what do you think of AAA recommendations?

Old Jun 15th, 2001, 06:06 PM
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what do you think of AAA recommendations?

I always counted on these guides for solid hotel recommendations but the newest guides seem more commercial. Whats your opinion?
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 06:18 PM
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I'm so glad someone asked this question.
I have a strong opinion about it, as I see people refer to these ratings frequently at this site.

AAA ratings are too ambiguous.

The top of the 3 star category to the bottom encompasses a huge range of quality. You just can't tell enough from these ratings to know what you're going to encounter.
And it's important to note that while many people judge a hotel primarily by its rooms and lobby, getting a higher star rating requires that all sorts of conditions be met that many casual travellers couldn't care less about.

The sad truth is, if you want to carefully select a middle of the road class hotel, there just isn't much detailed, accurate rating info out there. There's plenty of good comparative info for the better ("4-5 star") places, and Zagat was always invaluable. It's become watered down, unfortunately and less discriminative, but it's still INFINITELY better than AAA.
Conde Nast and Travel&Leisure also have very helpful comparative info.
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 06:32 PM
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I have found their rating system to be less and less reliable. We have stayed at places that don't deserve as high a rating as they get. On the other hand, we've stayed at properties that they have vastly under-rated. There doesn't seem to be much consistency.

They often omit properties that we would consider if we knew about them. I don't know how they decide which hotels to list and which not. I sometimes wonder if the amount of ad revenue they receive from certain chains has any correlation to the rating system.

Olive Oyl, if you're listening, can you shed any light on this subject?
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 06:38 PM
Bob Brown
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I agree with all of the above comments.
I have stayed in 3 star places that were bad and 2 star places that were excellent. Ratings are inconsistent as noted.
Having been burned by the ratings, I now select motels based on the brand name.
I usually try for Fairfield Inns or Sleep Inns or Hampton Inns based on the price and location. In some regions of the country, such as Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and Idaho I will try Best Westerns. But the best way is to ask like minded travelers what has been their experience in specific parts of the United States.
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 07:41 PM
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The AAA ratings are, I absolutely agree, no longer trustworthy. I'd like to know exactly what the "deal" is that they get, esp. how on earth they choose the restaurants. And frankly, I don't think they're updating them as aggressively as they need to. They certain favor the chains, that's for sure.

Now some AAA hack is going to post (I'd put my money on Laura) saying the ratings have nothing to do with quality, just the specific assortment of amenities -- but that's pretty disengenuous, since people are going to look at the number of stars and think quality.

But while we're at it, I'm really losing patience with the thing I most need from AAA, decent maps and Triptiks. They are really falling behind on the updates, and they hire just about anydamfool to do the Triptiks -- and information about construction, etc. is catch as catch can, now. I know someone who ran out of money while finishing his PhD in international relations -- so he went to work for AAA and he was doing TripTiks almost immediately, with very limited training and no particular support.

It's still worth belonging for the discount rates you get in hotels if you don't qualify for anything else (AARP, govt., corporate, etc.), and I always feel better knowing that I can always get a tow truck or a jumpstart. But their traveller's services are wearing thin.
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 10:16 PM
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A voice from the wilderness!!
I've used AAA tour books as a guide for 30 years. 90% of the experiences have been positive.I never go by the restaurants recommended.
I do know that they revise their lists of acceptable motels. I stayed in Day Inn in New Orleans(near airport) which I felt was a "dump"--next edition it was gone from book.
I do feel they don't list enough of "economy" type motels.
I've been a member for over 40 years and have been pleased with their other services..
Old Jun 15th, 2001, 10:40 PM
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On a different note but still related to AAA -- I was having some problems with a particular AAA approved auto shop, and, after I contacted them and their Master Mechanic, the problem was solved within 24 hours, so I certainly considered it well worth my membership dues that time!!
Old Jun 16th, 2001, 07:23 AM
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Now that you brought it up Bill, their road service stinks too. Unless you break down in an intersection, you'll wait up to two hours for a tow truck. I was traveling alone with my 3 kids a few summers ago and locked my keys in my car in a small town just south of Atlanta. Of course you have to stay with your car or they leave, and Atlanta is known for their miserable summer temps. After 7 calls AAA still hadn't shown up--I was so mad I called their Tampa headquarters and talked to the president--even he couldn't get someone out there to help me. A couple of ladies had stopped early on to see if I needed help--I told them AAA was on the way, but thanks anyway. Four hours later they happened to drive by again. This time I accepted their offer. They called one of their sons who was a local police man. He got there in five minutes and popped open the car in 30 seconds! AAA did refund that year's membership and reimbursed me for hotel expenses. I would have preferred to have the four hours back.
Old Jun 16th, 2001, 09:37 AM
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I can shed a little light maybe, Sal. You do have to pay to be included in their rating system. No pay, no play. Some hotels opt not to...perhaps they are well enough known on their own that they would not benefit from inclusion (a Boca Raton Club, for instance, or Greenbrier). Perhaps you have a stucture so old (even though elegant) that it couldn't meet all their exacting specifications for 5 diamond status, when it truly is a 5 diamond establishment. Rather than be listed as a 4 or worse, they may opt not to be included at all. Most, however, consider it is money well spent.

So you pay to be included, but then the rating system is stringent, especially at the 4 or 5 diamond level and your payment doesn't alter how you are rated. Only 3% of hotels nationwide make the 4 diamond status (we did, happily and sweat blood never to lose it) and far less make the 5. As noted, the 3 diamond category is huge. It includes the vast number of average hotels, plus those that just fell out of the 4 diamond status for whatever reason...perhaps something small, but have had the better rating for years. That's why you'll find 3 diamond hotels that really are pretty darned nice.

You jump through hoops to maintain your stars. In our case, just recently we had to change out every TV in the hotel as the AAA membership told them that 25" TVs were important, as well as having 25 or something free channels. This required not just new TVs (old were 21") but a new satellite system to get the extra channels.

Much of what is mandated isn't important to everyone. Crown molding has been added to some hotels to maintain a star level. X number of drawers were another necessity. That almost entailed our replacing every armoire in the hotel as we were a drawer short, until they found that merely putting a divider in one drawer would count as having an extra!! To have 5 diamond status, you must have 24 hour room service. Ours ends at midnight. Interesting system.

Once listed and rated, each hotel is checked annually. Inspectors check in anonymously and check the entire operation...from front desk to restaurants and after all has been evaluated, meet with the GM to discuss the results. Did your bellman tell you were all the emergency exits were? There's a reason for it...they require it! Did he offer to fill your ice bucket? That wasn't for a tip...they HAVE to ask that question (for 4 diamonds). Though much of their check is objective, subjectivity plays a part as well....what sort of a mood was everyone in that particular day, including the inspector, etc. Hopefully staff is always up but that can't always be the case. You are warned on any areas you've fallen short, and they had better be fixed by the next inspection.

Actually, it sounds like a pretty cool job to me....providing I didn't have to start out by inspecting all the 1 and 2 diamonds!!
Old Jun 16th, 2001, 01:20 PM
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Ms Oyl:
There are a few posters here who make this board a pleasant and informative diversion. Thank you for being one of them.
I always wondered about the inner workings of the AAA system and even tried once to find some details elsewhere on the web, but to no avail.
Thanks for the enlightenment.
May all your days be 4-5 diamonds (even when you're short on drawers....sorry, couldn't resist).
Old Jun 16th, 2001, 02:10 PM
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The ratings are good and accurate, in my opinion. There isn't a better, complete guide anywhere.

However, I know first hand the experience at one of the lower hotels, as I worked the front desk.

AAA wanted $1500 to list their property in the book. The hotel was a 2 diamond, and is (was) 30+ years old. When it opened it was 3 diamond.

Old Jun 17th, 2001, 05:42 PM
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Thanks Olive, I knew you could clear this one up for us. Wish all hotels were run like yours!
Old Jun 17th, 2001, 06:10 PM
Bob Brown
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Ms. Oyl's posting was one of the classics to appear on this board.
I think it is the first one since I went to Paris three years ago that I have clipped and saved.

I would like to add one more comment however. Despite the rigor of the system that Ms. Oyl describes, there must be a sizeable number of establishments that somehow slip through the ne. Either that, or the rating is based on a sample of the rooms.

That does not help the poor victim who selects a motel rated at 3 diamonds and then gets stuck in a half diamond room.
I remember so well the night in West Yellowstone that my faith in AAA ratings began to slip. Based on the AAA ratings, I selected a three star motel (name withheld on purpose)for the night.
It was August and the place was full, so I had no recourse even though our room was awful. [I guess I could driven back to Pocatello or somewhere.]The bed was a lumpy, sagging, standard double, which is intolerable for two relatively long people. The room had something of a kitchen corner in it, which was equally atrocious. Three diamonds it was not.
Later on that same trip, we spent the night at the Gaslight Motel in Laramie. The motel was rated at two stars, but the room was excellent. In terms of comfort, I think it was in the upper 5% of all hotel and motel rooms I have ever had anywhere.
We had a king sized bed, that was great, more than adequate bathroom facilities with dual lavatories, comfortable chairs and nice carpeting. I realize that carpeting wears out, and beds give way to bad treatment. But the discrepancy in the two places was great. Hence it is easy to lose faith in a system that severely underrates one place and equally severely overrates another based on features and functions that do nothing much to contribute to the travelers sleeping comfort. I could care less for a huge, snazzy lobby, just give me a good clean room with a comfortable bed and adequate bathroom and shower facilities because I don't spend even 1% of my total time in the lobby.
To give a further example, we stayed in a small hotel last year in Salzburg. Check-in was at the bar; there was no lobby. The elevator was small, the stairs were narrow and winding because the building dated to pre Mozart days.
But the beds were clean and comfortable and the shower was fine. Based on the AAA system that motel would have been rated unacceptable. To me, it was vastly preferable to that dump with three stars in West Yellowstone.
Old Jun 17th, 2001, 07:15 PM
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Last year I trusted the good ole AAA guide to help us find a motel in Miami (we had no idea being from California).

We booked this particula 3 star establishment 2 months in advance turned up and this three star place was an absolute dump ! The room had not been cleaned (stinky rubbish in the bin), the door wouldn't lock, the air conditioning unit shook so much that it ended up FALLING OUT OF THE WINDOW (we were on ground level), the bathroom was dirty (ie; rings around the bath), the shower nozzle was in two piece sitting on the side of the bath and he bed was too horrid to even consider sleeping in. We spent the night awake - unable to sleep and wondering why were ever trusted AAA.

On a positive note, we complained to the hotel manager and got the night for free - although we had to find another hotel and then told AAA who apologised profusely for the inconvenience and sent us a couple of free goodies.
Old Jun 18th, 2001, 07:51 PM
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Stayed at AAA motels in California last summer. All 3 stars, no problems at any of them. I think the guidebooks are still a help, especially when you're looking for something like motels that accept pets.
Just an aside- I called Triple AAA for a tow on Saturday. They were there in probably about a half hour. In the past year I've been towed twice and had my battery jumped once. Longest wait was probably an hour 5 min. or so for the battery. (Guess it's time for a new car!) Well worth my membership fee.
Old Jun 18th, 2001, 09:03 PM
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I used to trust AAA recommendations, until a fateful ski trip three years ago. We decided to stop in Placerville on our way to Tahoe 'cause Tahoe was far to go on a Friday night. I'd made reservations based on my AAA guidebook. We get to the motel, check in, and see our rooms. Oh my god. I have never seen anything so disgusting in all of my life. The bed had something on the sheets. The toilet had been used and not flushed. There had been ants in the bathroom that had been killed with ant spray and neither the ants nor the spray was removed. We had set it up so that the rest of our party would meet us there, so we were kind of stuck. But after trying to relax in this room and finding it impossible, we opted instead to demand a refund, check into a nearby Days Inn, and wait for our friends in front of the original motel. Ick. I still get the heebee geebees when I think of it.
Old Jun 19th, 2001, 01:42 PM
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Here's a response, not to the original question, but to some of the issues raised in other responses:

All of the AAA road service calls in this area go to a central switchboard that serves a two-state area. The operator puts your information into the computer, and your request goes to the bottom of the list.

The dispatchers work through the list from top to bottom, so during busy times (say, an ice storm), the dispatchers may not even get to your request for an hour or two.

Wait, it gets worse. The towing services are also on a rotating list. When the dispatchers get to your request, they call the towing service that's next on the list -- even if that service is 30 miles from you and has a three-hour backlog of service calls (and even if there's a AAA towing service just one mile from you with no backlog of service calls -- if it's not that towing service's "turn," tough luck!). Yes, this really happened to me.

I've learned that it's best, if possible, to find a telephone book and call a local AAA towing service directly. (Most list their AAA affiliations in their "yellow page" ads. If not, ask first.) As long as it's a AAA affiliate, the paperwork and payment are the same as if the dispatcher had called them -- but much, much faster!
Old Jun 19th, 2001, 04:47 PM
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Thanks to OO for another great post. Seems like maybe the 4 & 5 star ratings are perhaps more reliable than the lower ones. I too have examples of pitiful 3-star properties. But I can't ever remember being disappointed in a 4-star, and it's interesting that no one else who has responded has had problems with 4 or 5 stars. I'm guessing the lion's share of the inspection manhours goes into these properties, thus the more reliable ratings? I wonder if Olive would care to give us an idea of HOW MUCH a large property might spend to be a AAA-rated one...is the cost based on number of rooms or what?
Old Jun 19th, 2001, 07:41 PM
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After reading OO's explanation, I've come to the same conclusion as you. We have stayed in some 4 stars where the rooms are not the greatest, but the amenities have justified the rating.

"Hey"--great tip--I'll try that next time I need a tow. Not too soon I hope!I wonder if the same would work for other road services.
Old Jun 20th, 2001, 04:41 AM
Olive Oyl
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Thanks all, for those nice comments! AAA is one of those things that's been around forever in our lives, and I found the process interesting too...and just happen to have a captive audience resource here with some answers. gt;

He doesn't have as much info on the costs, but thinks this hotel (460 rooms) spends about 4-5,000/yr. The entire AAA process, rate structures, promotions etc, is complicated enough that there is one person in corporate who works only on the AAA program!

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