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Star Quality: What's in a Hotel Rating?

Site Two: Travelocity offers two ratings, a 1.5-star "Travelocity rating" and a two-smiley rating based on 14 traveler reviews.

days inn south beach guestroomThe Travelocity rating comes with no specifics save for a generic explanation of their inspection and rating guidelines. For one-star ratings, the description reads thusly: "These properties meet a budget-traveler's basic needs for comfort and convenience. They tend to be located near major attractions or thoroughfares and provide clean guest rooms. Many properties do not have a restaurant on site but are usually located within walking distance of dining establishments."

For specifics, you'll need to check with the lay folk. This is where it gets tricky. One lodger says, " The only thing good at this hotel is the location. The rooms are disgusting."

Another more or less agrees: "The cockroaches were friendlier then the staff!"

But another lodger was happier, posting a review entitled "Very Nice":

"This hotel was very nice and kept up. The best rooms are the rooms that are outside poolside. I would stay again next year."

Another reviewer struck a balance: "It was a good value for South Beach. It is an older property but I had a nice room."

So now we're fully in Amazon country, where one person loves a book or CD, and someone else hates it, someone else thinks it's okay, likes the beat, gives it three stars. You would think that a hotel room is less a matter of taste than would be, say, a novel, but this does not seem to be the case.

Site Three: Orbitz's review gives the property a full star more than anyone else, and two stars more than several individual travelers. However, Orbitz gives no specifics for their ratings, offering only the following: "3 Stars - Mid-scale hotels: Discover convenience and comfort in the city or in the suburbs where many of these properties are located. Amenities that may be available include: swimming pools, fitness centers, room service, concierge service and parking. Often you'll find these properties located near highways and office complexes. Rooms and lobbies are nicely furnished, and restaurants are usually located at the property."

Uhh, that's not what quite the folks who stayed there told us!

All of that said, everyone liked the location right on the beach and in the heart of the action; if location and price are your two top priorities, this hotel could be a good choice.

Case Study Two: New York Marriott Marquis
Let's do one in another packed hotel district. Make it Times Square -- the New York Marriott Marquis. The tally:

times square new york cityExpedia:
  • Expedia Rating: Three and a half stars
  • Traveler Rating: 4.5 out of 5.0

    Travelocity:
  • Travelocity Rating: Three and a half stars
  • Traveler Rating: Four and a half smileys

    Orbitz:
  • Orbitz Rating: Three stars
  • Traveler Rating: 5.0 out of 5.0

    Here we have a somewhat different scenario; the "pros" are largely in agreement, but are out of step with travelers by a full star or two. This time travelers rate the hotel consistently higher than do the "pros."

    In reviews on all three sites, travelers consistently praise the convenience of the Marriott's Times Square location -- which may help explain the discrepancy between the their ratings and the pros'. A great location near all the attractions of the Big Apple may weigh more heavily into a sightseer's rating than it would into the rating of an expert taking a critical look at the hotel itself.

    However, judging by the traveler reviews, the hotel itself rates pretty highly as well; it gets kudos for excellent service, large rooms and a great restaurant. Compare that to the Days Inn, which also had a great location but got slammed for dirty rooms and an unfriendly staff. (Strangely enough, the pros at Orbitz gave both the Days Inn and the Marriott Marquis a three-star rating -- talk about a discrepancy!)

    Conclusion
    At the heart of the discrepancies in ratings from one service to another appears to be the weight they to reviews written by us, the travelers. As I note above, in many cases, the experts and the travelers appear almost to be reviewing different hotels.

    Even a quick scan on a hotel search can show you the discrepancies between "official" and "traveler" ratings; keep a sharp eye. Also, as with the elevators above, you may want to consider the date of the review, as hotels renovate and update amenities all the time.

    In the case of the Days Inn, the pros want to call it a two- to three-star hotel; a lot of travelers think it is a one-star hotel at best, a tear-down at worst. (Qualifying Note: There is dissension in the ranks. My thinking is that it's not terrible to have a low-priced chain right on the ocean in South Beach; at least folks can still get a room where the other half lives and plays.)

    At the Marriot Marquis, the pros want to give it a three-star rating; in most cases, travelers rate the Marquis a solid four or more. Of 154 reviews on Expedia and 46 on Travelocity, travelers appear almost universally to rate the hotel a notch higher than the "experts." Whether it is the hotel itself, or the brightening influence of Times Square's lights outside the front door, it's hard to know!

    The bottom line? Take every rating with the proverbial grain of salt, check multiple sources, and look for reviews from travelers who sound like you.

    --written by Ed Hewitt; updated by Sarah Schlichter

    Photo Credit: Image of Days Inn South Beach appears courtesy of the Days Inn Web site.
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