This one deals with hotels, so if you are renting an apartment or staying with friends, feel free to disregard. While you may think that “3-stars” has a universal meaning, it does not. In most first world countries you will find that “4-star” and “5-star” have at least a modicum of service you should expect, but even in modern countries, the margin between a “1-star” and a “3-star” is often razor thin. In some less developed countries there seems to be no rhyme or reason and hotels just award themselves as many stars as they think they can get away with. This brings us to our point…do NOT trust the internet.
Do not trust the hotel website. A friend recently asked me about a hotel in Paris he was considering booking sight unseen. According to their website the hotel has a “very central location.” It was in fact located practically across the street from La Defense and at the furthest fringes of the 17eme. Don’t even trust user review sites like virtualtourist. Often the reviews seem doctored. At best the people offering their opinions may have very, very low standards.
Here is a loose framework. If you are traveling to an unfamiliar locale and no trusted friend or acquaintance can provide you with a recommendation. You have a different course of action based on what you’re looking for.
5-Star: Check a luxury hotel alliance like Leading Hotels of The World (www.lhw.com). While you get the occasional lemon (Hello…Hotel Opera in Kiev), you are virtually guaranteed to get the 5-star experience you are paying for at one of their properties. There are other similar alliances, but I find LHW to offer options in many countries where others do not.
4-Star: Check a large hotel chain that offers a variety of properties at different price points. An example would be something like Starwood. Many places will have a W or a Le Meridien, if not maybe you can find your way into a decent Sheraton or Westin. A slightly riskier option is to seek out boutique or “design” hotels in the same range. They usually have small #’s of rooms, but if you find a winner it’s a great deal.
1-3 Star: At this level, the differences can be huge from property to property and the rates aren’t likely to fluctuate greatly if you wait until arrival. If you’re looking in this range, you may as well hold off on booking until you arrive, pick the area of town you want to spend most of your time in and wander around comparing prices and rooms until you find a place that suits you.