AAA Diamond inspectors have the job that everybody wants. They travel to different places, visit fun attractions and enjoy an enviable number of hotel stays and restaurant meals, all while getting paid to do it.
Of course, it’s also a lot of hard work (don’t roll your eyes!) AAA inspectors must adhere to extensive published guidelines to rigorously evaluate every iota of every establishment they visit before they determine a AAA Diamond Rating.
Each a travel and hospitality expert in their own right, AAA inspectors are also highly trained to professionally inspect, approve and rate restaurants and hotels. Altogether, they assess more than 67,000 lodgings, restaurants and campgrounds and eat more than 10,000 restaurant meals a year at locations across the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean.
For almost 80 years, AAA has been helping members to make informed travel and dining decisions through unannounced and anonymous onsite inspections and ratings. Among the noise of opinionated and over-the-top online traveler reviews, they remain a trustworthy and unbiased source. Since the Diamond Rating System was introduced in 1977 to mark the association’s 75th anniversary, the AAA Diamond has become a widely recognized seal of approval.
If you’re wondering exactly how each AAA Diamond Rating is determined or what it’s like to evaluate restaurants and hotels for a living, we spoke to a AAA inspector to find out. We can’t say her name, because like all AAA inspectors, she is anonymous.
What kind of background does one need in order to become a AAA inspector?
AAA inspectors are required to have a background in travel or hospitality, including a bachelor’s degree and several years’ experience working in the hospitality industry or a travel-related field. We go through extensive training to be an inspector, and we always have to be aware of the latest industry trends in lodging and dining. Due to the diverse aspects of our job, AAA inspectors must also be self-motivated, highly creative and detail-oriented.
How did you get the job?
I began my career as a supervisor for the local AAA Auto Travel Call Center. We made reservations for our members at the same lodgings I get to inspect today. I’ll never forget the thousands of kind members I spoke with over the phone when planning their once-a-year or lifetime dream trips. Each detail was important to them, which really puts things in perspective when you’re making the final decision on whether to recommend a place. I consider our members as extended family members, so if I wouldn’t recommend a hotel or restaurant to my parents, I don’t approve it.
Is it full-time?
Yes, we typically work Monday through Friday, all year long. Inspectors must be flexible with their schedules in order to review restaurants and other places open only at night or on weekends. We must also be available for out-of-territory assignments that have us traveling away from home for a number of weeks at a time.
How many different places do you review a month?
We typically visit more than 80 properties per month. On an average day, we will inspect 3-4 hotels and one restaurant.
Are you assigned to a specific region or are you always traveling?
We live in our assigned territories though we must be available to assist anywhere we might be needed. My territory encompasses southern New England and part of New York. Over the past 11 years as an inspector, I’ve had the opportunity to travel extensively throughout the U.S., Mexico and the Caribbean.
What determines which restaurants/hotels get reviewed?
We’re allowed to review any hotel or restaurant we feel will provide members with a positive travel experience. We will stop by unannounced so we can experience the property as a guest would. If we feel the hotel or restaurant has member value and meets our minimum Approval requirements – which include basic standards of hospitality, comfort and cleanliness – then we can recommend it.
The Diamond Rating System is two-pronged. First, properties must meet and uphold AAA’s minimum standard. Next, we assess the property to determine a rating of one to five diamonds, describing the complexity of a hotel’s service, décor and amenities or a restaurant’s food, service and décor. Once a property is Diamond Rated, we return regularly to ensure standards are maintained and update the listing.
Do you have a checklist?
AAA inspectors use published guidelines to evaluate and rate properties as a service to members. We scrutinize areas such as cleanliness, amenities and service so our members will be confident with their travel choice.
What are some of the main points you look for when determining your rating?
There are more than 80 physical attributes we assess to determine a property’s Diamond Rating. Every item is weighted differently, based on its importance to members, and the scores are tallied up at the end of the inspection. It isn’t required for a property to offer every item on the long list, but it must have enough to score a minimum point grade for that specific rating.
At the One Diamond level you’ll often find simple, yet clean and comfortable, budget-priced accommodations with very limited recreation and public areas. At the Two Diamond level, travelers begin to see enhanced decor and amenities such as a pool, a small exercise room and a guest computer station. It really doesn’t mean one is better than the other. However, it’s more about the needs and wants of your specific trip.
What takes an establishment from a Four Diamond Rating to a Five Diamond Rating?
Typically everything you see at a Five Diamond property is the best of the best. You’ll find all kinds of over-the-top décor and amenities such as marble bathrooms with steam showers and separate soaking tubs. Innovative technology is another common feature. There are more TVs being built into vanity mirrors and drapes that open with a simple touch of a button from a bedside iPad control system.
The first step in determining whether a property has earned a Five Diamond Rating is to enter all of its amenities into our rating system to see if they physically meet our “world-class” expectations. Next and equally as important, we make sure they are providing first class service. Since most members stay at Five Diamond lodging for a special occasion such as a honeymoon or anniversary, they want to feel special and expect personalized service. These are the types of properties that listen to what you say and look for ways to surprise you.
Inspectors stay anonymously at these lodgings to experience the property as a member would. We test every aspect of service and if the property meets our expectations, its information will automatically be sent to a committee for final review and approval.
How do you enjoy your job? It sounds like a dream!
It really is my dream job! I caught the travel bug at a young age and have always spent a lot of time dreaming about places near and afar. This career has helped feed that need for travel and my endless appetite to learn more about the people and places I visit. It also allows me to be creative and pursue other interests such as photography which we feature on our Twitter account, @AAA_Travel.
We spent a day with a AAA inspector to learn more about the AAA Diamond Rating system. Read all about our insider experience.
To learn more about Diamond Ratings and search for Diamond Rated hotels and restaurants, visit AAA.com/Diamonds.