Hotels provide private serviced rooms for guests. They range from very basic budget-style to extremely luxurious accommodation.
Booking a room
In most cases, hotel rooms are booked, or reserved, in advance, so that a room will be held by the hotel awaiting the arrival of a specific guest. Rooms at hotels can also be rented by simply walking in and enquiring at the front desk, but this may be met with a decline as the hotel may be fully booked for the night.
Rooms can be booked directly with the hotels, or via intermediaries such as travel websites and travel agents. Airlines, railways, ferry operators and other travel-related services providers often act as intermediaries as well, providing their passengers and clients the option to book a hotel room in addition to their regular services.
The price paid for staying at the hotel is generally determined by the room rate, i.e. the rate paid for staying each night spent in the room. The base room rate usually does not include anything but accommodation. Other services, as well as meals, usually incur extra charges. Use of some of the room's and hotel's facilities might also not be free for staying guests. It is good to make sure what is included in the rate and what chargeable extra before booking.
Hotels usually have a standard rate quoted at the front desk and displayed prominently in the hotel and in the rooms, which is often called the rack rate. The rack rate is usually the highest rate the hotel would charge for the room, as it is often required by legal restrictions. There are usually many rates one can pay for a given night that are lower than the rack rate, and the value of the rate depends on a number of factors. Knowing how hotels set their offered rates can help you book your desired room cheaper.
Some of the factors that can influence the value of the rate:
- Advance bookings - special, lower rates are often available when booking in advance. Hotels are very interested in having as many rooms as possible booked early to managed their occupancy better. The best rates are usually offered when booking 21 days or more in advance, but even booking a few days in advance would often get you a better rate than the rack rate you would get when walking into the hotel on the day of your stay.
- Cancellability - most bookings can be cancelled until the night of the stay, so the hotel risks keeping the room for you and then you cancelling it at the last minute. If you choose a rate that does not allow that, it would usually be lower, but you risk losing money if your plans need to change.
- Advance payment - you will usually pay for your hotel stay when checking out, but some attractive rates require you to pay in advance.
- Booking channel - you can sometimes get a better rate booking through a booking consolidator website. Conversely, hotels sometimes offer special rates only when booked via their own websites.
- Seasonality - most destinations usually have a high season for tourism, when staying there is deemed more desirable, so the rates will be higher than. It is usually dependent on weather conditions (most destinations will see more tourists coming in warmer months, except for skiing destinations, when months with good snow cover will attract most tourists).
- Special events - There are also some happenings during the year, such as holidays, feasts or special events (e.g. prominent football matches, concerts, festivals) that may affect demand and rates. For business destinations, trade fairs often rack up the rates considerably. If you do not intend to participate in those events, make sure you check the calendar of planned events at your destination and avoid them to avoid the increased rates.
Checking in and out
On arriving at the hotel, guests should check in, which means giving the front desk the details of the guests staying in a given room, referring to the booking, confirming rates and conditions, being assigned a room and receiving the key to the room. Checking out is done once a guest's stay is completed. The front desk staff presents the charges incurred and guests settle the bill. The key to the room is returned to the front desk at that time.
Hotels usually have fixed check-in and check-out times, given as the earliest hour one can check in at and the latest at which one can check out. Those are usually not the same time - hotels leave a few hours between check-in and check-out times to allow for housekeeping to clean and prepare any rooms that might be vacated at the last possible moment (thus, a day's stay at a hotel is usually shorter than 24 hours even if using all available time). Otherwise, check-in and check-out times are limited by the availability of front desk staff - not all hotels have front desks working 24 hours a day.
The latest check-out time varies between hotels, but is generally sometime around noon, while check-in is usually possible at times from 2 PM onwards. Earlier check-ins and later check-outs at hotels are usually treated as extra services incurring extra charges. They can sometimes be offered free of charge as perks to some guests and included in some rates or special packages. That said, sometimes hotels will let guests check in early or check out late on inquiry at the front desk with no additional conditions and charges if rooms are available.
Please note that failure to check out at appropriate check out times on the day your stay ends will often be understood as occupying the room for yet another night and therefore incur a full regular nightly rate. Late check-outs should be agreed upon with the front desk staff beforehand.
In some hotels, the check-in and check-out can be performed via automated kiosks in the hotel's lobby. This may be provided as a measure of economy (instead of employing staff hotels focusing on low costs offer automated services) or convenience (automated check-in and check-out may be quicker and more comfortable for some travellers in some situations).
Within a single hotel property, many different rooms may be available. Even in properties with uniform rooms, it is good to make sure what type of room is available to book one precisely fitting one's needs. Rooms may vary according to number and types of beds, size, facilities and amenities as well as décor and design.
- Single rooms are for single travellers. In many hotels, a single room is actually the same as a double room.
- Double rooms are for two travellers sleeping in the same bed.
- Twin rooms have two separate single beds.
- Triple rooms have either three separate beds, or a double bed plus a single bed.
- Quads rooms are designed for 4 people or more.
- Suites are complete apartments with multiple rooms, generally intended for longer stays.
- Honeymoon suites or bridal suites are novelty rooms with oversize beds or whirlpool baths. Marketed to couples, these are often larger than standard rooms but are not multiple-room suites.
- Efficiencies are rooms with kitchen or cooking facilities, permitting travellers to avoid costs of dining in restaurants.
Most modern hotel rooms will include private bathrooms (meaning they can only be accessed from the rooms and are intended to be used by the guests staying in the rooms only), which will be fitted with a sink, toilet and shower or bathtub (or both). This type of arrangement, called ensuite, has become commonplace in properties across all standards, although some hotels even in developed countries continue to offer rooms with shared bathrooms. Such bathrooms are usually located in common hallways and are intended for use by all occupants of the rooms in a given floor. Often a hotel room that is not ensuite will still include a sink with running water or even also a toilet.
Some hotels also offer bathrooms especially fitted to cater for the needs of disabled guests. This include special handlebars and supports, a folded seat in a shower stall and other fitments to enable comfortable use by a person with limited mobility, e.g. using a wheelchair, elderly or infirm. Guests requiring such facilities should make sure a property provides them and communicate this need at the time of booking.
Types of beds
The following terms are based on the North American standard for mattress sizes, which have been adopted by the hospitality industry worldwide due to the dominance of American hotel chains:
- A king bed is nearly square; it provides more than ample room for two people, maybe three if they're small or very friendly
- A queen bed provides enough room for two adults to sleep comfortably
- A full-size bed or double bed is like a small queen; two people will find it slightly cramped, while a single person will find it quite roomy
- A single bed or twin bed is half the width of a king, only really suitable for one person
Specific dimensions of beds and mattresses can vary between countries (up to 20 cm, which is quite significant); in addition, the terminology used to denote them can be either wildly different or confusingly similar.
Some hotels also have connecting rooms, which are separate units that can be connected with a door between them. Those can be useful for groups or families wanting to stay together with access to each other's room, but not sharing one. When not in use as such, they are often rented out as regular rooms with the connecting doors locked. A downside of staying in a connecting room is that noises from the other connecting room are sometimes more audible.
Suites are sets of separate chambers rented by a hotel as a common accommodation unit. A suite would usually include one or more bedrooms and some other rooms, such as a living room or sitting room, sometimes with a sofa that converts into a bed. Dining, office and kitchen facilities are also added in many suites. Suites generally offer more space and furniture than a standard hotel room.
A suite is usually provided as either a luxurious type of accommodation, one that enables more people (e.g. a family) to stay in a single unit, or one that provides for a more convenient extended stay. Often, these are marketed to businesspeople and convention delegates with the second room serving as a small office or meeting space.
Floors and views
In hotel buildings comprising several stories, rooms on upper floors are often deemed more attractive as they provide a better view, more privacy (less chance of anybody being able to glimpse into the room through the window from outside) and are farther away from any ground level noises. This especially applies to hotels in metropolitan areas, located at busy areas with heavy traffic, often in tall towers surrounded by other buildings. A reverse pattern applies to two-storey motels, where ground-floor tenants may park at the room and unload baggage directly instead of dragging luggage up a flight of stairs.
It is also possible that some rooms in a hotel have better or worse views than others; one side of an oceanfront lodge may face a beach while the other rooms face a road or highway. A landmark, skyline, landscape or striking vista may be visible from only part of the hotel; some rooms may also have less access to daylight, facing an internal courtyard or a wall of another building.
Rooms deemed better with regard to views or lighting may be offered at increased rates and require a specific booking.
Executive rooms, lounges and floors
Some of the more upscale hotels may offer special categories of rooms that provide access to a number of amenities contained within a lounge, often called executive or club lounge, and hence the rooms or suites would also be denoted as executive or club. Such lounges will often include both comfortable seating space, leisure amenities such as international TV, press and concierge service. It is common for a lounge to provide snacks and beverages at certain times or even throughout the day. All of the amenities available in the lounges are usually free of charge for guests with access to the lounges.
For convenience reasons, such lounges and rooms are often put on a separate floor or floors (named executive floors or similarly) with direct unrestricted access to the lounge, and the access to those floors is restricted to guests staying in those rooms only. Sometimes breakfasts for guests staying in such floors would be served at the lounge rather than in the area where other guests have breakfast. Lounges are often placed on higher floors of hotel buildings to provide better views.
Please note that naming of such facilities, their general availability, amenities available and mode of operation may vary, and a room denoted as executive or club might not provide access to a lounge like that. If you care for such amenities, it is best to consult the hotel's website or staff before booking.
Smoking / non-smoking
Hotels usually designate rooms as "smoking" and "non-smoking" (referring to tobacco/cigarette/cigar smoking) to enable non-smoking guests to enjoy rooms not tainted with the particular odours and other side effects of smoking. If either the absence of smoking residuals or the ability to smoke in the room is important to you, it is best to make sure your room is smoking or non-smoking while booking. If you believe you might have been assigned the incorrect type of room, contact the front desk of your hotel and ask to be moved to an appropriate category.
Many modern hotels, however, do not condone smoking at all within the hotel property, not only because of higher demand for strictly non-smoking rooms, but also modern smoke detectors that can be activated by somebody smoking. Thus, smoking in your room is not advisable unless you expressly confirm with hotel staff that this is possible and will not trigger a smoke alarm. Laws in many countries also strictly forbid smoking anywhere within the hotel building anyway.
Hotels may additionally offer meal service included in the price. Common terms include:
- Bed and breakfast (B&B). The morning meal is included. This may range considerably from a simple roll and coffee to an extensive buffet.
- Half board (aka half pension, demi-pension, modified American plan). A hotel rate that includes breakfast and one additional meal, typically dinner. Also called Modified American Plan and demi-pension.
- Full board (aka full pension, full American plan). A hotel rate in which three meals a day are included in the price.
- All inclusive. All meals and drinks are included. The list of "free" drinks is usually limited to non-alcoholic and inexpensive alcoholic beverages. Branded and premium alcoholic drinks are often not provided or available at extra cost.
There are various types of hotel to suit different travellers' needs or budget, or different companies' priorities. Star ratings may help; sometimes they are governed by tourism officials or a hotel association, so they are somewhat objective. In other cases they are pretty much arbitrary and meaningless.
That said, some concepts and formats have been quite uniformly adopted by the industry and can be found almost anywhere in the globe in the same form. Some of the popular and peculiar types of hotels are discussed below.
A "full-service hotel" is an American term referring to a hotel providing extensive service to guests and generally staffed around the clock. Many of the services provided incur extra charges over the room rate, but it is their availability that is referred to as "full service". A full-service hotel will usually include a front desk and room service available 24 hours a day, an on-site restaurant with upscale cuisine and service, and some leisure facilities dependent on country and area standards (most often a fitness room and a swimming pool). Full-service hotels are usually relatively expensive, and their basic room rates rarely include anything but accommodation itself, with every additional service incurring comparably steep charges. On the other hand, rooms in full service hotels will usually feature many amenities not found in rooms in cheaper hotels.
Full-service hotels will usually be rated as four- or five-star, or have a comparably high local rating. This category includes a broad range of facilities, from business-oriented international chain hotels to ultra-luxury boutique hotels. Some of the most popular international brands of full-service hotels include:
Limited and select-service hotels
Hotels referred to as "limited service" or "select service" will feature only some of the services and facilities provided by full-service hotels. Those American terms are not formally defined and used quite liberally, covering a broad range of facilities. In general, as the names suggest, those hotels will not offer some of the services and facilities full-service hotels provide (for example limited or no room service, or even no restaurant on premises), and the rooms in such hotels are simpler and have fewer amenities.
Popular limited or select service hotel brands include:
- ibis Hotels
- Holiday Inn Express
Economy or budget hotels
Properties referred to as budget- or economy hotels are geared towards providing accommodation at the lowest possible price. This is achieved by limiting the facilities and services available to guests and making hotel rooms smaller and simpler to fit more of them into a property at a lower cost. Many new economy hotels are purpose-built properties optimized with regard to investment and operating costs. There are also older hotels which position themselves as economy hotels as their standards have fallen behind traveller expectations as the property aged.
Some popular brands of economy hotels include:
- ibis budget, formerly known as "Etap hotels", which are a very simplified version of the regular ibis hotels
- Premiere Classe, an equivalent brand from another French hotel company
- easyHotels, started by the same entrepreneur that operates the low-cost easyJet airline, which charge extra for every service, amenity or perk beyond basic accommodation
A motel, motor inn or motor lodge is an economy hotel designed specifically for travellers in motor vehicles. Most were simple single-story or two-story buildings where travellers entered their rooms directly from the car park. These were common in the 1950s and 1960s in the US, Canada and Australia as a growing number of motorists filled endless stretches of two-lane rural highway.
Built inexpensively at roadside by independent businesspeople and advertised with elaborate neon signage, these began declining in number as the main roads they served were bypassed by motorways and major chains built new economy limited service chain hotels along the off ramps to compete directly in price.
In some cases, the small-town independent motel does still represent good value for travellers' money if it has been well-maintained and upgraded with modern amenities.
In others, what was a prime bit of rural roadside a half-century ago is now within the city and in a bad neighbourhood.
In France and Germany a "motel" may refer to any inexpensive roadhouse lodge while in Portugal, Spain, Italy and much of South and Central America the term refers to an establishment which caters primarily to adultery.
Airport hotels are in suburban locations suited mostly towards guests arriving or departing from the airport, transit passengers with a significant layover between connecting flights and airline crews. Airport hotels may be connected to an airport terminal or located off-site with shuttle service between the hotel and the airport.
While airport hotels vary in standard of quality, many are part of international hotel chains. These often offer lower rates than a central downtown property of similar standard in a given chain due to their location. Airport hotel strips are constructed in suburbs, often with limited and complicated access to anything but the airport itself, and are prone to aircraft noise (although most airport hotels are sufficiently soundproofed). Airport hotels rarely provide especially desirable room views; serving a utilitarian function, they rarely enjoy the same level of investment in design and facilities as their city centre or resort counterparts. Hotel designers are also restricted in the height of buildings constructed in close proximity to runways and flight paths.
Transit hotels, a specialised form of airport hotel, are located inside the terminal in airside positions where travellers may enter from arriving international flights without passing through the host country's immigration controls. A transit hotel is intended as short-stay accommodation (sometimes as little as five or six hours) for air travellers who are in transit and plan to board another international flight out without leaving the host airport.
Due to their short-stay market, amenities are variable but often limited. Most or all provide the basics — a bed, desk, toilet, shower and Internet access. A few may be tiny capsule hotels; others offer premium facilities like gyms and spas.
Extended-stay hotels / Aparthotels
Those hotels are designed to cater for the needs of travellers staying over an extended period of time, anything from four nights to weeks or even months. As such, they straddle the divide between hotels and apartments for rent. The differences are generally that an extended-stay property or aparthotel:
- has been designed solely for the purpose, or converted to suit such purpose, while many rentable apartments are simply parts of regular residential buildings
- contains only rentable rooms, there are no fixed tenants and usually no other uses of the buildings apart from rentable rooms, suites and apartments and common services for the guests
- provide a certain level of shared services, depending on the exact standard of the property, which usually includes a front desk/reception, housekeeping and some measure of on-site gastronomy
The differences between an extended-stay and regular hotel property usually include:
- there is a broader selection of larger rooms and suites than in regular hotels which focus on smaller, single-bedroom units
- rooms and suites usually include a kitchenette / food preparation area for travellers to cater for themselves (regardless of whether other gastronomy options are provided on site)
Such hotels are generally geared towards two groups of travellers. One includes business travellers who are away on business for extended periods of time but do not completely relocate from their permanent residence. Those properties are frequently found within or around cities that are business centres, and are often located next to central business districts, business parks or places a business traveller might want to be close to, as well as being well-connected to transportation infrastructure (road/highway network, airports, railway stations). The other is geared toward leisure travellers wanting to spend a vacation in one place and cater for themselves partially or totally. They are most often found in leisure destinations and may contain fewer business-oriented facilities, while being more oriented towards the needs of travelling families.
Examples of extended-stay hotel chains and brands are:
- Residence Inn and TownePlace Suites from Marriott
- Staybridge Suites from InterContinental Hotels Group
- Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton
- Adagio and Suite Novotel from Accor
- Hyatt House (formerly known as Summerfield Suites)
This term has become more popular in recent years and has been applied quite liberally by the hospitality industry thanks to its generally positive connotations and ability to enhance the status of a varying array of properties. The general concept is that a "boutique hotel" is a unique property, not one designed to fit a predetermined format or a brand, which is the case with most modern hotel chain properties. The other qualities often associated with the category are a certain degree of luxury as well as small size, but a traveller might find that a hotel referred to as "boutique" lacks either to some extent or completely.
While boutique hotels were typically thought of as independent alternatives to chain hotels, the popularity of the concept and the demands of the modern hospitality markets have led both individual property operators to form or join some type of association or chain, and hotel operating companies to extend their portfolios by acquiring or creating boutique hotels themselves, often under a specifically created brand.
Brands created by large hospitality companies created specifically to include boutique hotels include:
- The Luxury Collection by Starwood
- Waldorf Astoria Hotels & Resorts by Hilton
- MGallery by Accor
Do note, however, that many properties operated under other upscale brands of those and other operators can also be deemed boutique hotels. The main difference is that the abovementioned brands usually do not take precedence over the original name of the property, only being featured in some communications in secondary order.
A different concept is the Ibis Styles brand of Accor hotels, which was created to allow inexpensive independent properties to join the Accor chain with minimal changes to the properties themselves. These hotels are generally similar in prices and level of service to the company's regular "Ibis" hotels, but vary wildly in terms of actual property characteristics, locations, and room sizes. One common thing is that Ibis Styles hotels always provide free WiFi and breakfast included in the room rate, while Ibis hotels often charge extra for both.
Grand old hotels
In many cities, there is one famous old hotel, usually going back to the Victorian era, that was historically the place to stay. Often, these hotels served cross-country rail travellers in an era long before the "jet set" and reliable commercial aviation. Some became landmarks in their own right.
Of course, the newer luxury hotels may have better facilities, but the old place has cachet.
A capsule hotel is a type of hotel developed in Japan that provides guest accommodation in modular plastic or fiberglass blocks (called "capsules") of roughly 2 m (6 ft 7 in) by 1 m (3 ft 3 in) by 1.25 m (4 ft 1 in). A capsule is basically only suitable for laying or sleeping in it, although some also include a television, an electronic console, and wireless internet connection for guests to relax or entertain themselves before going to sleep.
Capsule hotels consist of multiple capsule units places side by side and stacked upon each other to maximize space utilization. Communal facilities are usually very limited and include shared washrooms and luggage lockers (as there is basically no room for luggage in a capsule), but sometimes also restaurants or vending machines. Capsule hotels are intended to provide cheap and basic overnight accommodation for guests not requiring the services offered by more conventional hotels. They are generally rarely, if ever, found outside of Japan but remain popular there.
Hotels usually provide a range of services that distinguish them from other accommodation options. The array of services rendered usually plays a crucial role in determining the hotel's star rating, and also influences the prices, while being itself influenced by the group of travellers the hotel intends to cater for.
The hotel services may include:
- Front desk / reception, taking care of checking guests in and out, billing them and collecting charges, as well as taking care of various guest requests and enquiries. This facility is found in almost all but some modern self-service facilities, where guests check themselves in and out using automated check-in kiosks
- Housekeeping, taking care of cleaning the guest rooms (as well as common spaces), as well as changing bedsheets and towels, restocking amenities and minibar contents and such. This is pretty much a standard in any kind of hotel property, but the scope and frequency of housekeeping may vary widely
- Bathroom amenities, including towels, toiletries (soap, shower gel, shampoo, body/hand lotion), bathrobes, slippers; non-bathroom amenities include sewing kits and shoe-polishing. Most basic and inexpensive hotels would only provide the very basic of those (if any), while luxury hotels usually pride themselves with a wide selection of complimentary cosmetics bearing an upscale brand and all other amenities from the list.
- Useful appliances such as hairdryers, irons and ironing boards, and refrigerators. Depending on the hotel's standard, they are to be found in every room, can be borrowed from the reception being shared among the guests, are available in common service rooms or are not available at all
- In-room entertainment options such as TV or pay-per-view movies. It was usual in the earlier decades to provide a radio in the room; this function may now be integrated into the TV or alarm clock.
- Internet connectivity by means of wired Internet connection or WiFi, available in the room, specific common areas only or throughout the property. This is becoming standard in most hotels; whether the service is free or paid may vary. It is not uncommon for high-end hotels to charge substantial fees for Internet connectivity or local 'phone service which a more modest property would have included with a room at no extra charge.
- Gastronomy / meal service, discussed above. In economy limited service properties with no restaurant, the room price sometimes includes a "continental breakfast" which consists of simple pastries, muffins, coffee or juice.
- Room service, which is usually understood as the ability to have a member of staff come to the guest's room at any time, or at specifically limited times, and provide them with an item or service. This is most widely used to order food or drink items to be brought to the room.
- Minibar, which is basically a selection of snacks and beverages to be found in the room, which can be consumed by the guests and usually incurs additional charges for every item consumed. Minibar items are often very small in size compared to same products usually available for sale outside of hotels, and even more often are very expensive compared to usual retail prices.
- Tea and coffee-making facilities, which usually boil down to an electric kettle and a set of cups, and is usually provided free and, in Western countries, found standard even in relatively inexpensive hotels. It is common for the hotels to provide single-portion servings of instant coffee, bagged tea, milk or creamer and sugar (nowadays often also artificial sweetners). More upscale hotels would replace or append this with more sophisticated espresso machines using pre-packaged coffee servings, such as Nespresso.
- Turndown service is offered by some more upscale properties, consisting in members of staff converting the room from day to night use
- Wellness, fitness and spa facilities, which often include a fitness room and a swimming pool, less often a sauna, massage/therapy rooms (with staff and services rendered, obviously) and beautician/hairdresser salons.
- Business centres, where business travellers may access equipment and services such as computers, printers, fax and copying machines. In some hotels, fax (at a fixed price per-page) and currency exchange is available at the front desk.
- Concierge, a specific member of staff performing requests such as event and ticket bookings
Hotels may also charge a mandatory fee in addition to the standard room and board charge to provide access to additional facilities. This is typically called a Resort Fee and can include access to things such as exercise facilities, pools, and high-speed internet access.
In some hotels (particularly downtown in medium/large cities) additional fees apply for parking. Airport hotels will sometimes provide shuttlebus services from the hotel to the air terminal at regular intervals.
In many countries of the world hotels feature a rating, reflecting their supposed standard. This rating is most frequently expressed in stars, with one star meaning the lowest standard, and five stars meaning the highest standard. In some countries, other systems are employed, such as letters or particular names. See our article on rating systems for details.
The hotel rating is usually done by a state authority or industry organization in a given country, and is most often based on "hard" criteria that are clear and easy to appraise, such as whether the hotel has a given facility or service available. Therefore, hotel ratings will usually tell you whether the hotel has a swimming pool or room service, but not whether the rooms are truly comfortable or the personnel is friendly and courteous.
In some countries more than one classification is in use, e.g. when an external organization, such as an automobile club, uses their own rating. Wherever a star rating is not officially regulated, some properties may simply give themselves as star rating at will, e.g. some hotels in Dubai refer to themselves as six- or seven-stars, implying they are even better than the five-star properties elsewhere in the world. There are also some global ratings, e.g. some hotel organizations like Leading Hotels of the World perform inspections at member and aspiring member properties against their own standards. Finally, package tour companies often give properties their own star or star-like ratings (e.g. by awarding them one to five "suns") in their catalogues.
Brands, management and ownership
A "hotel chain" is usually meant to represent a collection of hotels under the same brand, management or ownership. Similar expressions exist in other languages (e.g. "Hotelkette" in Germany, which is a direct analogue), while in some languages the reference to network is used. A hotel chain would usually use a specific brand which becomes a part of the name of every hotel in the chain, and has all the hotels follow a number of standards. Do note, however, that the amount of uniformity and standardization within hotel chains can vary, and a hotel chain may include very different properties of different standards under a common brand.
While not of obvious to travellers it is worth noting that the hotel's brand does not imply its management or ownership. A hotel may be owned by a separate entity and operated by another, unrelated directly to the company providing the brand name by means of franchise agreement. Often hotel chains contain a mix of properties owned and operated by the "mother company", only managed by it and ones that are completely franchised out. For example, most Hilton hotels around the world are not owned, or even operated, by Hilton Worldwide.
Therefore, three types of businesses evolved in conjunction with operating hotels:
- Hotel chain operators, which often act as master franchisees providing brand concepts, names, standards and often management guidance to individual hotel operators. They may or may not assume the role of hotel management companies with all, some or none of the hotels within their chains, and often .
- Hotel management companies, which operate the hotel by employing the staff and using infrastructure to provide hotel services, collecting revenues and splitting them between themselves, the hotel chain operator / franchisor and the owner of the property
- Real estate holding companies, which own the hotel properties. This is often split between developers, who basically create hotels, building them from scratch or refurbishing existing buildings with the help and guidance of hotel chain operators and hotel management companies, and investment companies, who buy already operating hotel properties from developers. In some cases, the same franchisees may own multiple hotels with different brand affiliations for each.
Sometimes a large hospitality company would have separate entities performing each of those roles, which may or may not cooperate on specific properties depending on circumstances and needs. Travellers are almost always only presented with the name of the hotel chain operator and/or the specific brand and it may not be obvious who actually operates and owns the hotel. This may or may not be relevant, as in some chains owned and operated properties might be held to different standards from franchised properties.
Many hotel chain operators choose to operate multiple hotel chains and brands to cater to a wider range of travellers by including properties in multiple price ranges; for instance, a property which does not meet the standards to be a Days Inn can be marketed by the same chain as a Knights Inn. A chain normally associated with full-service hotels can launch an "express" or "econo" marque under different branding to enter the economy limited service price range, where a hotel only has the most basic motel-like amenities, without undermining its core brand. This form of market segmentation often also serves as a means for franchisors to circumvent restrictions where a franchisee is contractually guaranteed a minimum distance between hotels or motels of the same franchised brand.
Hotel Loyalty Programs
Hotel Loyalty Programs are loyalty programmes operated by hotel chains, that are in many ways similar to frequent flyer programmes. The purpose of Hotel loyalty programs are to ensure that a hotel company retains its clients as frequent guests by offering benefits for staying as a guest or booking conference rooms and facilities at their hotels. The basic idea is every eligible hotel night or every dollar you spend at hotel brands participating in the corporate hotel loyalty program earns points, which can be exchanged for rewards like hotel rooms, room upgrades and airline miles. Hotel co-branded credit cards are a common strategy for earning hotel loyalty points and benefits when not staying at hotels.
An additional incentive for a hotel frequent guest is premium membership. Each corporate hotel loyalty program has its own criteria for elite membership. Hotel loyalty program elite membership is generally earned by a frequent guest when certain thresholds are met for the number of hotel stays, hotel nights, or money spent. A hotel stay is defined as consecutive nights at same hotel under same name, regardless of the number of different reservations.
Elite membership in a hotel loyalty program is generally based on activity within a calendar year. Sleep at the loyalty program member hotels for sufficient nights or stays, or spend enough money and you'll get a silver/gold/platinum/diamond hotel program membership card entitling you to various perks, such as hotel points bonuses, lounge access, free upgrades, guaranteed rooms, etc. High level elite membership in the major hotel chain loyalty programs, generally with the benefit of complimentary room upgrades, takes between 25 and 75 hotel nights in a 12-month period.
Some hotel chains, particularly in the luxury segment, operate programs that do not award points, but offer frequent guest recognition with added value benefits such as complimentary room upgrades, restaurant and spa discounts, and additional amenities in recognition of the loyal guest.
International hotel chains are a popular choice with business travellers, as they generally offer standardized predictability. The downside for leisure travel is that they are rarely very exciting or exotic, and there can still be considerable variation within the brand.
The following lists major international hotel chains only, i.e. those with significant presence (~500 hotels or more) on all or almost all inhabited continents. Local chains can be found in individual country articles.
- Accor is a French company operating thousands of hotels throughout the world, but with relatively limited presence in North America. Accor runs the Le Club Accorhotels loyalty scheme, offering the possibility to exchange points for miles with most frequent flyer programmes. A similar programme is operated for business travellers.
Some of their brands are:
- Sofitel luxury hotels
- MGallery brand used for upscale boutique hotels
- Pullman upscale, full-service hotels emphasizing modern design
- Novotel mid-range hotels with a high level of standardization. Suite Novotels are ones offering extended-stay features
- Mercure mid-range hotels with more variation between properties
- Adagio extended-stay properties, with the Adagio Access budget-oriented sub-brand
- ibis hotels, the very popular range of inexpensive hotels offering reasonable standard, now encompassing three sub-brands:
- the "red pillow" standard ibis hotels, which are basically properties purpose-built to ibis standards, which are the same throughout the world
- the "green pillow" ibis Styles, which are most often conversions from other brands and thus offer much less standardization, but in turn always feature free WiFi and breakfast included in the room rate. The brand was previously called all seasons
- the "blue pillow" ibis budget hotels, which are very basic properties with minimum comforts and facilities, aimed at the budget travellers. This brand includes rebranded former Etap Hotels
- Best Western International is the world's largest hotel brand with more than 4,200 hotels in 80 countries. "The Best Western Motels" were founded in 1946 as a referral chain, a co-operative owned by individual member hotels which each display their own local name alongside the chain's branding. The chain itself does not own any hotel properties. They place little emphasis on standardization across properties, although certain corporate standards have to be kept by all Best Western hotels. In the new millennium, they introduced Best Western Plus and Best Western Premier designation for properties offering higher standards than regular Best Westerns. Their Best Western Rewards loyalty programme has partnerships with various airlines and travel service providers in different countries.
- Carlson Hotels is a family-owned enterprise based in the United States with global presence. Their loyalty programme is Club Carlson. Their brands include:
- Hotel Missoni luxury hotels, a partnership with the fashion brand
- Radisson upscale hotels. The brand had an offshot, formerly called Radisson SAS and co-operated with SAS Scandinavian Airlines, now branded Radisson BLU
- Park Plaza full-service hotels - actually operated under a marketing agreement by a separate European company which also runs art'otels
- Park Inn by Radisson mid-range standardized hotels
- Country Inns & Suites by Carlson, limited-service properties mostly found in North America and India
- Choice Hotels International is a company started in the USA, with a strong presence there and in Canada and Nordic Countries in Europe, but much less prominent everywhere else. Their loyalty programme, Choice privileges, has point exchange partnerships with almost all airlines operating in United States, but very few elsewhere. Some of their brands are:
- Ascend upscale hotels in North America and Scandinavia
- Clarion full-service hotels
- Quality Inn mid-range hotels
- Comfort Inn limited-service hotels
- Sleep Inn, Rodeway Inn and Econo Lodge economy hotels and motels
- Cambria Suites, Comfort Suites, Mainstay Suites and Suburban extended-stay properties
- Hilton Worldwide is perhaps the most known American hotel company focusing on upscale properties. Over time, they have built a selection of brands:
- Waldorf-Astoria luxury boutique, usually historic, hotels, including many grand old hotels
- Conrad luxury hotels, named after the company's founder, Conrad Hilton
- Hilton upscale hotels
- Doubletree full-service hotels
- Hilton Garden Inn mid-range hotels
- Hampton by Hilton / Hampton Inn limited-service hotels
- Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home2 extended-stay brands
- Hilton Grand Vacations brand of timeshare properties
- Their Hilton Honors loyalty scheme has partnerships with most airlines and travel service providers worldwide.
- Hyatt Hotels focuses on the upper end of the market and is highly concentrated in North America, but expanding globally. It is relatively the smallest of the American-based global hospitality groups by number of properties. The company brands include:
- Hyatt, Park Hyatt, Grand Hyatt and Hyatt Regency upscale full-service hotels
- Andaz boutique hotels
- Hyatt Place a limited-service brand
- Hyatt House extended-stay brand, formerly called Summerfield Suites
- Hyatt Residence Club brand of timeshare properties
- Hyatt Gold Passport loyalty programme
- InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), based in the United Kingdom, lays claim to being the largest hotel group by number of rooms. Their brands include:
- InterContinental luxury hotels
- Indigo boutique hotels
- Crowne Plaza full-service hotels
- Holiday Inn mid-range hotels
- Holiday Inn Express limited-service brand, offering free breakfast and WiFi worldwide
- Candlewood Suites and Staybridge Suites extended-stay brands
- Priority Club loyalty programme, which will offer free WiFi at IHG properties to all members starting in 2014
- Groupe du Louvre if a French company which operates various chains of hotels of various standards, with a loose association between them and a focus on Europe with only a token North American presence with singular Golden Tulip and Concorde hotels. The group members are:
- Golden Tulip Hospitality Group, operating hotels on six continents under three brands:
- Tulip Inn, offering limited-service accommodation at a three-star standard
- Golden Tulip, which is a notch higher and aspires to four stars
- Royal Tulip, a new concept of full-service, five-star hotels
- There is a common loyalty programme run for all Tulip-branded hotels, called Flavours, which rewards frequent travellers and enables them to earn miles for their stays with selected SkyTeam and oneworld airlines.
- In addition to that, they operate three French hotel brands directly controlled by Louvre Hotels:
- Premiere Classe  brand of budget, "one star" properties, competing primarily with Accors' ibis budget, an located mainly in France, with a few hotels in other European countries
- Campanile , a brand of modest two or three-star hotels located mostly on the outskirts of cities and catering to motorized travellers. They can be found in most Western European countries and in Poland.
- Kyriad  is a chain of hotels equivalent to Golden Tulip in France. Some properties of higher standard are designated Kyriad Prestige
- The Concorde Hotels & Resorts  chain of luxury hotels is "affiliated" with Louvre Hotels and manages a small number of boutique hotels, often not bearing the Concorde name explicitly, in Europe and North Africa, plus two hotels in Japan and one in Boston in the USA.
- While there is no loyalty programme for guests of Premiere Classe, Campanile, Kyriad and Concorde hotels, they can all earn miles for their stays with the FlyingBlue frequent flyer programme of AirFrance-KLM.
- Golden Tulip Hospitality Group, operating hotels on six continents under three brands:
- Marriott International is an American-based hospitality group focusing on luxury and upscale segments with their numerous brands:
- The Ritz-Carlton top-level luxury hotels brand
- BVLGARI Hotels & Resorts luxury design hotels branded by the designer label
- JW Marriott, Marriott and Renaissance luxury hotels
- EDITION and Autograph Collection boutique hotels
- Gaylord Hotels in the USA, which, unlike the name may suggest, is not catering to LGBT travellers but is rather a brand of very large convention centres and theme resorts acquired by Marriott
- AC hotels by Marriott chain in Mediterranean Europe
- Courtyard by Marriott brand of mid-range hotels
- SpringHill Suites and Fairfield Inn & Suites limited-service brands, primarily found in North America
- Marriott Executive Apartments, TownPlace Suites and Residence Inn extended-stay brands
- Marriott Vacation Club International, Grand Residences Club and The Ritz-Carlton Destination Club brands of timeshare properties
- 'Marriott Rewards loyalty programme
- Starwood Hotels of the USA operates many of the world's most recognized upscale hotel brands and is expanding the limited-service market. Their brands include:
- The Luxury Collection of boutique and landmark luxury hotels
- Westin, Sheraton, Le Meridien and St. Regis upscale full-service hotels
- Four Points by Sheraton, a limited-service offshot of the Sheraton brand
- W hotels, a brand of trendy, modern design-themed upscale full-service hotels
- aloft, a brand similarly emphasizing modern design and trendiness, but in the limited-service market
- element extended stay hotels with an environmental theme
- 'starwood preferred guest, their loyalty programme
- Wyndham Hotel Group based in the USA, has amassed a huge portfolio of brands through its many acquisitions under its past guise of Cendant Corporation:
- Wyndham full-service hotels, including sub brands Grand Wyndham and Wyndham Garden
- Wingate by Wyndham mid-range limited-service hotels
- Hawthorne Suites extended-stay hotels
- TRYP by Wyndham, urban hotels in several European and South American cities operated under a franchise agreement with Sol Melia Hotels of Spain
- Ramada Worldwide brand with sub-brands like Ramada encore, Ramada Limited or Ramada Plaza
- Dream Hotels, Night Hotels and Planet Hollywood brands of themed / designer properties
- A plethora of inexpensive hotel and motel brands with presence mostly in North America, including the iconic Howard Johnson, Days Inn, Super 8, Knights Inn, Baymont Inn and Suites, Microtel Inn and Suites and Travelodge (in North America only, Travelodge in the UK is an unrelated company)
- Several brands of resorts and holiday villages offering holiday rental properties under the umbrella of Wyndham Vacation Rentals
- Wyndham Vacation Ownership timeshare brand, with several sub-brands
- RCI and The Registry Collection, offering "vacation exchange" services to timeshare owners
- Wyndham Rewards loyalty scheme
There are also other hotel chains, focusing on top-level luxury hotels only, who have a limited number of properties but remain world-known names for their high standards, global reach and landmark properties. Some of those are:
- Fairmont Raffles Hotels International is a group operating three luxury hotel brands: Raffles , Fairmont  and Swissôtel 
- Four Seasons operates around a 100 top-level luxury hotels around the world and is renown for supreme service