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Stars and Smiley faces --
What do hotel ratings really mean?

Rating Vacation HotelsWhen Bonnie Kurz decided to plan a family vacation out West, her first stop was the Internet. In a time when millions of options are just a point and click away, planning her vacation became an adventure in itself.

"It started off as just a few minutes here and there," Kurz says. "But after a few weeks it became really stressful! I spent each day searching for hotels and things to do."

The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) estimates that around 64 million Americans now research their travel options online, a statistic that continues to grow every year.

With dozens of Web sites devoted to finding the best hotel rooms, the cheapest flights and everything in between, a new challenge is taking shape. Who do you trust to help you find the best deals and service? When it comes to quality, who do you believe?

"I keep seeing stars and smiley faces," adds Kurz. "One Web site says a certain hotel is a three smiley face hotel, while another Web site says the hotel is a four star resort. My big fear is that I'll get out West and be stuck in a horrible hotel room."

Even with dozens of travel-booking Web sites available, there are no universal methods to rate hotels and resorts. Individual sites have the final say when creating a rating. What does that mean for the traveler? Your guess is as good as any other. Three smiley faces may mean you get the iron and the ironing board. On the other hand, it may not.

"A lot of what you see out there is arbitrary. Some ratings are created without ever visiting the property..."

"Our research shows a lot of travelers are confused when it comes to online hotel ratings," says Larry Dustin, president of Mobil Travel Guide. "A lot of what you see out there is arbitrary. Some ratings are created without ever visiting the property."

Unbiased hotel ratings, like those offered by Mobil Travel Guide and AAA, are growing in importance with the traveling public, according to the Yesawich, Pepperdine, Brown & Russell/Yankelovich Partners National Leisure Travel Monitor. The study shows 54 percent of active leisure travelers in America consider trusted, independent hotel ratings very important when selecting accommodations -- a number than has jumped 20 percent.

"It's nice to be able to say 'I want a Three-Star hotel' in a certain city and know that when I arrive there won't be any surprises," Kurz says. "After a lot of searching and comparing I want to feel confident that I will have the best vacation possible."

Courtesy of ARA Content

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