Luxury travel is something that I never thought we’d experience. That is, until I entered the wondrous world of miles and points in 2012. Suddenly, 5-star hotel stays were within reach. With things like IHG and Hyatt free night certificates at my disposal, I found myself looking at luxury properties when planning our first European excursion in 2016.
Those first 5-star stays were unforgettable. I’d never experienced that sort of quality and luxury in my life. But as the years have passed, I find myself looking back with a different perspective. Now, more often than not, I think stays at 5-star hotels are overrated.
Sure, there are really nice aspects to luxury hotel stays. I don’t want to discount the fact that we were steps from the Mediterranean at the Intercontinental Carlton Cannes, or a short walk from the duomo at the Park Hyatt Milan. But there are other aspects of staying at 5-star hotels that leave me wishing we would have booked somewhere a bit less bougie.
Here are five reasons why I think most 5-star hotels are overrated:
They Nickel and Dime You For Everything
You’d think that paying a small fortune in either points or cash per night would mean that all the small things would be free. But exactly the opposite is true. Luxury hotels are the most likely to nickel and dime you for everything.
Breakfast? That’ll be $35 per person. Dinner? Now we’re looking at another $50. Add in parking, pool chair rental, items from the minibar, and other ridiculous charges for “amenities” and we’ve suddenly blown the budget for our entire vacation in all of 2 days.
Why do they charge for everything? Because they can. If a hotel has mostly business travelers (spending other people’s money) or are frequented by a wealthier demographic, dropping an extra $100-200 per day for meals, drinks, and the like is nothing to them.
The minibar they put in your room for convenience is for them, not for you. It’s just another revenue stream. Sound too cynical? Maybe I am. I just find that I’d much rather book a Hampton Inn with free breakfast and parking. You can keep the rest of the silly charges for all the extras.
You Feel Like An Outsider
Maybe this is just me, but I am totally out of my element at luxury hotels. The idea is staying at a super nice property always seems so appealing sitting behind a screen looking at amazing photos. Everything looks so perfect and so luxurious.
But then we arrive, and suddenly I’m feeling like the Clampett family arriving in California from the Ozarks. It just isn’t us. I’m not saying the staff don’t treat us well or that the property isn’t stunningly beautiful. I just can’t help but suddenly notice the holes in my son’s jeans amid the designer-wear all around us. Do I normally care? No. And this is telling.
The fact of the matter is that we are a very middle class family, and staying at a luxury property is well outside the norm. I’m far more at home in a Hyatt Place or a Residence Inn that at an Intercontinental. My wife and I literally laughed at the excessive ornateness of our room at the St. Regis Rome.
You know which stay was more memorable than the St. Regis Rome from our summer trip to Europe a few years back? The Hilton Florence Metropole. A Hilton is already upscale for us, but this was a much better pick. It was the perfect blend of quality, experience, and award cost. I’ll take the 4-star hotel stay over the 5-star.
What The Heck Is Turn-Down Service?
The first time I read about turn-down service, I had no idea what to make of it. You really let someone into your room to “ready the bed” and place chocolate on your pillow?!? How strange.
I’ve let the housekeeper in to ready the bed on two occasions that I can recall. What I mostly remember is us awkwardly standing there while she moved the duvet and and placed a chocolate on the nightstand. It was just weird. Now I simply decline the offer.
Returning to your room after being out in the evening to the nicely readied duvet and a chocolate or two is entirely different, however. This was how we experienced turn-down service in an amazing suite at the Fairmont Banff Springs.
So here is the current rule: turn down the turn-down service if we’re staying in, but let it happen if we’re out.
The Cost Isn’t Worth It Over Slightly “Worse” Options
In many cases, a luxury hotel stay commands quite the premium over other choices. Would it be worth paying $450 per night for the St. Regis San Francisco when the Le Meridien a few blocks away is going for $180? I don’t think so. The rooms look pretty comparable to me. I don’t know what I’d be paying nearly $300 more for.
I find that this is the case in so many locations. Luxury commands a premium, but I don’t see why. Sure, there is the brand name, and there are often special amenities and more personalized service, but do we really need any of that? No.
In all honesty, mid-scale to good value upscale hotels are the sweet spot. Depending on our needs, a 3-star to 4-star stay is perfectly adequate. Experience has shown that 5-sat hotels are overrated.
The One Thing I Appreciate About Upscale and Luxury Hotels
If there is anything I love about luxury properties is that they tend to have fantastic showers. This is the feature I remember most about the Park Hyatt Milan. The bathroom was as basically as big as the main part of the room, and the tub and shower were both out of this world.
But you can often find this at upscale brands that don’t bridge into luxury territory. Recent examples for me include the Renaissance Beijing Wangfujing and the Grand Hyatt at SFO. The former is a 3-star property, and my best guess for the new airport hotel is that it is 4-star.
In any case, an awesome shower is nice, but it’s not worth another $100 per night or substantially more points.
Stick to Mid-Scale, 5-Star Hotels Are Overrated
It’s hard to define what exactly mid-scale and upscale hotels are, but the brands roughly between Holiday Inn Express and Hyatt House represent my ideal hotel stay. They offer the necessary amenities, have free breakfast and comfortable rooms, and are more than enough for family travel. There’s no need to go bigger. Rather than look for the best luxury properties around the globe, I find that I’m burning free nights for airport hotels.
Sure, I’ll take something with character or style now and then, such as a Hyatt Centric, Hilton or Renaissance hotel. If there is value in an award at a 4-star property and elite status get us the perks we need, I’m in. But this is usually when one of these stays is marginally more than a stay at the Hyatt Place down the street.
Even so, we’re reaching in those situations. Hyatt Place is my most ideal hotel brand. It has all the basics, has a consistent experience at every location, and is pretty much always a great value whether using cash or points (the new location in downtown SF excluded from that final sentiment).
The only time I would consider a 5-star hotel stay is when it is objectively cheap. Even then, I’d prefer it to be an award. You can really only find these abroad, and most likely in Asia. China and India in particular have some nice properties that you can score at great rates.
Then again, if Hyatt Place hotels started cropping up at half the cost, I might be hard pressed to not book those.
What do you think of luxury hotel stays? Do you think 5-star hotels are overrated?