Inspector 31 Shares Tips on Travel and the AAA Diamond Rating Process
Meet Inspector 31. This year, he’ll evaluate about 650 lodging properties and another 250 or so restaurants across the Northwest for quality, comfort, cleanliness, service, security and other criteria, assigning a AAA Diamond rating (from one to five) to reflect the caliber of each qualifying establishment. He is part of team of anonymous men and women who assess more than 27,000 hotels and 31,000 restaurants across the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean each year to help members make informed decisions on where to stay and dine. Here’s what he told us about the AAA Diamond Rating Process.
How does one become an inspector?
Each of our full-time inspectors is professionally trained and typically has prior hospitality experience, whether it’s in hotels or restaurants. I earned a degree in hospitality and worked in a hotel. After that, I was an anonymous shopper for a consulting company, before I came to work for AAA. It’s a lot of work, but it’s a dream job.
Do the hotels or restaurants know you’re coming?
It’s anonymous in that our inspections are not scheduled. I’ve been doing this in the Northwest for about 20 years, so, if I walk in the door, there’s a 50-50 chance someone knows who I am. As far as scheduling, no, they don’t know we are coming. When we walk into a hotel or restaurant, we want to experience what the member is experiencing.
Do you wear white gloves?
No [laughs]. I have my checklist on my tablet. We typically inspect four or five rooms, on different floors or in different parts of a hotel. I start at one wall and literally walk around the entire room, touching everything, looking behind the furniture, opening all the drawers and all that type of stuff. We also check the public areas, anything a guest can access.
What does an FYI [For Your Information] designation denote?
The designation identifies properties that are notable and offer potential value but have not been inspected or Diamond rated. These are often historic properties that can’t meet our basic listings criteria. Sometimes the doors can’t accommodate the series of locks that we look for in newer hotels, or they may not have the viewports. A lot of them, such as Lake Crescent Lodge in Olympic National Park, are in national parks and rural areas. We know members are going to these places, so we say, “For your information, here’s a great lodging that, while we can’t rate it, this is a place that you should know about.”
What else should AAA members know about Diamond rated hotels?
Unlike many rating providers, AAA excludes substandard properties. Only good options are AAA inspected and approved. The number of Diamonds lets travelers know what to expect. Sometimes a good night’s sleep or a simple meal is all a person needs. Other times, the facilities, ambiance and services are essential to the experience. Each additional Diamond indicates more elaborate surroundings and more attention from the service staff.
Even if your budget won’t allow you to stay in a Four Diamond or Five Diamond hotel, my recommendation is to keep these hotels in mind. There’s nothing that says you can’t go in for brunch, a drink in the lounge or a spa treatment. Some of the larger resort hotels offer day passes that allow you to access their pools and water features, or other amenities. It might cost $50 or more, but depending on the hotel, it could get you poolside service, towels or, maybe, access to a locker room.