What’s The Best Luxury Hotel Chain?

Let me start off with a question. Who’s better — One Direction or Taylor Swift? I mean, I know questions don’t get much tougher than that, but the answer probably varies based on a couple of things:

  • If you’re in a bad mood, chances are that you prefer Taylor Swift.
  • It depends on the song, no? It’s like comparing “What Makes You Beautiful” from One Direction to “I Knew You Were Trouble” from Taylor Swift. Conversely, it’s like comparing “Last First Kiss” from One Direction to “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” from Taylor Swift.

In case my anecdote is causing more confusion than clarification (I can’t imagine how that would be possible, but y’all is weird sometimes), I’m trying to draw a parallel to hotels. How?

Well, I’m always fascinated by how different people perceive different luxury hotel chains. Now, since I primarily stick to hotel chains which belong to the “major” loyalty programs (in other words, whenever possible I like to redeem points for hotels which would be expensive), categorizing hotels isn’t a #firstworldproblem I have to deal with too much, personally. But for many that’s not the case clearly.

When you think of luxury hotel chains, what are the first ones that spring to mind? For me it’s probably Aman, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Park Hyatt, Ritz-Carlton, Shangri-La, St. Regis, etc.

St-Regis-New-York
St. Regis New York

I’ve had the good fortune to stay at some properties of each of the above chains over the years, and the one thing I’ve learned is that the quality of each chain is very property dependent.

That’s why I find it so interesting that there are people that say “Four Seasons is much better than Ritz-Carlton,” or “Park Hyatts aren’t true luxury hotels,” etc.

I believe it’s all property dependent. For example, many consider Park Hyatts to not be “truly” competitive luxury hotels. Though would anyone argue that the Park Hyatts aren’t the best properties in Buenos Aires or Sydney, even though there are Four Seasons in both cities?

Park-Hyatt-Buenos-Aires
Park Hyatt Buenos Aires

Similarly, there are lots of people that rave about Four Seasons and consider them to be a completely different caliber than Ritz-Carlton. Admittedly the Four Seasons George V Paris probably is, but if you stay at the Four Season Dublin, would you really leave with the same impression (the hotel is still a great value — I paid an average of  less than $200USD per night when I stayed there)?

Four-Seasons-Dublin
Four Seasons Dublin

Contrast that to the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, which for my style is the best hotel in Hong Kong.

Ritz-Carlton-Hong-Kong
Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong

On the other end of the spectrum, would anyone ever think of Hyatt Regency as being a “luxury” brand? Yet the Hyatt Regency Kyoto — which should be a Park Hyatt — could give any luxury hotel a run for its money, in my opinion.

Hyatt-Regency-Kyoto
Hyatt Regency Kyoto

Personally, the only hotel chain I’ve stayed at that I consider to be in a truly different league is Aman. It’s not a chain I could afford to stay at with any regularity, though I splurged and took my mom to two of the Bali properties last year for her “round” birthday. As cheesy as it sounds, I find Aman properties to be truly transformative. The hotel industry is referred to as the “hospitality industry,” and I don’t think there’s any place that’s more accurate than at Aman properties.

Amandari
Amandari

To luxury hotel junkies, I’d be curious to hear your thoughts — is there across the board a “top” luxury hotel chain, or does it vary by property? What do you consider to be the top chains?

Comments

  1. For me, I find:

    1) Waldorf’s are usually overrated.

    2) St. Regis is one of the most consistent 5* brands worldwide.

    3) Park Hyatt’s can be stunning hotels, but when you break them down, they’re just as blasé as every other Hyatt. (That’s not necessarily a knock on PHs…just sayin, put lipstick on a pig…)

    4) Four Seasons are damn fine hotels.

    Otherwise, Ben, I’m in agreement w/ your assessment.

    Look forward to staying at both FS’s in Cairo this December.

  2. Saying it’s property dependent is true, but that’s just identifying outliers. Talking about a best chain is talking about averages. That can be useful, or useless, it tells us nothing to talk about Amans for instance and compare them to a more city-oriented luxury chain like Peninsula.

    That said, there are lessons to draw, Four Seasons is undoubtedly a great chain with lesser properties. And I do not find Ritz-Carlton to be a great chain at all, despite having some better properties.

  3. Hi Lucky! Any tips about what is the best way to redeem for Aman properties? Do u use points/miles for I ever?

  4. I have to agree with @Gary Leff re Ritz Carltons. After four very mediocre stays at different domestic US RCs, where I told myself after each stay that the property must have been an outlier… I finally accepted that, on average, the chain’s service just doesn’t live up to the marketing. And while the Tokyo property was much better, the service was also a bit hit or miss, which was somewhat surprising given the general good service and attention to detail one finds in Japan.

  5. @ PAULY T — They don’t have a loyalty program, so the only way to do it is to redeem points as cash. For example, use you can use Barclaycard Arrival miles.

  6. @ Andrew sjc — This list wasn’t intended to be a comprehensive list of my favorite hotels, but rather just a mention of a few outliers within a few brands.

  7. @ Alex — The ones I’ve stayed at have been run down, so I’m probably not the right person to ask about them. I’ve never thought of it was a true luxury brand.

  8. Aman isn’t really comparable to any of the other chains, it’s just so different.

    As far as higher-end chains go, I consider them to be Mandarin Oriental, Four Seasons, Park Hyatt, (maybe could be talked into) Shangri-La, St. Regis, and the Waldorf Astoria in Chicago (that’s the only one at which I stay). Ritz Carlton doesn’t make the cut, it’s just not consistent, least of all a consistent “best.”

    Chedi and Anantara also have some incredible and incredibly well-run properties, though they focus more on an Asian footprint than a lot of the other chains.

  9. How about Belmond? ( the old orient express hotels). Yes very property specific as the Cipriani in Venice is probably the best hotel there. Agreed on Aman. I forget the chain the Berkeley in London belongs to but that’s my favorite in London. And I consider the Four Seasons in Paris NOT the best example of Four Seasons. At least a dozen more are more representative

  10. I love Asian luxury hotels but others are also great. Here is my top ones: Aman, TAJ, Raffles, Banyan Tree, Peninsula, Mandarin Oriental, Shangri-La, Oberoi, Four Seasons.

  11. On your visit to India, when you come to fly Air India, check out the Oberoi Vyanvilas in Ranthambore, Oberoi UdaiVilas in Udaipur, the Taj Mansingh in Delhi, Taj Mahal Palace Mumbai and the Taj Fort Aguada in Goa.

  12. The flyertalk luxury hotels forum has a great discussion on just this topic.

    Populated by many who actually spend money to stay at luxury properties (!), it is truly the best place I have found on the web to get honest assessments from people with actual experiences at many of the best properties in the world.

    That being said…

    I think for all of the ‘chains’, it is location / property dependent. Some are spectacular, some fall short (even if they are very nice hotels). Gary – it is binary, you can’t accept an ‘average’ across many properties.

    Aman, with the recent takeover by a Russian oligarch, is already seeing changes and will see more. Hopefully the new ownership recognizes the value of the brand and experience. But at the end of the day, he bought it to make money.

  13. Comparable to Aman is I think the Vilas chain only in India. I recommend Vanyavilas, Udaivilas, Jaivilas as a start.

  14. Aman restaurants are a great value! No chance I’m paying for a room!!!

    However I ate 2 great Meals at the Aman in Galle Sri Lanka and another at an Aman in Ubud Bali – each dinner for 2 people was less than $100 when the room were more than $1,000 a night!!!

  15. I was waiting for someone to mention Oberoi. I stayed at the Oberoi Lombok and visited the Oberoi Bali. Absolutely loved the property in Lombok, while the Bali property isn’t too far behind.

  16. Relais and Chateau has some truly over the top properties that are still approachable in the off seasons…….

  17. Outside of the Amans, it is property specific (and sometimes room category specific). In Sydney it would be the Park Hyatt, in Bangkok the Peninsula, in Orange County, California, the club level at the Ritz-Carlton Laguna Niguel, and for me, in San Francisco, the Mandarin Oriental. For those Waldorf-Astoria fans, I like the service at the Rome Cavalieri (if staying on the Imperial level). At the luxury level, it really is property dependant for the chains. Even if they want to be consistent across properties, they are not.

  18. JustSaying,

    I also agree about some Relais and Chateau properties. I’m staying at one now that is outstanding. 🙂

  19. I would appreciate others thoughts on which of these agreed upon luxury hotel chains have generous programs, free nights and suite upgrades that permit smart travelers to spend hundreds of dollars per night versus thousands on a hotel room. Clearly the Hyatt program is one. American Express’s find hotels and resorts program also provides interesting opportunities.

  20. I would not characterize RelaIS AND Chateaux as a chain. Rather I’d say it is a mareketing organization, but applies quite strict standards for its affiliates. I have enjoyed the several I have visited and fee confident that the name carries an imprimatur of the most exacting quality.

  21. David M, ssshhhhhh not too many secrects like this.

    Agree with Lucky chains just provide Manuals for staff and local customs play apart. Most leading or first class hotels in most cities tend to be independent or a local chain. They only way large chains get the honour of being number 1 is by buying the local leader I.e. Hotel San George V. Since the takeover Hotel V has gone from almost No 1 for over 50 years to the lowly top 10. Park Hyatt Sydney it’s view is it’s jewel happy to pay $US700 for a view of a brick wall? This PH had very high standards as until recently it’s main competitor was the Observatory Hotel no view just excellent accommodation, facilities, food if you couldn’t get a reservation, there was always the PH. It was said to me years ago and I have found it to be very accurate, “People pay to stay with us, why should we offer something for nothing we are in businesses”. Then again my top 3 favourite hotels in Europe all give the most important of freebies/points print business cards and stationery for my use on arrival, the room phone is a direct number and answered by reception in your name when out of the hotel. My bonus at one for staying 2 weeks or more is it’s Letterpress! Gets me every time. I find the luxe hotels as in ” Small luxury hotels of the world” (shocking title theirs not mine) you do get benefits if you book through their international booking system, it varies a bit but? Oh Aman does have a loyalty program you just have to stay about 20 nights a year and you start to get invitations? Yes it’s a great blog about loyalty/disloyalty programs and getting things for free but the best things in life are not free. Best first class hotel currently in Sydney the Russell just up the road from the PH if you can get in! Best American chain hotel experience but local Quay West ask for Circular Quay room, it’s an apartment hotel. No points but a local twist where locals go which makes it better for business. Any Asian based hotel chain over American any day except Tokyo, Banyan Tree as mentioned already but Bangkok is all about staffed Private houses/villa’s not rooms and if it has a dock on the river……. Each to their own but luxury in the same sentence as Hilton, SPG, Hyatt etc… Makes me raise an eye brow then again it’s a blog about the freebies and a dash of first class. Define a true Road Warrior at the pointy end, they only have a sattelite phone!

  22. You skipped some notables: Taj (Esp. the Pierre in ny), Oberoi, Banyan Tree, the plaza (ny) the Carlyle (ny), the peninsula (ny), plaza-athenee (ny). There’s a ton to be seen outside the points world.

  23. People seem to be focusing a lot on individual luxury hotels or mini-chains, but for my money:

    1. Four Seasons is the most consistent for its broad network — they’re utterly reliable; in many smaller markets and resorts by far the best option (e.g., Baltimore, Seattle, Hawaii), and always at least very nice. In big cities like San Francisco, New York, L.A., London, etc., you can find nicer hotels but only because folks like the Peninsula or the Mandarin Oriental are players.

    2. St. Regis and Ritz-Carlton about on the same level for second best — truly some spectacular properties (St. Regis SF is the nicest hotel in that city, by far), but less consistency and the brand has been spread a little thin by Starwood and Marriott, respectively.

    3. Mandarin-Orientals and Peninsulas are both really lovely, though their footprint in the US/Europe is not that big enough to really judge them. That said, both the chains can be a little over-decorated to not everyone’s style (unless you’re really into Chinoiserie). But they’re great options — just can’t be compared to FS / RC in terms of breadth.

    4. Park Hyatts are great, but there simply aren’t too many of them to judge them against FS / RC / StR. I typically would rather stay in a Park Hyatt over a Ritz-Carlton (and likely over a St. Regis) because they tend to be more modern, understated and chic where the Ritz (and to an extent to the St Regis) tend to get their luxury bona fides from lavish furnishings, gold and marble. There are fabulous Park Hyatts out there, but middling, off-brand properties like Aviara and Mendoza (to name a few) bring the batting average down a LOT since there isn’t a huge portfolio to begin with.

    So yeah, it is property dependent, but there’s really no doubt that as far as a huge luxury chain, you can’t go wrong with a Four Seasons and often can do no better.

  24. I find Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) and Small Luxury Hotels of the World to have lots of properties I really like. Some really over the top ones, too.

  25. I generally tend to rate more modern properties like Park Hyatts and Four Seasons over “old world” luxury chains. A large part of it is my personal aesthetic preference, I prefer modern understated designs over older, more gilded designs with more traditional opulence.

    I’ve found in my experience that often modernization efforts even at older flagship hotels can be somewhat inconsistent, often amounting to throwing a new TV and iHome into what is otherwise a relatively untouched room from decades ago. Part of it I suppose is the need to preserve the “history” of the place, since that’s one of the major selling points. Four Seasons and Park Hyatts, at least the ones I’ve seen, generally tend to be in newer buildings, although newer properties of older chains are often similar. The Peninsula in Shanghai is great, even if the Chinese service industry isn’t quite what the Japanese or Thai industry is.

    But as others have said, it gets hard to compare since a lot of luxury properties vary so widely. The Four Seasons Hualalai is an excellent resort, while the Four Seasons San Francisco is an excellent city hotel. And the Four Seasons Tented Camp in Thailand is pretty close to what I imagine an Aman resort would be.

  26. Agree with others sentiments about Ritz Carlton; it’s a dreadfully inconsistent luxury chain. This is the one chain that relies too heavily on the value of name recognition. The RC in Hong Kong may certainly be fabulous but the RC’s in Washington are hopelessly mediocre.

    Staying at the dowdy Four Seasons is like staying at grandma’s/babushka’s house, though with much better service. Like Ritz Carlton, some of the properties seem to be surviving because of the name. The FS in Vancouver just needs to close for a complete gut.

    Love the Mandarin Oriental Group. Very consistent with stellar service. The original Mandarin will always remain my top choice in Hong Kong. And, strangely enough, I feel the MO in ghastly Las Vegas is one of the best hotels in the US.

    My absolute favorite hotel? The Dorchester Group’s Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles. One of the world’s truly great, classic hotels. Unfortunately it is also owned by the Sultan of Brunei, who zealously promotes the stoning to death of gay folk.

    @Ben: The FS First Residence is the better of Cairo’s two Four Seasons.

  27. Lucky, you are a grown-ass man. You should not be able to name that many Taylor Swift or One Direction songs, let alone compare them. I can’t even do that, and I’m pretty much a 12 on the Kinsey scale.

  28. @arcanum agreed lucky is a grown ass man and should be listening to age appropriate music. I’ve never even heard of One Direction.

  29. I agree with the person who mentioned Rosewood Resorts and would appreciate more comments about them. I’ve only stayed at Las Ventanas and I can safely say it is the best resort I’ve been to without question, with service on an unimaginable level….

  30. We’ve been Four Seasons junkies for years. Love the understated, not-in-your-face luxury – and especially the consistency (but with a local touch) between hotels. Just returned from Four Seasons Serengeti which was a step above most of their other properties, and loved watching the fireworks over Hong Kong harbor from the Four Seasons the other New Years. Ritz-Carlton can be nice, but seems inconsistent, and the in-your-face over-attentiveness bugs me – but may be an ego boost for some. Agree with some of the others on Oberoi – the Oberoi in Agra, overlooking the Taj Mahal, was spectacular. On this last trip we also stayed at the One&Only in Cape Town and it was spectacular. Not too many of them, but I’ll search them out in the future. But, as others have said, then there’s Aman…!

  31. I would argue that the Four Seasons Buenos Aires is now better than the Park Hyatt. The remodel of the FS improved the property drastically, and the pool deck feels like a true resort experience. It’s probably my favorite city hotel.

  32. Personally I find that choosing one hotel with a basic set of desirable qualities in a city and staying there often means the quality of my stays is better. Even in the most well meaning (Peninsula, Rosewood) of larger hotels the quality is far too variable unless you’re familiar to the staff and know what to expect. I find Aman to be a horrific display of third world exploitation….. well more than most of the other chains that exploit employees for $5 per day in Southeast Asia. Dancing children on display for you during check – in?! Really!!! Though the Bhutan outpost was a respite. I would put forward Cheval Blanc as a possible contender for best overall ‘chain’ though Isle de France will need to improve its game.

  33. where is the Fairmont Chain, St Regis is not really a chain, it apart of Starwood. Fairmont probably has the most iconic luxury hotel of them all, the Plaza Hotel. Tons of movies have used the Plaza as a backdrop

  34. How about creating a list of best luxury properties attainable with points and where the best deal is when paying with points?

  35. @ Lucky – I second M’s suggestion. I think you may have done something like that in the past but it’s always a good idea to do these posts regularly in light of constant devaluations/category increases.

  36. Never stayed in any of those. But I dream about The Peninsula HK. And the Paris’ George V. And, of course, the Mandarin Oriental in Prague. Don’t know why. I just do.

  37. Park Hyatt in New York is fantastic.
    Also Intercontinental Singapore is one of my favorite properties

  38. I think the most consistent is still four seasons, then probably peninsula and mandarin oriental in no. 2, then park hyatt/waldorf astoria/jw marriott in no. 3, then ritz-carlton/ shangri-la/ the langham, aman is really good, but I don’t know if it really counts in this list, since they seem to focus more on leisure destinations, and resorts and sometimes don’t even open hotels in cities! (London, New York, LA, Paris, etc. all lack amans), adn i haven’t stayed in enough St. Regis to decide whether or not they’re are worth anything.

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