the AA is one of the main ones.

The AA

The AA introduced a star rating system to classify hotels in 1912. The ratings that were developed are applied all over the UK. The hotel ratings are broken down into categories based on the type of hotel – hotel, country house hotel, small hotel, townhouse hotel, metro hotel. These hotels are then rated using the simplified table below:

AA Hotel Rating System

One-star: Courteous staff provide an informal yet competent service. All rooms are ensuite or have private facilities. A designated eating area serves breakfast daily and dinner most evenings.

Two-stars: A restaurant or dining room serves breakfast daily and dinner most evenings.

Three-stars: Staff are smartly and professionally presented. The restaurant or dining room is open to residents and non-residents.

Four-stars: Professional, uniformed staff respond to your needs or requests. Well-appointed public areas. The restaurant or dining room is open to residents and non-residents. Lunch is available in a designated eating area.

Five-stars: Luxurious accommodation and public areas. A range of extra facilities and a multilingual service available. Guests are greeted at the hotel entrance. High-quality menu and wine list.

As you can see, based on the AA’s hotel star rating system, a significant degree of care is required for hotels seeking to be awarded a four-star or five-star rating. Ensuring that the hotel has the right staff is key, because professional uniformed staff, a positive greeting on arrival, and multilingual service can enhance the overall experience for guests.

Hotel Star Ratings in the USA

The United States on the other hand, has a number of competing systems – the American Automobile Association awards diamonds while the other main system, Forbes Travel Guide, awards stars.

Forbes Travel Guide

The Forbes Travel Guide was created by Mobil in 1958. Assessment ratings are given by anonymous, staff members in stars, based on objective criteria. A Forbes Travel Guide five-star rating is a considerable honour, with approximately 100 hotels receiving the top honour. Although the amenities and on-site facilities are taken into account, the Forbes star rating system emphasises service. Like the AA in the UK, an incredible amount of effort needs to be invested to ensure that the staff make guests feel valued and appreciated to receive the highest rating. This is explicit in the ratings guide below:

Forbes Travel Guide Ratings System


  • These are outstanding, often iconic properties with virtually flawless service and amazing facilities.


  • These are exceptional properties, offering high levels of service and quality of facilities to match.


  • These are excellent properties with consistently good service and facilities.


The American Automobile Association (AAA) was introduced in 1963. The AAA evaluates hotels in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The diamond ratings indicate the extensiveness of services, amenities, and décor provided, as judged by full-time professional evaluators, AAA member feedback, and quality standards. Over time, the AAA ratings system has evolved and there’s now even a score for “connective technology”. This score is a reflection of the hotel’s capacity to connect with its guests. It includes things like free WiFi, USB ports, mobile apps, mobile key technology, kiosks and digital messaging services. Unlike the Forbes guide, the AAA use diamonds to demonstrate the standard of a hotel.

AAA Diamond Ratings Guide

Diamond_Icons_1_blue-minOne Diamond

These hotels provide essential, no-frills accommodation. They meet the basic requirements pertaining to comfort, cleanliness, and hospitality.

Diamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minTwo Diamond

These hotels appeal to the traveller seeking slightly more than basic accommodation. The overall physical attributes, design elements, and amenities exceed that of a one diamond property. The amenities of the facility are typically at a moderate price.

Diamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minThree Diamond

These hotels appeal to the traveller with comprehensive needs. Properties are multifaceted with a distinguished style, including marked upgrades in the quality of physical attributes, amenities, and level of comfort provided.

Diamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minDiamond_Icons_1_blue-minFour Diamond

These hotels are upscale in all areas. The accommodation is refined and stylish. The physical attributes reflect an obvious enhanced level of quality throughout. The fundamental hallmarks at this level include an extensive array of amenities combined with a high degree of hospitality, service, and attention to detail.


Hotel Rating Systems Across Europe

No uniformed hotel rating system exists across Europe. However, there are initiatives gradually being introduced across Europe, such as the Hotel Stars Union. This coalition is working towards a “harmonised hotel classification with common criteria and procedures in the participating countries”. The hotel associations of Austria, Germany, Hungary, Greece, Switzerland and Malta, amongst others, are part of the Hotel Stars Union. The Union enhances the reputation and quality of the hotel industry in the participating countries by creating transparency and security for the guests.  

Hotel Star Rating Systems in France

Booking a hotel room in France is now less confusing since the country overhauled its hotel rating system in 2012. France now has a standardised system categorising every single hotel in France. All hotels, irrespective of their star rating must have a reception area. They must provide reliable information on the services offered. Every French hotel should be able to monitor customer satisfaction and deal with complaints. All French hotels must also employ staff who are sensitive to the needs of handicapped guests. Lastly, every French hotel must make some kind of commitment to sustainable development. Each and every hotel in France is checked by an independent auditor every five years.

However, unlike the rating systems in the UK, and America, the requirements for each category in France are primarily focused on facilities. There is no real mention of service or the overall experience. Instead, there is a focus on room sizes:

French Hotel Star Rating System


  • Double rooms have to measure at least 9 square meters (approximately 96 square feet or 10 feet by 9.6 feet).
  • This does not include the bathroom, which may be ensuite or shared with other guests.
  • The reception area must be at least 20 square meters (approximately 215 square feet or 15 feet by 15 feet).


  • Same minimum room size as a one-star hotel, but staff members must speak an additional European language other than French.
  • The reception desk must be open at least 10 hours a day, and the reception area must measure at least 50 square meters (538 square feet or 24 feet by 22.5 feet).


  • Three-star hotel rooms must have at least 13.5 square meters including the bathroom (145 square feet or 12 feet by 12 feet).
  • The reception area must be at least 50 square meters (538 square feet or 24 feet by 22.5 feet) and be open at least 10 hours a day.
  • Staff must speak an additional European language other than French.


  • Guest rooms must be at least 16 square meters including bathrooms (172 square feet or 12 feet by 14 feet).
  • If the hotel has more than 30 rooms, the reception desk must be open 24 hours.


  • Guest rooms must be at least 24 square meters (258 square feet or 15 feet by 17 feet).
  • Staff must be able to speak two foreign languages including English.
  • Five-star hotels are also required to provide air conditioning, valet parking, room service, a concierge, and an escort to the room at the time of check-in.

Do Seven-Star Hotels Exist?

Some hotels are referred to as seven-star hotels. One of the most famous is the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai which opened in 1998. However, as no rating system around the world has a seven-star category, this rating does not actually exist. According to the hotel, the label originates from an unnamed British journalist on a press trip and that they do not encourage its use nor do they use it in their advertising. Another hotel, that is commonly referred to as a seven-star hotel is Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi but again, as the rating system does not have seven stars, this hotel only has a five-star rating.

The Galleria in Milan, which opened in 2007 claims to have a seven-star certificate from SGS Italy. SGS Italy is an inspection, verification, testing and certification company. But as within the United Arab Emirates, no traditional organisation or formal body awards or recognises any rating over five-star deluxe in Italy. This means that such claims are meaningless and predominantly used for advertising purposes.

If you’re looking to book your next tailor-made holiday and would like us to find the perfect hotel for you, why not contact us today? Our trusted travel team are very knowledgeable and have strong relationships with our partner hotels. We’ll be able to find you a hotel with a star rating that accurately reflects what you’ll experience when you arrive.

Read more:

The Best Five-Star Hotels in London

London’s Most Stylish Luxury Hotels

New York’s Most Stylish Luxury Hotels



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