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There is no universal star rating system. Each country has different requirements for awarding stars (a three-star rating in Washington, DC, is different from a three-star rating in Melbourne, Australia or Rome, Italy). International standardization, often considered by government tourism departments, hoteliers, and independent organizations, will not occur until someone can account for differences in culture and geography - not everyone agrees on what makes a good bed, or whether bathrooms should have bidets.

Examples of Some Country Star Rating Systems:

Voluntary system, more than half of France`s hotels participate in this voluntary system. After counting the number of bedrooms, about 55 criteria are considered, mostly having to do with room size, bathroom location and size, and whether there is a tub or shower. Local government representatives rate hotels when they first open. Unless the property has significant improvements or complaints are filed, return visits are irregular. Currently, AC is not compulsory in France, no matter the star rating. If open windows and fans are not enough to keep you cool, check with the hotel in advance.

For example, a hotel is rated 3 stars in France, because they complied with the following conditions. The double rooms must be at least 10 square meters - which is tiny, only just over 10 feet by 10 feet. There must be a lift in buildings with three or more stories, and a telephone in the room, but only 80 per cent of the rooms need to have an ensuite lavatory. Staff must also speak at least two foreign languages (including English) and you should be able to ask for breakfast to be served in your room. There are other requirements relating to lighting levels and the measurement of the hotel foyer which speak more of the French love of systemization, than of whether or not they are describing a nice place to stay.

Voluntary system with 8,000 hotels are rated from one to five stars. They are rated based on nearly 280 criteria: from cleanliness to shower curtains to slippers on demand are considered and regularly updated to reflect customer input. Every three years, properties are reviewed by tourist boards according to the guidelines of the German Hotel and Restaurant Association. Hoteliers have gone to court over classification disputes (for instance, no hair dryer in a three-star). The system is rigid and unambiguous.

Mandatory system rates all hotels from one star to five-star deluxe. It`s easier to crack the Da Vinci code than get a sample criteria list, but in every region, larger rooms and more amenities (parking, pool) translate to more stars. Regional tourist boards audit hotels about every five years. An Italian hotelier can opt for a lower star rating to save on taxes-meaning a three-star property could really be a four-star, which gives guests a surprise upgrade. In Italy, where the regulations are extremely detailed - right down to the requirement for a spare roll of lavatory paper (all stars) - a three star hotel must offer porterage for bags for at least 12 out of 24 hours. How closely is that requirement monitored? Other rules are probably not of much interest to many guests - would you expect, or want, the staff of a three-star Italian hotel to wear uniforms as they are legally required to?

Mandatory system - Most hotels are rated with one to five stars; some regions add `Q` (for exceptional quality). Criteria vary by region but generally focus on room size, elevators (every starred hotel must have one), and AC in common areas. A representative from the regional government goes once to rate a hotel. There are no follow-up inspections unless a property requests one (for example, after property improvements). Inconsistent from region to region. Paradors and hotels in castles, convents, and other historic buildings rarely have five stars, despite being ultra-deluxe, because the structures can`t be drastically modified (no elevators, etc.).

In Spain, room size is very important to classification and the requirements are much more demanding than in France. So a double room in a three-star hotel must be at least 15 square meters - that`s 50 percent bigger than the French system demands. But while this reflects a minimum standard that is applied nationally, the exact details of what facilities are required vary, because each region of Spain operates a slightly different system.

United Kingdom
Voluntary system rates all accommodations from one to five stars. Gold and Silver indicate exceptionality. While some subjective criteria (firm mattresses) are considered, objectivity rules. Each property type (hotel, B and B) has a unique checklist, ranging from duvet covers to wash basins. Site inspection Government-funded tourism agencies in Great Britain use independent contractors to assess accommodations, including annual follow-ups. Hotels in the U.K. have restaurants (or at least dining rooms) attached. A two-star property is a one-star that serves dinner nightly (one-stars offer it five times a week).

In Thailand only a few hotels have an official star rating and the rating you see in some sources may well be the hotel`s own – not a rating conferred by an independent body. Star-level hotels in China are divided into five ranks based on standards issued by the China National Tourism Administration.

United States
The United States doesn`t have a unified system either. In fact, the only national ratings are compiled by private companies. Mobil and AAA use hundreds of criteria - from carpet design to landscaping - to provide hotel ratings in North America (on scales of 1 to 5). And both send inspectors annually to confirm that properties - some 9,000 are reviewed by Mobil; 60,000 by AAA—maintain their standards. But even though the criteria are similar, the resulting ratings aren`t always the same.

What hotel stars indicate (in general):

One Star
These budget properties offer clean accommodations. Most offer 24-hour reception, daily housekeeping service, TVs, telephones, clothes racks or small closets, and private bathrooms - possibly with showers only. On-site dining is usually limited to a Continental breakfast. TripMasters does not offer these type of properties.

Two Stars
These budget properties offer clean accommodations. Most offer 24-hour reception, daily housekeeping service, TVs, telephones, clothes racks or small closets, and private bathrooms - possibly with showers only. On-site dining isusually limited to a Continental breakfast.

TripMasters does not offer these type of properties unless they are located in a remote location with very limited availability.

Three Stars
Three-star is the minimum comfort level for many travelers. Properties in this classification place a greater emphasis on comfort and service, with many offering an on-site restaurant and bar. Baggage assistance is often available. Guestrooms typically feature more space, comfortable seating, and better quality bedding. Bathrooms are often larger, with shower/tub combinations and expanded counter space.

Four Stars
Mostly large, formal hotels. Lobbies typically offer upscale decor and multiple conversational areas. Services often include a dedicated concierge, valet parking, turndown service by request, and 24-hour room service. Guestrooms usually feature superior amenities such as additional seating, minibars, laptop-compatible safes, pillowtop mattresses, bathrobes, and upscale bath products. Decorative features such as crown molding, bathroom artwork, and granite or marble accents may appear. Resorts, and some hotels in Asia, customarily feature full-service spas, tennis courts, golf access, child-care services, and upgraded pools with poolside food servers.

Five Stars
These are hotels that offer only the highest level of accommodations and services. The properties offer a high degree of personal service. The hotel lobbies are sumptuous, the rooms complete with stylish furnishing and quality linens. Guestroom decor is often elegant and may include coordinated fabrics on drapes, chairs, headboards, and duvets. Electronic features sometimes include bedside controls for drapes, lighting, and surround-sound. Oversized bathrooms are often clad in marble, with premium, custom-built features, dual-sink vanities, enclosed toilets, premium spa-brand toiletries, and fresh flowers or live plants.

The hotels feature up to three restaurants all with exquisite menus. Room service is usually available 24 hours a day. Fitness Centers and valet and/or garage parking are typically available. A concierge is also available to assist you.

Staff members are generally polished, anticipate guest needs, and consistently address guests by name. Features may include upgraded check-in, a welcome amenity, and butler service on all or select floors. Although most five star hotels are large properties, sometimes the small independent (non-chain) property offers an elegant intimacy that cannot be achieved in the larger setting. The hotel locations can vary from the very exclusive locations of a suburban area, to the heart of downtown.