Are Hotel Star Ratings Even Reliable? A Travel Agency CEO Tells Us

When you start to plan a vacation, it can be fun to research destinations and accommodations that will provide a refreshing getaway. As you compare all of the beautiful hotels around the world, you'll naturally want to find one that's in an interesting location, within your budget, and offers the amenities you prefer. One way to compare different hotels is to check the star rating that each one has received. This scoring system is separate from the values that result from guest reviews, and the star level is independently assigned to a hotel. But how do you know why one hotel is designated as a 4-star establishment while another one is designated as only 2-star? In an exclusive interview with Explore, Byrd Bergeron, professional travel advisor and CEO of The Travel Byrds, explains how this rating system works and whether these scores are actually reliable.

Bergeron founded The Travel Byrds as a way to enrich her clients' lives through culture and exploration, and her years of extensive research and professional training has made her an informed expert in the travel industry. She understands how a trip can create unforgettable memories and change a person's outlook on the world. Her goal is to equip her clients with the insight they need as they make their plans. When it comes to the hotel star rating system, however, Bergeron cautions that there are a few reasons why travelers should be careful about relying too much on these scores.

Hotel ratings are often inconsistent

Byrd Bergeron begins by explaining what the hotel star rating system is and how it works. "Star ratings are typically assigned by independent organizations based on specific criteria that they decide upon, such as room quality, amenities, service, cleanliness, and overall guest experience," she states. However, she points out that there are several problems with this system. "The standards used for rating hotels can differ between countries and organizations, leading to HUGE inconsistencies," she says. Each organization may use a slightly different method to create these evaluations, which makes it hard to compare ratings equally. 

Bergeron continues by highlighting another potential flaw in this rating process that makes these scores unreliable. "While these are 3rd parties who give the ratings, it's not unusual for this to be a 'pay to play' type system," she explains. This type of favoritism that goes on behind the scenes is another reason why travelers should be cautious about placing too much emphasis on these star ratings when they choose a hotel. Bergeron also describes why these ratings can be very inconsistent. "Some organizations base ratings on amenities such as pools, restaurants, and spas," she says. "Just because a hotel doesn't have a pool doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't give 5-star service!" In fact, there are many reasons why tourists might want to opt for a lower star-rated hotel on their trips, as this choice might save money on amenities that aren't a priority.

Use your own judgment to decide

Instead of relying solely on the star rating system, Byrd Bergeron encourages travelers to use their own judgment when choosing a hotel. "I would take the rating and compare it to a number of other factors," she suggests. "I always look at customer ratings from a variety of sites (not just one), such as Google, Tripadvisor, Yelp,, and many others." By making these comparisons, Bergeron makes up her own mind about the service and amenities provided. She adds an additional tip regarding hotel photos. "I would also skip the pictures on the hotel's website that were professionally taken and instead search for more realistic Google photos or Instagram photos that people may have posted of the property," she suggests.

In addition, your research can help you notice any red flags before you book the hotel, since the star rating may not accurately reflect the current state of the resort. "Ratings are more about the types of amenities or how they were judged on a particular visit from that organization," she says. "Remember, hotel's management can change or things can get run down over time. Check the most recent reviews to be sure this stay is the right one for you!" ‌She also recommends checking out Facebook groups that are focused on specific resorts to read their suggestions. Considering input from many resources, and not just one rating, will help you make the best decision about the hotel that's perfect for your vacation.