Hotel Star Ratings: how do they work?

Hotel Star Ratings: how do they work?

Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Amanda Stancati

Hotel and resort star ratings are generally provided to would-be visitors on a quality scale from 1-5, with 5 being the best of the best. The issue with hotel star ratings is that while they can be a very helpful guideline when booking all-inclusive vacation packages to Cuba, for instance, there is no actual standardized star-rating system in place.

So how can you truly know what the star ratings mean in terms of quality? The short answer — you can’t. Star ratings vary from destination to destination, and each country (and sometimes each city) has their own set of criteria when determining hotel star ratings.

Canadians love four stars because they want quality but don’t want to pay through the nose. Where we encounter a problem is places where the infrastructure, hydro, water quality, availability of food, literacy level, and training of staff doesn’t meet North American standards, but the hardware still looks like a four star. In these cases, the building looks fairly new but the hotel is not quite up to par with the service.

Hotel Star Ratings in Europe

In Europe, hotels are primarily ranked on a star-rating scale of 1 to 4. Local government agencies and/or independent organizations are responsible for the assignment of hotel star ratings. The criteria used by agencies and organizations comprises unusual details such as the amount of annual tax paid by the hotel. Unfortunately, this type of information is hardly useful to the average traveller, who is more concerned with cleanliness and customer service. Hotel star ratings vary substantially, too, from country to country and even from city to city within a country.

Star ratings are subjective by North Americans. Here, we expect a service that is friendly and quick, whereas what may be satisfactory in a 4-star in Europe is not the same as what we would expect of a 4-star. There is no real method to the madness when it comes to hotel star ratings in Europe. In terms of reliability, cleanliness, and basic services, European 4-star hotels are generally OK. Our best advice is to do your own homework, collect a variety of different hotel reviews and star ratings, and draw your own conclusions. Better yet, talk to a vacation expert who’s actually been there to get an accurate understanding of the hotels you’re interested in visiting.

Hotel Star Ratings in the United States

US hotels are typically ranked on a scale from 1 to 5, and often break down further into 0.5 increments. American consumer travel organizations and guidebooks are in charge of assigning hotel star ratings in the States, but here’s the caveat: each organization uses its own criteria to determine the star ratings. It’s very common to see star ratings vary from 2 to 4, for example, depending on the company giving the rating.

Hotel and Resort Star Ratings in Sun Destinations

Resort star ratings in sun destinations like Punta Cana, Puerto Vallarta and on Jamaica vacations are different, yet again, than the US and Europe. The hotel star ratings in these countries and cities are set by entirely unique parameters. Travel companies, tourist boards and local governments give stars to hotels and resorts. Sometimes, hotels will even rate themselves! Toss into the mix hotel associations and “best available hotel in the area” ratings and now you really have some funky sliding scales. Star ratings are all relative to the area, for example, a 3-star in Cuba is definitely not the same as a 3-star in Aruba. We do not recommend booking a hotel that is less than 4-star for people who have not been there before. Exceptions to this guideline include places in the English Caribbean like Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao, Turks and Caicos, Cayman Islands, and Barbados.

The question is: Where does the hotel fit in the continuum of quality in that particular destination? Much of having a satisfactory vacation depends on how you manage your expectations. A 5-star can mean a lot to different people. If you expect 5-star service at a 3-star hotel, you’ll be disappointed. The best way to know which hotel is best suited to your budget and expectations of quality is to visit a variety of websites and speak with experts and travellers alike — anyone who’s been there. Once you have a handful of reviews, you can use your best judgment to choose the hotel that suits your needs and wants.

We have customer reviews for most of our hotels on our website. But keep in mind – our reviews and reviews on Trip Advisor are about expectations versus delivery. Somebody can go to a 3-star hotel and rate it 5-star because it matches their expectations and what they deem “great.” At the end of the day, talk to a travel agent who has experience with different hotels and can find what’s important to you.


  1. I recently stayed at “La Tonnara”. a so called Hotel in Amantea Italy.
    It has a ranking of 4 stars.
    I think a two star rating would be more appropriate.
    The room they gave us the first night was OK.
    The Hotel is supposed to be sound-proof (far be from it). The place hosts weddings and has noisy restaurants that carry into the wee hours of the morning.
    They say that they will charge one rate and it ends up costing $160/night.
    A bunch of crooks. For that rate I could have stayed at the VAB in Belmonte, a true 4-star hotel, peaceful and graceful. AVOID, AVOID, AVOID

  2. What is the criteria of a 1,2,3,4,5 Star Vacations. I know that the 5 star is the best but could you tell me what is the difference between each star?

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