How Much Better is a 5-Star Hotel vs. a 3-Star One?

I didn’t grow up in a wealthy family. As a child, I don’t remember staying in hotels very often, if at all. Whenever we took vacations, we stayed with family or friends, or went camping. Now that I’m older, I can see why. The two most expensive parts of a vacation are airfare and lodging. Sometimes you have no choice but to fly, so if you can cut that lodging cost down, it results in big savings!

Hotels are Expensive

When I started going on trips with friends after college, we’d try to save on hotels because we were still poor. Either we’d stay at a cheap hotel, or get a nicer one but cram 6 people in it. Or we’d be get really cheap and cram 6 people in a cheap hotel. Back then, it was fine because you could sleep on a concrete floor and wake up the next morning like everything was fine, depending on how much alcohol you had. Now, not so much.

The first time I stayed at a really nice hotel was when I was visiting business schools. I was in Chicago and got a great rate at the Four Seasons! It was still expensive ($250/night), but it was a good deal considering how luxurious it was and the location. Prior to this, I thought of the Hilton or Marriott as high-end hotels!

How Much Better is a 5-Star Hotel vs. a 3-Star One?

In my current job, I do a fair bit of traveling. Whenever I travel, I’m usually visiting a management team or at a conference, which is usually at an expensive hotel. I have to admit:  the best 5-Star hotels are the ones you don’t have to pay for!

I recently stayed a 3-star hotel over the summer (Expedia was very generous with that rating), when I took my family to go to Hershey Park. There are no 5-star hotels in the area and since we weren’t planning to spend much time in the hotel anyways, we decided to save money and stay at a cheaper property. Besides, the pictures looked nice (we all know how that turned out!)

So here’s my qualitative, non-scientific comparison between 5-star hotels and 3-star ones:

First Impression

5-Star Hotel

A doorman helps opens your car door when you arrive and helps you take out your luggage. He can also get a bell-hop to bring your luggage up to your room.

The lobby will usually be grand and luxurious. You’ll see people in suits lounging around checking emails or making calls.

The check-in desk always addresses you as sir or ma’am (I’m guessing).

3-Star Hotel

Automatic doors! Sometimes if you’re lucky, they’ll have a hotel cart to help bring you luggage in.

There might be a lobby. At the hotel I visited going to Hershey Park, there were two guys sitting outside on the patio chugging down a 12-pack of beer. I can’t say I’ve seen that at the Waldorf before.

Check-in will address you by sir or ma’am, if you’re in the South. Otherwise, be happy they even address you at all.


5-Star Hotel

The room is usually clean and tastefully decorated, with flatscreen TVs in the living room and sometimes in the bathroom. Usually, the room will be lit when you get in, so you’re not stumbling around looking for the light switches. Soft music is usually playing in the background, creating a nice ambiance.

3-Star Hotel

It’s pitch black when your enter. Even when you turn on all the lights, it always feels dark. The room looks like it’s decorated from the 70’s or 80’s (hint: it was). The TVs are always small, from a brand you’ve never heard of. It’s almost 100% guaranteed you’ll find a stain on the carpet, wall, or ceiling, or all three.

motel vs. hotel
All the cheaper properties I stay at are dark like this, but on the INSIDE.


5-Star Hotel

The bed always has more pillows than you know what to do with. The pillows are always nice and fluffy, and the bed is always soft. I usually check for bed-bugs, cause you never know.

3-Star Hotel

The bed, if you can all it that, is like sleeping on a plywood board. What little flex there is, is always accompanied by the loudest creaking sounds you’ve ever heard. The pillow’s best days were in the 70’s and 80’s, along with the decor. Checking for bed bugs is a must.  If you don’t, you’re just asking for it.


5-Star Hotel

Like I said before, they usually have TVs inside. I never spend enough time in a bathroom to justify a TV, but it looks cool. Floors and walls are usually marble. Plenty of towels to go around, and they’re nice and fluffy.

The bathroom is stocked with expensive toiletries. There’s also a sewing kit along with the toiletries (I could start my own sweatshop with all the sewing kits I have now).

3-Star Hotel

Why are all the rooms always so dark? You’ll be sorely disappointed if you were expecting a TV in there. Linoleum floors and counters. No need to take these toiletries home with you.

I have to admit, my skin always looks great after staying at a 3-star hotel. First I’m properly exfoliated because the towels are like sand paper. Second, my skin stays moisturized because the towels are so small and so thin, I usually give up on trying to actually dry myself off.


5-Star Hotel

Turn-down service is always interesting. I find it weird when somebody comes into your room when you’re gone to fold your clothes, tidy up the bathroom, and leave chocolates on your pillows. But it is a nice touch.

girl in hotel
I’m always unsure how to expense the “amenities” some hotels offer. Maybe under Entertainment?

Room service, while nice, is way over-priced. One time I stayed at the Ritz and paid $60 for a piece of salmon! That was just for the fish; I had to pay extra for side dishes. Oh, and that didn’t include the service charge for bringing the food to the room, AND the tip for the server! Isn’t the double-charging? The salmon was so-so by the way.

3-Star Hotel

The maid comes by to clean your room. I think that’s it.


5-Star Hotel

Depending on where you stay, it can have a very nice fitness center and a pool. Some of the gyms are nicer than the ones by my office. They’re fully stocked with water, towels, and fruit.

3-Star Hotel

You might have a treadmill or two. If there’s a pool, it may not be the nicest, but it’ll suffice.


5-Star Hotel

I usually pay $500-600 a night when I stay at a 5-star hotel. But you have to take into account it’s in a prime location in a major city, like New York or San Francisco.

3-Star Hotel

For the hotel in Hershey, we paid $150/night for a 1-bedroom!


When you stay at a 5-star hotel, you’re paying up for the service and ambiance. When I travel for work, I’m barely in the hotel, other than to shower and sleep. If my company let me pocket the difference, I’d find the nearest Motel 6 and keep the difference!

It’s different of course, if you’re staying at a resort for a vacation. If you’re going to be at the resort for your whole trip and in your room a lot, it makes sense to pay up for something nice. Unless you want good skin – then stay at a cheap hotel.

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