How many stars did your last hotel have?
I'd bet you might not know the answer to that, but you could probably make a good guess based on the level of service you received and your overall satisfaction. Hotel booking portals such as Hotels.com or Priceline.com use the star system as one of the most important variables in selling their products. They're betting that you'll pay more money for a hotel with a higher star rating, with the understanding that this rating directly correlates to the quality of the hotel.
But what regulatory body determines these star ratings?
Unfortunately the accurate answer is: there isn't one -- it's another one of those smoke and mirror tactics marketers use to produce a fictional sense of quality.
So let me give you 10 indicators that the hotel you're staying in may have given itself a few stars too many on this all-important rating scale:
1) Your Tub Doesn't Drain!
Of all the things you assume you paid for in a safe and maintained overnight stay, functional plumbing is central to the unspoken agreement between hotelier and customer. A tub that doesn't drain, a clogged toilet, or a explosion of sink goo is thoroughly unacceptable even at a 1-star property. In a "4-star" you should immediately demand a quick fix and compensation for your trouble.
2) Mold on the Walls
Believe it or not, in the sciences we'll often classify mold as "good mold" and "bad mold." However, don't bother trying to identify which type you've found in your hotel room, because when you're paying money to stay at a "4-star" property, it's ALWAYS bad to have mold.
3) Your Coffee Maker is a Set of Paper Cups
I can get by without a great many things when I travel, more than most everyone I know. Coffee is not one of them! It's a rare hotel which dares to call itself a "4-star" (or a "5-star") and doesn't provide you with some form of caffeine, be it coffee or tea. But it's even a rarer breed of hotel which provides you with the coffee cups in your room, but nothing else. They practically taunt you to call them out for it.
4) An Overturned Trash Can Makes Due as Your Desk
Getting a "4-star" room doesn't mean you're entitled to the furniture normally reserved for a suite. You might not get a luggage rack or a bidet, but for the most part you can count on a desk (even if it's a small one). "4-Star" hotels often cater to business clientele for at least a part of the week, and business people rarely enjoy working on make-shift desks made from items found throughout the room.
5) Your Air Conditioner Voted for Ronald Reagan
A modern and sophisticated hotel knows when it's time to make systemwide upgrades. A cheap and unfazed hotel will often keep aging/outdated appliances until the bitterly cold end. Air conditioning technology has come a long way since the days when you had to stick half your arm down a metal shaft to press a comically large button to engage a shrieking coolant beast from 1980 something. Elderly air conditioners are easy to spot because they tend to turn your room into the frozen tundra and make a deafening amount of noise in the process.
6) An Enormous Bouquet of Fake Flowers Greets You in the Lobby
When items are real they send a certain message. When items are fake, they usually send the opposite message.
7) You Paid a Heavily Discounted Price
If your hotel is trying to convince you that rooms sell for $279, but they'll take $179, and accept $100 if you bid for the room on an auction site, then be prepared for a few things to be 'not quite right' when you show up.
8) The Hotel Charges You if You Flee Your Room
I cannot think of a more hard hitting slap in the face when a dissatisfied customer attempts to check out early because of unsatisfactory service (mold, tubs not draining, air conditioning nightmares, etc.) than being charged a fee for doing so. It's as if the hotel is saying "It's not bad enough we tricked you into our clutches with our faux stars, now we're going to charge you for not sticking it out. We'll also be selling your room to some other sucker after you leave."
9) The Hotel Markets its History as an Excuse for Being Old
Hotels are chosen by consumers for many reasons, some having nothing to do with stars. The historical nature of a hotel's roots is a big draw for many travelers. The problem comes when a hotel can't differentiate between 'maintaining historical character' and 'just being old.'
10) The Comment Card Has No Room for Comments
To me, this is the most offensive sin of all. It's not simply that this comment card is the bare minimum necessary to be able to answer "yes we have a comment card," it's that the true intent of this form is simply to acquire customer information for future marketing spam. Does anyone actually believe the hotel pours over the circles of different numbers to ascertain how best to make improvements?
Although these experiences all came from the same "4-Star" hotel, I've encountered each in several instances over a decade of traveling (I've even seen someone post their private home on Hotels.com and call it a 2 Star Hotel).
As a travel consumer you have the ability to fight back against "star inflation" with online reviews that call out "suspect properties." Hotels that are truly living up to their stars are proud of the quality of service they offer, and should be rewarded with future business. Those that care more about squeezing a buck out of the customers they can scrounge up with their dubious star ratings should be called out for it!