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HOTEL RATINGS, WITH SOME SURPRISES
By Michael Matthews
October 22, 2009 -- Purchased a car lately? Going to buy one? Then I can almost guarantee that you've checked the J. D. Power & Associates ratings. It's a name you can trust and you've surely seen the car ads emblazoned with a J. D. Power award looking like the bowling trophy you last won.

But did you know that J.D. Power also rates hotels? Probably not. The ratings company announced its 2009 findings recently and interesting they were. In fact, its results may lead you to a better, and certainly cheaper, stay on your next hotel sojourn.

J.D. Power ratings have credibility because they come from us guests, not from inspectors, the system employed by the AAA or the Forbes (nee Mobil) Guide. More than a thousand individual business travelers were asked to complete a questionnaire on their stays and record their "guest satisfaction" in almost every class of hotel brand. (No independent hotels were rated.) The business travelers who participated were not paid nor did they divulge to the hotels that they were judging for J. D. Power. (Maybe some of you participated. If so, I'd love to hear from you.)

What constitutes guest satisfaction? According to J.D. Power, participating business travelers rated properties in seven categories: reservations; check-in/checkout; guestroom; food and beverage; hotel services; hotel facilities; and costs and fees. What's important to note is that the questionnaire was no different for a 5-star than a 2-star property. That's another point of distinction between J.D. Power and Forbes/Mobil or AAA.

The results from business travelers were then divided into six hotel segments: luxury; upscale; mid-scale full service; mid-scale limited service; economy/budget and extended stay. The maximum score each individual property could receive was 1,000 points. The points scored for each hotel in each brand were added together and then divided by the number of hotels inspected. That generated a hotel brand's aggregate score. There were a minimum number of properties in each brand so that the results couldn't be weighted to a hotel chain with a lower number of inspections.

As one might expect, Four Seasons headed the rankings in the luxury category with an aggregate score of 863, closely followed by Ritz-Carlton with a score of 853. Fairmont and JW Marriott scored 826 and 814 points respectively. The aggregate for the luxury hotel category was 814 points with Loews, W, InterContinental and Millennium falling below that mark.

In the upscale category, Embassy Suites (809 points) came in ahead of all other brands for the third consecutive year. Other brands that scored well were Wyndham (796 points) and Omni (795 points). The category's aggregate score was 783. Radisson (757 points) and Sheraton (763 points) were the low markers of the 13 brands in this category.

Hilton Garden Inn swept the mid-scale full service division with a score of 801 points. That was ahead of all but Embassy Suites in the division above. Hyatt Place (790 points) and Courtyard by Marriott (787 points) also did well. The aggregate was 744 points for the 11 brands in this category.

HOTEL CHAIN

POINTS

Four Seasons

863

Ritz-Carlton

853

Drury Inns

828

Fairmont

826

Staybridge Suites

817

Homewood Suites

815

JW Marriott

814

Residence Inn

812

Loews

811

Embassy Suites

809

SpringHill Suites

806

Hampton Inn

804

Hilton Garden Inn

801

Source: J.D. Power & Associates

Now for some surprises. The mid-scale limited service category had three brands that had remarkable guest satisfaction levels: Drury Inns with a whopping 828 points; SpringHill Suites (806 points); and Hampton Inn (804 points). The aggregate for the 14 brands in this category was 767 points, higher than the mid-scale full service section.

I won't cover the economy section because no brand scored very well. But there were some shockers in the 14-brand extended stay category. Staybridge Suites (817 points), Homewood Suites (815 points) and Residence Inns (812 points) topped the poll and all did better than a lot of properties in higher categories.

What's all this mean? Consider the chart, which covers chains scoring 800 points or more, and you decide. For my money, and there's not much of it these days, I know where I will be staying in the future.

When I'm looking for value for money in lodging, I'll stay at Drury Inns, Staybridge Suites or Homewood Suites. Their scores were spectacular considering they cost hundreds of dollars a night less than a stay at a Four Seasons, a Ritz-Carlton or even a Loews property. Since I trust J.D. Power ratings, I'm confident that I'll get great "guest satisfaction."

For all the others, well, as Mick Jagger would say, "I can't get no satisfaction."

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ABOUT MICHAEL MATTHEWS Michael Matthews has managed and marketed fine hotels around the world for more than 45 years. He spent 14 years in Hong Kong building the legendary Regent International group. He has also worked with St. Regis, Ritz-Carlton and Rosewood hotels. Matthews is currently based in Arizona. He began writing Do Not Disturb in early 2004.

THE FINE PRINT Joe Brancatelli makes this space available to Michael Matthews in the spirit of free speech and to encourage editorial diversity and the wider discussion of important travel issues. All of the opinions and material in this column are the sole property of Matthews. This column may not be reproduced in any form without the express permission of Michael Matthews.

This column is Copyright 2009 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2009 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.