Many of us have a favorite or preferred hotel, but our criteria can be as different as cleanliness and comfortable sheets or amenities like Wi-Fi or turn-down service.
But unless you’re traveling weekly or more often, you might not have enough experience or expertise to evaluate what makes for the best hotel amenities and perks.
Here’s how hotels pick the crème de la crème with respect to beds, sheets, and pillows—and how you can mimic the hotel experience in your home.
High-end hotels in particular focus on the entire experience, making sure to heighten the novelty with pleasant scents, lighting, and sights. Thanks to thousands of guest visits, they have perfected the best recipe for comfort, and this extends to sheets, mattresses, and pillows/pillow covers. By captivating the mind and all the senses with welcoming surroundings, hotels ensure happy return customers.
As with fine dining, where the first “bite” is with the eye, the hotel experience both engages the familiar feel of home and nudges you toward the novel, or new, experience.
Through just-right lighting and touches such as crisp, clean linens and memorable scents gently wafting from diffusers or percolating from cappuccino machines, hotels play on all the chords of the human psyche.
Let’s look at just a few aspects that hotels use to engage visitors—specifically through bedding choices.
Hotels tend to choose a medium firmness mattress to satisfy the widest range of customer.
And some hotels even have exclusive or proprietary mattresses offered for sale to particularly satisfied customers (more on that shortly).
When it comes to evaluating mattresses, no doubt hotels refer to the go-to source that is Consumer Reports (CR).
In its free mattress guide, CR recognizes three types of mattresses, here are the two that hotels use most often, defined as follows (Source):
- Foam mattresses: Often dubbed “memory foam,” foam mattresses soften when you lie down and mold to the shape of your body but spring back into shape when you get up. Many manufacturers use polyurethane in the foam layering, but others might use latex. Those with significant latex allergies will want to be cognizant of latex within hotel or home mattresses, so CR lists latex in their ratings. Because of their cradling effect, foam mattresses can “sleep hot.”
- Innerspring mattresses, including hybrids: Innersprings are the traditional hotel and home workhorse mattress, containing steel coils in various configurations. “Hybrids have one or more layers of foam on top of the springs. Variations can include special layers of cushioning, such as a pillowtop layer or infused gel.” Shifting positions on innerspring mattresses may disturb your bed partner, however, so look for “edge support” in these bed types.
Please note: Hotels may not disclose what type of mattresses they use, or their materials (foam, hybrid, innerspring) if you call or e-mail them.
How can I tell if it’s an innerspring? When a mattress indicates it has pocketed coils or refers to coil count, this is a sure signal that it is an innerspring bed.
These coils may be mixed with foam, too, for a hybrid bed. All-foam beds are also sometimes paired with box springs.
Box springs are outside of the mattress, and serve a slightly different purpose—but they do pair well with innersprings.
Innersprings can be found in most hotels, even the luxury hotels. Marriott, DoubleTree by Hilton, and Sheraton offer guests innerspring, and some hotels offer both or three types (innerspring, foam mattress, or hybrid).
These same hotels’ beds, both innerspring and hybrid, top the charts in the 13 highest-rated hotel mattresses of 2020 by Sleep Advisor (Source).
So, if you really dug the bed in your last extended hotel stay, there’s a very good chance you’ll be able to purchase it in a store or online.
One hybrid that is well-liked by sleepers and experts is the Saatva luxury brand, seen in some hotels such as the Four Seasons.
In addition to innerspring with two layers of coils and Eurotop cover, the Saatva Classic has various comfort profiles, including plush soft and luxury firm.
Its comfort layers include memory foam, so it rates high by My Slumber Yard (Source).
My Slumber Yard also touts the Bear Hybrid with Celliant and pocketed coils, although it has only one firmness level (medium firm).
Sheraton’s exclusive Sleep Experience bed, which is sold online as of this writing, has a quilted damask top cover, reinforced edge support, and individually wrapped pocketed coils (Source).
CR, however, houses pocketed coils among its mattress myths relating to “the more coils, the better.”
Specifically, after putting each mattress through a gauntlet of tests, including “running a nearly 310-pound roller over each one 30,000 times to simulate eight to 10 years of use” they conclude that “None of those [coil variations such as Bonnell hourglass or individual pocketing] is inherently superior.”
If you’re a hot sleeper or have excessive sweating or hot flashes, you might like to avoid all-foam mattresses in your home or hotel bed and instead look for a hybrid (innerspring and foam) or an innerspring with additional padding.
If you sleep hot but must have foam for the plushness or comfort, look for a mattress with cooling properties, with the caveats that there is no one-size-fits-all with regard to comfortable mattresses and cooling technologies are largely unproven.
Consumer Reports‘ guide advises spending “at least 5 or 10 minutes on each side and on your back (your stomach, too, if that’s a preferred sleeping position)” and wearing loose clothing and shoes you can slip off.
One very general rule of thumb the Consumer Reports buying guide mentions is that, if you’re able, plan to spend around $1,000 and you’ll still get a comfortable, supportive, and durable mattress.
Buy the very best you can afford, because you can expect a high-quality mattress to be a longer-term investment of 8 or more years, and good sleep pays itself off in health rewards.
Nonetheless, a lot of marketing goes into promoting all-foam mattresses, because they do offer pressure relief. Some people also simply love the cradling feel of them, e.g., if they have (pre-)arthritis, fibromyalgia, or other conditions.
Hotels sometimes offer all-foam beds, but hybrids or innersprings are more common—and, again, of medium firmness to suit the greatest number of guests.
Whether all-foam or otherwise, hotel mattresses can have bells and whistles like cooling gel, copper infusions, and other add-ons.
Other highly rated all-foam mattresses used by hotels are as follow:
- Marriott’s foam mattress, which uses high-density soy-based comfort foam (Source).
- Saatva’s Loom & Leaf (Relaxed Firm), which Wirecutter dubs “the best looking and arguably the best feeling of the mattresses we tried that don’t have springs.” It doesn’t have a spongy top and “there’s virtually no motion transfer” among sleep partners (Source).
Sheets, of course, engage the sense of touch at an immediate level that mattresses do not.
Most people seek out the softest sheets, with the least wrinkling or pilling, they can find.
Hotels, knowing how deeply affecting sheets are to visitors, often launder the sheets daily to enhance the cleanliness, so they know which sheets hold up and feel the best over time.
Besides stripping down beds to evaluate them head to toe, American Automobile Association (AAA) hotel inspectors look at qualities like thread count as a barometer of comfort. They peek under beds, too (Source)!
Inspectors also broach the turning and replacement schedule for mattresses with hotel managers.
Who are authoritative sources for sheets, many of which figure in your favorite hotels? We prefer Consumer Reports, New York Times‘s Wirecutter, and HGTV. Their guides to quality sheets are available as follows:
You can duplicate a pleasant hotel experience in your own home by choosing sheets similar to or the same as those used in your favorite hotels.
Experts recommend a few rules of thumb to independently evaluate the quality of sheets you may see in a store or online:
- Material and shrinkage (or wrinkling): Learn the language of sheets; many terms refer back to cotton. Cotton is by far the most popular and breathable sheet material, then polyester. Microfiber, which consists of extremely fine fibers of polyester, is affordable and soft and tends to resist pilling more than traditional polyester. Look for tested sheets that don’t shrink over time, through many washings. CR weighed the shrinkage factor, and their top-3 sheets are below.
- Weave: Terms such as percale, sateen, weaved cotton, and twill signify how the fabric is woven. CR says, “Percale is closely woven and feels crisper, while sateen has a softer feel and a glossier look. Twill weaves create a heavier fabric that can feel soft or crisp.”
- Durability, vis-à-vis pilling, which also relates to weave and material: CR says “Typically, long-fiber (also called long-staple) cottons are stronger and less likely to pill.” Certified long-staple cotton includes Pima, Egyptian, and Supima.® HGTV likes combed cotton for its hybrid of strength and softness.
For Consumer Reports, the three highest-rated sheets are Matouk’s Sierra sheets, the L.L. Bean Pima Cotton Percale (280TC), and Frette’s Porto sheets (Source).
Of these three, Frette’s is the most expensive at $700+, whereas the other two currently come in under $300.
Besides touting the 280-thread count L.L. Bean Pima sheets, Wirecutter’s June 2020 buying guide talks up the under-$50 Threshold 400 thread count “Performance” sheets: “These sateen sheets from Target are almost as soft, durable, and wrinkle-resistant as sets we’ve tried that cost four times the price.”
Wirecutter’s best year-round sateen sheets? The J.C. Penney Home 400 TC Wrinkle Guard Sheet Set.
HGTV also puts forward the L.L. Bean Pima sheets as among its top-rated cotton sheets.
Individual Preferences/Other Considerations
Some consumers make choices regarding the allergenic/nonallergenic, environmental impact, or cooling factors of sheets.
CR advises being skeptical of environmental and hypoallergenic claims.
Nonetheless, for these consumers, Hotel Sheets Direct offers a very highly rated sheet of 100% bamboo; they claim it is hypoallergenic and experiences little pilling (so the durability is good) due to rigorous pre-sewing tests with a “special pile resistance machine.”
It also promises cooling properties and superior comfort. Thirteen-thousand-plus consumers have bought these sheets, and they have a 4.6 (of 5) approval rating, with a majority (79%) being five stars (Source).
A Note on Thread Count
Thread count as a measure of sheets’ quality is a bone of contention.
Thread count is the quantity of horizontal and vertical threads per square inch of sheet. Consumer Reports (CR) and HGTV say “don’t believe the hype” about higher thread counts always equaling better sheets.
In CR lab testing for shrinkage and durability over a simulated 1-year period, only 100% cotton sheets were used.
The manufacturers claimed thread counts from 280 to 1,000. CR writes, “Our latest tests confirm that a higher thread count doesn’t guarantee better sheets.
In fact, one of the best sheet sets we tested [the L.L. Bean Pima sheets] has a claimed thread count of only 280.”
Pillows and Pillow Covers
Unless you are like my veteran travel-writer friend and carry a favorite mini-pillow with you everywhere, chances are, you’ve either been impressed by or disliked the pillows found in a hotel stay.
Hotel managers know they have to compensate for the so-called “first-night effect” (FNE) which has been characterized in various studies as a sort of hypervigilance or “night watch” effect in the brain during sleep in a new environment (Source).
Having already “curated” the most pleasant smells, sights (window views, paintings, décor), and lighting from the lobby to the guest rooms, five-star hotels try to further compensate for the FNE.
They do this by going out of the way to choose the best pillows, sheets, and mattresses.
Some hotels even offer a sleep concierge or pillow menus for the particularly discerning traveler (Source)! Isn’t that grand?
These so-called pillow menus offer choices as to their material make-up and supportiveness.
Whereas duck or goose down may not suit an allergic traveler, down-feather hybrids or alternatives exist, with top hotels across the globe offering spelt-stuffed pillows, neck-supportive molded foam, and even smokers’ pillows.
Pillows often have an underappreciated diversity about them, but, in general, hotel pillows come in two sizes: standard (20 by 26 inches) and king (20 by 36).
Pillow covers are larger, at 20 by 30 inches and 20 by 40 inches, respectively (Source).
Hotels, again, target a home-y, Goldilocks effect with pillows that are neither too soft nor too firm.
Five-star hotels especially choose pillows and covers without known allergens and of tested quality.
Where to Buy Hotel Bed, Sheets, and Pillows?
While hotels usually don’t divulge exactly what they use, mostly because it can vary by location & room type – I emailed different hotel general managers to find out at least where they get their supply. Here is a table that I put together that shows exactly where to find your favorite sleep accessory!
|Company||Hotel||Where to Buy|
|Marriott||Fairfield Inn and Suites||https://www.shopmarriott.com/|
|Marriott||Sheraton Hotels & Resorts||https://www.shopmarriott.com/|
|IHG||InterContinental Hotels & Resorts||https://hdsupplysolutions.com/|
|IHG||Crowne Plaza Hotels & Resorts||https://hdsupplysolutions.com/|
|IHG||Holiday Inn Express||https://hdsupplysolutions.com/|
My Top Hotel Beds, Sheets, and Pillows
I put together a list of my top picks for inexpensive hotel beds, sheets, and pillows! The downside of ordering from the sites listed above is that some require you to buy it in bulk, while others are just plain expensive! I highly recommend these great alternatives. All the comfort of hotel-quality products while not breaking the bank! I have personally tested the following products, and highly recommend them to friends, family, and readers alike!
For many people, sheets and mattress type and quality will make or break a hotel stay.
Likewise that a too-lumpy or unsupportive pillow or scratchy pillow cover can curb your enthusiasm for travel.
Hotels know all of these psychological levers connected to feel, scent, and lighting and aim to please the most people as much of the time as possible.
Factors you cannot control, the hotel should be able to, such as disruptive neighbors or a malfunctioning refrigerator.
A satisfied guest is a returning guest. In addition to using this article as a springboard, you can always directly ask the hotel about its mattresses, pillows, and sheets, or its cleaning policies, prior to your stay.
It is your right as an informed consumer to ask and assess—and even, if warranted, to ask for improvements or report serious health or safety problems.
In the meantime, we wish you happiness and the keys to the kingdom of sleep, whether you’re at home, in your dorm, visiting relatives, or in a hotel!