Stars vs. Customer Reviews: How does one choose a search engine hotel?

     The longer one searches for the ideal hotel for his/her upcoming leisurely expedition to say Cleveland, the quicker he or she realizes that the star rating system employed by the travel search engines is less than an exact science. Where as Expedia may give a particular locale  2 1/2 stars for comfort and amenities approaching but not quite the level of a three star establishment, another search engine such as Travelocity may generate a rating of 1 to 1 1/2 stars in either direction for the same place. How can this be? shouldn’t the criteria employed by the experts in the field by very similar if not nearly identical across the travel search engines? Throw into this mess the variability of customer reviews, thus contributing to a labyrinth worthy of the great Theseus from ancient Greek mythology.

    Prior to the advent of the information superhighway a.k.a. the internet, Mobil Travelguides, AAA, and Michelin internationally published stars for all the hotels. Nowadays every hotel travel search engine employs its own star rating system. However, that doesn’t mean that they rate every hotel listed on their sites. Rather, there is a large amount of borrowing ratings from sister travel search engine sites as well as competitors. So exactly who are these “experts” that are rating the hotels for the various sites? According to a spokesperson for AAA, they employ a  groups of 65 full-time evaluators, who do nothing but visit hotels periodically rating them over and over again and the same is true for all AAA sister companies and competitors. Most if not all hotel travel websites utilize customer ratings side-by-side with the star ratings. For example, if you try to book a hotel on, among the top choices list will be a percentage of customers that like their stay (Recommended in 80% of Hotwire customer reviews). One can consider customer reviews even more variable than the customer ratings. This is attributed to the myriad of personalities that review a particular hotel experience. Some people may be enamored by factors outside of the hotel such as being next to the ocean or in a great downtown location of a major metropolis. In addition, who know what kind of day the reviewer had and how that is affecting his or her review. I always check the customer review side by side with the ratings on the travel websites but I do keep in mind that what makes me think something is nice or special may be another person’s absolute disgust.
     In my opinion the best way to determine the optimal hotel is to determine what it is you are looking for in a trip. If you are looking to spend a lot of time outside of the hotel than I would choose a lower rated hotel with a good location then a higher rated one out in the boonies. If you will not be venturing out so much than the higher the amenities, and thus a higher rating, the better. Value 3 star hotels in a good location are typically my Mecca and Medina as they provide relative comfort and amenities at a good price as well as providing minimal travel time to various destinations. I find this to typically be better than 4 stars as they tend to find ways to insert additional fees into the stay such as parking and resort ones.


12/25/10 Rocky Mountain Park Inn (Holiday Inn) Estes Park, CO


     After a sunny and warm Christmas day of touring the historic Stanley Hotel (inspiration for the movie The Shining and later on The Shining Mini-Series) in Estes Park, CO we adjourned to our hotel of actual residence, The Rocky Mountain Park Inn. This particular hotel was a  franchised Holiday Inn most likely built in the 70’s as the popcorn ceilings provided an uncanny time stamp for that era in construction. Upon check-in at the front desk I requested a late check-out to see how they would respond. The front desk attendant advised me that we could have a late check out of 2:00 p.m. (as opposed to their normal check-out time of 11:00) if we signed up for their “free” Priority Club Rewards program. Being ever leery of singing up for anything in order to receive additional benefits or compensation, I said I would think about it and proceeded to my room.
     Walking down the hallway to our room, which of course was all the way down on the other side, I thought I was instantly teleported into a live taping of an HGTV renovation show. There was tape on the hallway moulding to protect them from the freshly painted walls. Dust and paint chips aligned the floor as we made our way to the room. At the very least I thought they could have run a vacuum to get rid of the dust and paint chips on the floor other than the obligatory “excuse our mess” signs posted strategically in the entryways. To top things off the keys just handed to us minutes before were not working on the hotel room door. Needless to say, I was left with some rather squimish first impressions of the hotel.

The room itself maintained similarities to the Holiday Inn we stayed at in Grand Junction, CO during Labor Day weekend. The shower/bath tub was of proper size with caddies for soap and shampoo along with a mobile shower head placed at just the right height. The bed and room furniture were comfortable although we had to request two additional “firm” pillows of which only one truly matched that description. The television was a bit antiquated and along with the previously mentioned popcorn ceilings, the recessed light fixture in the bathroom was loose. In terms of hotel amenities the hotel had a cozy bar that only operated till 9:00 p.m. The fitness areas had outdated equipment that included a pair of treadmills and a nautilus. The indoor pool was spacious but due to lighting was extremely dark, all be it open  to 11:00 p.m. Finally the staff was very attentive and friendly despite working on Christmas.

     Hotwire rated the Rocky Mountain Park Inn in Estes Park, CO as a 3 star establishment. Although the potential may be there in terms of service and offering of amenities, due to the rundown feel of the hotel as a whole  I cannot agree with this assessment. It is above a two in terms of providing a variety of amenities but falls short of a three because those amenities and the hotel as a whole are in need of serious renovation. I feel comfortable placing it at 2 1/2 stars. Stay tuned as we look into the wonderful world of stars, bars, and diamond rating systems for hotels.