Where to Find 4- and 5-Star Hotels at 3-Star Prices

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Looking for luxury without the luxury tab? Many a traveler dreams of unwinding at an ultra-posh hotel, but when prices can hit $30,000 a night and four- and five-star hotels charge several thousand, it's time to wake up.

We did and searched for destinations where travelers can enjoy lush accommodations for less than $200 a night. It's no surprise that many of the cheap four-and five-star hotels we found are located in areas well known to frugal tourists. We also identified several hidden gems right here at home.

Let's be clear about one thing: Five stars don't always mean five stars. Depending on the website, hotel ratings are presented in one to seven stars; letter ratings A through F; or in vague adjectives like luxury, standard, and budget. Some countries, such as Germany, France, Egypt, Italy, and Britain, have laws that formalize the hotel rating process, but most do not. Several international rating systems also exist, such as the Forbes Travel Guide, which uses stars, and the AAA diamond-based system, but these lists tend to be exclusive rather than comprehensive.

Any hotel boasting four or five stars will certainly be well appointed and generally nice. Still, if luxury is the ultimate goal, you'll need to do some homework. You can compensate for the lack of uniformity in rating systems by learning about previous guests' experiences on review sites like Trip Advisor, and you can ask friends and family for recommendations. Pamela Johnston, a spokesperson for Hotel Power, a membership site that posts slightly discounted rates and throws in extra benefits, suggests ignoring the highest and lowest ratings and homing in on comments by experienced travelers who have written several reviews.

As for pricing, Ms. Johnston notes that if a new or renovated high-end hotel is heavily promoting itself, the nearby competition may lower prices to remain competitive. Moreover, the room rate is only one factor to consider when assessing value and luxury. She reminds travelers to read the fine print and learn what's included (e.g., breakfast) and what isn't (e.g. parking or resort fees).

The season, the day, and the time of booking also affect room prices and can result in a reasonable or jaw-dropping nightly rate. Average price indices, like those provided by Hotels.com and Trivago, helped us focus on overall trends rather than individual oddities. The fruits of our research were several incredible destinations with (relatively) cheap four- and five-star hotels.

Bangkok, Thailand.

No surprise here, Thailand is a go-to destination for tourists seeking luxury on a modest budget. During the first half of 2014, U.S.-based travelers paid an average of $186 for a five-star hotel and $100 for four-star lodging, according to Hotels.com. June through October are the least expensive months to visit Bangkok. Five-star options are mighty attractive in June, according to Kayak, when the Antara Riverside Resort and Spa, Pullman Bangkok Hotel G, Grand Sukhumvit, or even the Sukhothai all go for about $100 per night.

Pisa, Italy.

Home to the iconic leaning tower, Pisa offers surprisingly affordable rates considering it's a major tourist destination. There aren't many five-star hotels here, but Hotels.com reported the year-to-date average price for a room was $172. We checked several possible travel dates and found the five-star Abitalia Tower Plaza is available for as little as $90 per night.

Las Vegas, Nevada.

With so much nearby competition, and a non-work means for earning money, the Strip in Las Vegas is filled with attractive hotel deals. Check deal sites like Travelzoo or Jetsetter when heading to the city of sin. The day we searched, the nightly rate at a four-star hotel (Palms Casino Resort) started at $39, with free breakfasts and a room upgrade. If you're a gambler, you may be able to "earn" yourself a night on the house.

Shanghai, China.

A sure stop if you're headed to China, this bustling city is home to fine hotels costing just more than $100 per night. Consider the four-star Grand Mercure or five-star Sofitel, both of which receive glowing reviews on Trip Advisor.

Marrakesh, Morocco.

It's cheapest to stay in Marrakesh during July and August, but deals also pop up in February, June, September, and November. Average four-star prices hover just above $100 per night, but a well-timed stay at five-star hotels like Le Pavillon du Golf or Ryad Mogador Menara will net a room for a nightly rate of $80 to $100.

Cairo, Egypt.

Despite lingering political tensions, tourism is picking up in Cairo and beyond, where you'll find ancient ruins and towering pyramids. Five-star hotels like the Sofitel Cairo El Gezirah, which comes in at No. 7 out of 130 hotels in Cairo on Trip Advisor, often go for $130 per night.

Mumbai and Delhi, India.

India is another well-known stop on the frugal travel circuit. Mumbai and Delhi offer up five-star hotels for about $175 per night and four-star options for about $110. Even at well-known international brands, such as the Four Seasons Mumbai, visitors can tuck in at nightly prices in the mid-$100 range.

Budapest, Hungary.

The cities of Buda and Pest, divided by the Danube River, united in the late 19th century to form the capital of present-day Hungary. The baths, history, and large indoor market draw many tourists, and those who relish cheap luxury hotels have plenty to choose among. Although five-star prices poke at the $200 mark, four-star options are available for about $110.