By Michael Matthews
August 5, 2010 -- Simon Cooper, the chief executive of Ritz-Carlton hotels, must be a very happy man these days. I know Simon, a rugby-playing Brit, and have always liked him. But while it never hurts, simply knowing me isn't a cause for happiness, of course. No, Simon will be grinning because the annual J. D. Power and Associates hotel ratings puts Ritz-Carlton at the top of the lodging pile.

First off, let's be clear what these rating are all about. They are not for design, location, functionality or anything remotely similar. They are the rankings of six segments of hotel brands by 53,000 guests. That's one hell of a sample. J.D. Power measures those guests overall satisfaction with 64 brands within those six categories. Or in simpler terms: Which hotel chains are the nation's best and which are the worse?

The brands are broken into six categories: luxury; upscale; mid-scale with full service; mid-scale with limited service; economy/budget; and extended stay. The survey also asked guests to list the "must have" amenities that each hotel should provide. The top five were: wireless internet; complimentary breakfast; a choice of bedding and pillows; pillow-top mattresses; and free parking. Each of the 64 brands were judged on a 1,000-point scale.

In the luxury segment, Ritz-Carlton scored 861, followed by Four Seasons with 848. Four Seasons won the J.D. Power ratings last year with a score of 863. The 15-point drop is perhaps a reflection of the cutbacks that Four Seasons claimed wouldn't affect guest satisfaction. (Chris Barnett wrote about Four Seasons' cutbacks here.) But what's most interesting is that Ritz doesn't offer free breakfast, free parking or pillow-top mattress, three of the five of the "must haves" that guests claim they want. Well done, Simon, you topped the luxury list despite not delivering 60 percent of the "must have" amenities! Incidentally Loews Hotels was at the tail end of the luxury category with 786 points, a whopping 43 points lower than its score last year.

Of the upscale hotel chains, Omni Hotels and Resorts finished a comfortable first with 817 points. That is up from 795 points and a middle-of-the-pack rating last year. Westin, Renaissance, Embassy Suites and Marriott came next, all scoring at least 800 points. Radisson, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza and Delta Hotels of Canada, the latter with a score of 760, took bottom honors. (Simon Cooper's employer before Ritz-Carlton was Delta. Do you think they need his help now?)

I couldn't agree more with the results for the mid-scale full-service category: Hilton Garden Inns, with 817 points, took top honors. I've stayed with them a number of times and have been perfectly happy. Hyatt Place, Hyatt's new brand that still has fewer than 200 properties, came in a strong second with 809 points. Meanwhile, Howard Johnson hotels hit skid row with a miserly 692 points. The average for the 11 brands in this segment was 763.

Coincidentally, 48 hours before J. D. Power released its report, I got an E-mail from a JoeSentMe reader saying that he'd followed my advice, stayed at a Drury Hotels property and loved it. Not a surprise, really. For the fifth year in a row, Drury topped the list for mid-scale limited-service hotels with a score of 833 points. That is higher than the average for all of the brands in the luxury category. (As a group, luxury properties scored just 822.) Drury is certainly doing something right. SpringHill and Hampton Inn were the only other chains in this category that hit the 800-point mark.

In the race for top honors at the bottom of the price scale, Microtel Inns was the winner for the ninth consecutive year. Overall, its 737 points weren't stellar, but it outpaced the segment, which averaged only 677 points. I've never stayed in a Microtel--and probably never will--but to each his own. And heaven forfend that I ever stay in a Knights Inn. It had the lowest rating for any brand in any segment. Its score? A piddling 610.

In the extended-stay arena, Homewood Suites, a Hilton brand, got the top prize, topping Staybridge Suites, which was best in class last year. Homewood scored an impressive 835 points, followed by Staybridge with 831. Both of those scores are also better than the luxury-category average of 822. Extended Stay America properties were the bottom of the barrel in this category, with just 707 points.

Want to find out where your favorite (or least favorite) hotel brand ranked? All of the ratings are here. Happy travels!

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 2010 by Michael Matthews. JoeSentMe.com is Copyright 2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.