If you are someone who craves luxury when traveling, here’s a newsflash: the number one rated hotel in each city on TripAdvisor® is probably NOT a five-star luxury property. While you would expect that the top-rated hotel in each city is also its best, this is not necessarily the case. Particularly when you are using a social media rating platform that averages out all tastes and budgets.
Take a look at the number one hotel in each city as ranked on TripAdvisor yesterday:
New York City: Chelsea Pines Inn
Boston: Seaport Boston Hotel
Chicago: The Langham Chicago
Los Angeles: Magic Castle Hotel
San Francisco: Hotel Drisco
Dallas: Grand Hyatt DFW
Orlando: Villas of Grand Cypress
Not what you would have expected right? There isn’t a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons in the bunch.
Upon further research, it appears the hotels which rank in the top in each city for the most part (the exception being Chicago) are those that offer what most consumers want today: value-add. Sure, you will find a Ritz-Carlton or Four Seasons or other five-star property often somewhere in the “Top 10,” but the reason these other hotels place so highly is because they offer the magical combination of what TripAdvisor users — and most consumers today — want: freebies. Pretty much all of the hotels in the top city rankings offer the guest a good hotel stay — but by no means ultra luxury — and they also include what consumers just don’t want to pay for anymore: a complimentary breakfast, free WiFi, free parking, free water in the room, etc.
Most traveling consumers today do not want to have to pay for their WiFi, or parking, or breakfast. They want it all at one great rate and are willing to sacrifice five-star luxury in the process. So the hotels that offer an average or in some cases, better than average, hotel stay rank quite well because they give the consumer what they want: a pretty good location, a value-added rate which includes a lot of extras, and an overall experience that wasn’t a disaster. But, it’s not going to be ultra-luxurious or five star.
For example, the Hotel Drisco was selected for a San Francisco stay because it is continually rated top in the city. Unfortunately it didn’t provide anything near a five-star or even luxury experience. While the website says “free parking available,” when you arrive, you learn the free parking is street parking and you have to move your car every three hours. The hotel volunteers their bellman to move the car for you, but you have to sign a waiver that they take no responsibility for damages or parking tickets. On a warm day, a request for a fan in the room due resulted in a very old standing unit being brought up which, when you turned it on, fell apart. While it may be a popular property with TripAdvisor reviewers, it did not, by any stretch, constitute five-star luxury.
So if you are a discerning luxury traveler who demands that five-star experience with room service, a concierge, valet parking, etc., you need to look further than the top hotel in each city on TripAdvisor or Yelp. You need to stick with the brands that you are loyal to, you have read a lot about, or you have received a personal recommendation on. And you don’t always have to go with a chain to find luxury. There are many independent and boutique hotels that offer you luxury as well, but you need to be smart and read through the lines regarding what people are saying on these hotel review sites to see if you have the same criteria for a great hotel stay as they do.
It’s always a good idea to read through reviews on TripAdvisor because in most cases you will unearth little jewels you might not have learned before — like the hotel is currently undergoing a renovation so you don’t want to be staying on a construction site — or it is really loud and noisy. But you also need to read to see that if people are saying they love this hotel because they have a big fridge where you can keep your take-out from the night before, then you probably aren’t going to have the same criteria for a great hotel as these guests do.
Luxury is in the eye of the beholder and if you have high expectations for your hotel accommodations, do your own research, visit the actual websites of the hotels you are considering staying at and which might be ranked highly on TripAdvisor, and ask friends and family for recommendations.