What the new J.D. Power study says about hotels -- and their cranky, crafty guests

The Ritz-Carlton Rancho Mirage.
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

J.D. Power’s new North American Hotel Guest Satisfaction study, released Wednesday, shows us what we see as the “best-in-class” hotels, including a large and ongoing surprise, but it also reveals a lot about those of us who stay in hotels.

For the ninth year in a row, Missouri-based Drury Hotels is not only best in its class — the upper midscale segment — but it also scores 885 on a 1,000-point satisfaction scale—and that’s just 7 points less than the best-in-class (luxury) Ritz-Carlton group.

The J.D. Power study anointed other hotels in various classes, as indicated below. Areas evaluated to reach these ratings: reservations; check-in/check-out; guest rooms; food and beverage; hotel services; hotel facilities; and cost and fees.

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Top-ranked hotels in the J.D. Power study (Catharine Hamm / Los Angeles Times)

Drury and Ritz are an interesting matchup, because it tells us it takes more than thread count and marble baths to be successful.

If you were to book a Drury Inn in Westminster, Colo. (10393 Reed St.), for a stay Aug. 7 and 8 (dates chosen randomly), you would pay $129.99 a night for a nonsmoking king-bed room. Westminster is about 13 miles northwest of downtown Denver.

If you booked the same dates for the Ritz-Carlton Denver (1881 Curtis St.), you would pay $349 a night.

What’s the difference — besides more than $200 a night? Well, other than the fact that the Ritz is in the heart of downtown Denver, the hotel has  a spa and fitness center, and the on-site restaurant is Elway’s.

On the other hand, you would pay $45 a night for valet or $30 a night for parking and, if you’re not a member of Marriott or Ritz rewards programs, wireless starts at $12.95.

At Drury, guests get a free breakfast, wi-fi and parking.

It’s a matter of travel style, but one thing is clear from the survey: Choosing a hotel based on price puts you in a certain class, and that certain class can be characterized as less-than-generous in its assessments, the study shows.

That's one of several revelations about hotel guests:

Bargain hunters are not the happiest campers

If price is what you base your hotel decision on, you’re probably one tough customer. “Price buyers are always, by their nature and their DNA, the least happy customers,” said Rick Garlick, global travel and hospitality practice lead at J.D. Power. “No matter how good a deal the price buyer gets, he always wants to be paying a dollar less.”

This group scored 740 on the satisfaction scale, the study showed — the lowest of all groups.

But overall, guests are happier with hotels

Guest satisfaction reached 804 points on a 1,000-point scale, a record. Why the elation?

“First, absolutely, the product and service are getting better,” Garlick said. “Think back five years. What kind of breakfast were you getting? What kind of bed did you have? How clean was your room? All of those things have improved.”

Or, said another way, a rising tide lifts all boats, Garlick said.

TripAdvisor helps lift that tide and so do you

You can’t ignore the profound impact the ratings website has had on hotel quality, Garlick said. If hotels are better, it’s because they are addressing the kind of feedback we travelers leave.

Social media helps with feedback too

Hotels try to get customers to address problems when they happen, but they can’t help if they don’t know about the problem. That’s where social media comes in.

Customers who tweet or otherwise post about a problem help hotels correct those problems in real time, Garlick said.

You ensure your own satisfaction to some extent

If you're the sort who scours the Internet for hotel ratings, pays attention to TripAdvisor and talks to friends and people who may know a certain hotel, you are helping ensure your own happiness.

People who do this are called “scrutinizers”; they consult various sources of information before they make a choice. And generally they're happy with it.

It’s a bit like online dating, Garlick said. You look, you choose, you like. This group also tends to be more brand loyal.


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