When you’ve decided you want a treat stay, it’s second nature to search for a ‘5 star’ accommodation. However, does 5 star status always guarantee you the best hotel?
I think not.
Here’s why I reckon opening up your search could bag you an even better stay for a lot less money, including my favourite luxury 4 star hotels that feel just as much of a treat as the top score.
5 Star Hotels Don’t Always Equal Luxury
Many assume that by achieving 5 star status, a hotel must be providing a luxury, high quality service with rooms to match. However, star ratings are actually more heavily assessed on their facilities rather than the experience they offer.
Due to this, I think it is helpful to separate 5 star hotels from 5 star luxury hotels.
The latter is the 5 star fantasy that we all dream about, whilst the former has more potential to catch you out.
This happened to me and James ten years ago when we – very excitedly – booked our first 5 star stay at a London hotel. The place was nice enough, but it felt a bit dusty and dated and didn’t deliver on that luxury feeling we hoped for. It did, however, have a business centre.
Overall, the most important thing to remember is: 5 star does not necessarily equal luxury.
And it is possible to find 4 star luxury hotels too!
5 Star Ratings Change From Country to Country
Yep, did you realise that different countries rate their hotels in different ways?
For example, in the UK, 80% of the rooms must have a bath for the hotel to be awarded 5 stars! And in Portugal, there has to be a copy and fax machine on site.
Therefore, whilst you could think you are booking a 5 star property, it may not be at the standard that you’re expecting.
A country that gets caught up in this discussion a lot is Turkey where you’ll find a deluge of 5 star properties to choose from thanks to their more lenient rating system. For example, I stayed at a 5 star all inclusive hotel in Turkey last May for just £350 for the entire week. Whilst that was an absolute bargain, it definitely was not a 5 star stay!
You can read more about what countries class as 5 star in our deep dive below.
5 Star Luxury Hotels in Cheaper Countries Can Be Terrible Value
Being a traveller from the UK, there are a fair few destinations where our money goes a lot further. The first place that springs to mind is South East Asia where it’s not unheard of to bag accommodation for under £10 a night.
On a trip to Vietnam several years ago, I did what any logical person did and decided to see how much it would cost me to book into the Four Seasons in Hoi An. Surely, given the cost of everything else, this may be my chance to afford such luxury?!
I was horrified to find that the rooms were over £400 a night (and in 2024, are over £700 a night!!!)
As beautiful as that hotel is, this is just terrible value compared to what else is available nearby. Instead, I ended up booking La Siesta Hoi An Resort & Spa which was then, and still is, around £60 a night.
When I booked MANY years ago, I’m sure the hotel was in the luxury 4 star hotels arena, but it’s now classed as a 5 star hotel too! Back then, and still now it has amazing reviews and so I’d say they are just as important as the star rating a hotel has. Especially when you’re after that luxury feeling for less.
You’re Less Likely To Get an Authentic Experience
As you climb the star rating, it’s more and more likely that the hotel will pivot to cater to the guests that frequent it the most.
This can be wonderful when you’re wanting to book somewhere that you know is going to meet the standards that you expect. It’s why business travellers will often stick to the same chain of hotels, as they don’t want any surprises when they’re away for work.
I totally get this (though my version of this is booking a Premier Inn!) but the downside is that could miss out a more authentic experience that you couldn’t get anywhere else.
For example, I’m currently booking a trip to Mumbai and whilst there’s a bevvy of incredible 5 star hotels on offer for a good price, I came across this amazing 3 star hotel called Abode Bombay.
As a self declared ‘anti-chain luxury hotel’, they still deliver on style but are putting social responsibility at the forefront of what they deliver. They’ve furnished the hotel with local materials, serve local products in their cafe and are working with a female only taxi service which helps support underprivileged women in the city.
The Food and Drink is More Expensive
Not only are you paying premium dollar for your room, but the chances are that if you’re staying at a 5 star hotel, the food and drink on offer is going to be expensive too.
For example, a cappuccino at the 5 star Grand Hôtel du Palais Royal in Paris will set you back 10€ (no that is not a typo). However, for a very similar frothy coffee at the nearby 4 star Hôtel Lumen, the price is €6. Still pricey, but those euros will add up across a stay!!
The same can be said for the cost of breakfast and any other extras you may want to add to your bill, and so it’s worth totting up those costs too if you’re really looking to treat yourself.
My Favourite Luxury 4 Star Hotels With a 5 Star Feel
Whilst there are some amazing and affordable 5 star hotels out there, I wanted to shine a light on some of the incredible 4 star hotels I’ve stayed in that have absolutely delivered that ‘treat stay’ feel.
From the moment we got to the check in desk at Hotel Hotel, the service began.
The staff were so friendly and they’d already clocked that I had gold status with the website I’d booked with and had automatically upgraded us. From experience, this level of detail only tends to happen at luxury hotels!
As we were a little early, our room wasn’t ready yet but they said they were going to attend to it right away and sat us down in the bar and got us a coffee. Now, we had a ‘free drink’ included in our stay thanks to my gold status, but nope – they said that the coffee was simply on them. We could still claim our free bottle of sparkling wine at the bar later!
On getting to our room, there were pastel de nata and a welcome message waiting for us. The room was really beautifully appointed and definitely fell into the ‘treat’ category for us.
The final thing to mention is that as well as a breakfast buffet with hot food items to order, they had sparkling wine on offer to make your own morning bucks fizz.
Basically Hotel Hotel is the perfect example of a 4 star hotel with a 5 star feel.
Sometimes the appeal of a 5 star hotel isn’t just about the room, it’s about the communal spaces and facilities.
This is exactly what I was searching for at the start of January when James and I were after an inspirational space to plan the year ahead.
Our checklist was:
- a good gym
- a pool
- a beautiful space to work from
- a room with a view
Now, there are many a 5 star hotel in London that would check all those boxes but they come with a pretty hefty price tag. So by opening up our search to 4 star hotels, we discovered the art’otel London Battersea Power Station.
If you’re served travel content on TikTok, you’ve probably seen this hotel before thanks to its infinity pool with an incredible view of the power station. However, my favourite part had to be Joia Bar which was the absolute vibe we were after for a place to get excited for the year ahead. That, and a shoutout to Justine on the front desk who was SO NICE.
We paid £188 a night for our room – on a Saturday night – and before you say that’s too much, just consider that 5 star hotels with similar facilities could set you back way over £300 a night!
When visiting Polish cities, you may well find that your money goes a bit further versus other Western destinations but before you go clicking on that 5 star hotel, I present this idea to you: stay in the best room of a 4 star hotel instead.
That’s exactly what we did when we booked a trip to Krakow and opted to stay at PURO Kraków Stare Miasto.
Not only is it incredibly well rated, but it has suites up on the top floor that are really affordable. Staying in August – yep, that’s peak season – standard rooms were £55 a night and the suite was only £103 night!