Distinctions among quality levels are blurring as amenities continue to trickle down from costlier chains to cheaper ones. Opulence (nicer furnishings and fixtures) and service distinguish elegant hotels from the rest. Oddly enough, though, the fancier the chain the more likely you are to pay for wireless Internet access and breakfast, which are included in the price of a room at many lower-priced hotels. Here's a snapshot of the tiers:
Budget hotels generally offer a hair dryer, alarm clock/radio, safe, and TV with premium channels. Increasingly, you'll also get high-speed Internet (sometimes wireless), free local phone calls, continental breakfast, pool, modest exercise room, and perhaps a free newspaper. Many accept pets.
Moderate hotels often add an iron and ironing board, upgraded linens, a larger workspace, a two-line speakerphone, a coffeemaker, a larger fitness center, a meeting room, wireless Internet in public spaces, and hot breakfast.
Upscale hotels tend to cater to business clients, and amenities reflect that. They offer oversized work desks with enhanced lighting, ergonomic office chairs, two multiline phones, refrigerator, minibar, microwave, laundry and valet service, and a 24-hour food pantry. Some also feature an evening reception with food, snacks, and liquor.
Luxury hotels offer considerably more service, such as 24-hour room service, free shuttle transportation, bellhops, a shoe-shine stand, and a concierge desk. They'll usually accommodate special requests, so you can have an extra pillow, plate of fruit, or beverage waiting when you arrive at your room. These hotels emphasize their cozy robes, fluffy beds, high-thread-count sheets and pillowcases, and down comforters. Some have marble bathrooms and large flat-screen TVs. Spas, saunas, commercial-quality fitness centers, conference rooms, banquet facilities, and full-service restaurants are common.
Fanciest hotels combine even more solicitous treatment with locations in major cities, resort destinations, and exotic ports. Expect staff members to be at your beck and call around the clock. They'll turn down your bed at night, lay out complimentary robes and slippers, and clean the room twice a day. Your room might include dual sinks, a tub with separate stall shower, elegant furnishings, crystal glassware, designer toiletries, a DVD player, a 40-inch flat-screen television, an iPod docking station, a huge closet, and a remote control to open and close the blinds. Many hotels at this level have restaurants run by celebrity chefs.