Favorite upscale hotels: Top picks from our travel panel

These days, robots are increasingly appearing with hotel room service orders, smartphones are serving as keys, and tablets are controlling the room temperature.

But for USA TODAY Road Warriors who have the budget to stay at upscale hotels, human interaction is the key to making them loyal to a particular brand.

“The difference is the people,” says Robert Getzenberg, a scientist in Memphis.

Getzenberg’s favorite upscale brand is The Ritz-Carlton, which is part of Marriott International.

“They really seem to care and try to find ways to make your stay more pleasant,” he says. “They simply put the best product together and make you feel a little special while you travel.”

USA TODAY conducted an informal survey to determine the favorite upscale hotel brands among readers. A total of 102 members of our Road Warriors panel cast votes. These frequent travelers chose a variety of brands run by companies big and small.

But the one that got the most votes —11—was The Ritz-Carlton, which operates 87 hotels and resorts in 29 countries.

Ramesh Murthy, a vice president of global planning for Hasbro, Inc, who lives in Greenville, R.I., recently stayed at the Ritz in Barcelona.

The staff paid special attention to the fact that he was traveling with his children and had daily treats for them. His daughter’s birthday coincided with the trip, and the hotel surprised her with a cake.

“The concierge staff was extremely friendly and capable, helping us with our daily activities and excursions and always sent us to great experiences,” he says. “I have never had a bad experience at a Ritz-Carlton hotel.”

Marriott’s upscale brands, including the J.W. Marriott, topped the list of hotels named as favorites by Road Warriors, with a total of 26 votes. Marriott, which has 19 brands of all price ranges, is in the midst of buying Starwood Hotels and Resorts. Once that merger is complete, the combined company will become the largest hotel chain in the world.

J.W. Marriott hotels also fared well, with five votes.

“Every J.W. that I've stayed in is perfect,” says Doug Hildebrand, a regional account manager in Hagerstown, Md. “They always exceed expectations.  The rooms are always spectacular, the beds are comfortable, the bathrooms you don't want to leave.”

Starwood, whose luxury brands include St. Regis and W Hotels and Resorts, got 17 votes.

Seven Road Warriors singled out St. Regis, in particular the New York City property.

“The original iconic New York location is the best, where everyone remembers your name, favorite room and even breakfast choices,” says Arthur Brandt, a lawyer in Chicago.

Hilton Worldwide, another hospitality giant, had a strong showing with its upscale brands, Waldorf Astoria Hotels and Resorts and Conrad Hotels and Resorts.

Frederick Plummer II, an aircraft consultant in DeBary, Fla., says the Conrad in Bali is his favorite upscale hotel. His wife and two children stayed there last March in a waterfront two-bedroom suite. The pool was right outside their door. They offered a free kids’ club and other activities they could pay for such as trapeze. They got free afternoon tea and snacks.

“The property is amazing, the service is excellent and you will not want to ever leave,” he says.

David Stollman, a Boca Raton, Fla., resident and president of the educational group CAMPUSPEAK, prefers the Roosevelt Hotel, a Waldorf Astoria property, in New Orleans.

“Old world charm in an amazing city,” he says. “The historic Sazerac bar has perfect ambiance and style. The lobby is elegant and truly breathtaking.”

Hyatt Hotels earned high marks for its Park Hyatt and Grand Hyatt brands.

Jonna Stopnik, an executive in Huntington Beach, Calif., calls the Park Hyatt Tokyo a favorite.

The views from the governor’s suite are amazing as is the Japanese wood soaking tub, Stopnik says. The room comes with butler service.

“Very exceptional in Tokyo and amazing resort luxury for anywhere in the world,” Stopnik says.

Some smaller hotel chains that only concentrate on providing a luxury experience also got recognition from Road Warriors.

Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, which has 98 properties in 41 countries, had a strong showing with nine votes.

Consistency is the key for Nicholas Logothetis, a New York-based executive board member of Libra Group, a company that invests in various industries.

“Whether you are in Baltimore or Boston or Beverly Hills, you can expect the same extremely high quality of service and product that makes life on the road easier,” he says. “It’s the small things that matter when you are traveling so much, and having the ability to know what kind of pillows you will get or the reliability of the room service menu etc. makes all the difference.”

Terry Simpson, a doctor in Phoenix, prefers the Four Seasons in L.A. and Seattle, especially because of their treatment of his son.

“They both have toys for him, age appropriate, and everyone in the hotel knows him and says ‘Hi JJ,’ from the bellmen on,” he says. “They clearly do their homework.”

He also likes their social media savvy. “They always respond (on Twitter)," he says.

Rob Newman, a television commercial producer who splits his time between L.A. and Thailand, prefers the Mandarin Oriental brand, which has just 29 hotels in 24 countries.

His favorite is the Mandarin Oriental in Bangkok. He has stayed there more than 75 times. He says they pay attention to people's passport photos.

“Without the guests knowing, they try to memorize their face,” he says. “So, someone who has just checked in the day before is greeted with a smile and name recognition.”

With 60 hotels, Fairmont Hotels and Resorts wowed a few Road Warriors.

“I have stayed at several in Canada – Vancouver, Toronto, Lake Louise, Calgary – and in the U.S. – Santa Monica, San Francisco and Sonoma – and the service is always top notch and consistent,” says Ira Gostin, a mining executive in Reno. “Good, clean rooms with varying degrees of amenities and great beds and towels. The property in Sonoma, and their restaurant Sante, are among my top three hotels in the world.”