We don't stay in hotels very often, but during a recent European trip we thought about what we need, want and don't want in a hotel room. Some things are more useful for a multi-day stay than for an overnight highway stop. This assumes a certain budget sense, which for us is middle middle-class. We don't expect all these things — they're just a sort of an ideal list for general travel. We wouldn't expect nearly as much during "adventure" travel. Cheap, "interesting" and "quaint" can substitute for some amenities, but frou-frou can't.
A 500-year-old hotel on a snow-slippery, steep hill in Tübingen was great.
Obviously a hotel must be secure from crime and safely built. There should be fairly priced parking nearby (or other appropriate access) and elevators, if appropriate. The room MUST be smoke-free. (Most of the European restaurants we were at still allow smoking, and we find it an unavoidable major detraction. All of the rooms we stayed in there were smoke-free, but some American hotels have tried to put us in disgustingly smoky ones despite non-smoking reservations.) Convenient parking is not a given in crowded cities, either European or American.
There should be easy and accurate phone and internet reservations/cancellations, with maps and directions online, in a language we understand. We want staff who are efficient and courteous, neither pretentious nor obsequious. (We like, but don't expect, foreign desk staff to speak English.) It should be easy to temporarily leave stuff at the hotel before or after checkout, without waiting for and paying the bellhops — maybe in lockers. If there aren't nearby shops, there should be fairly priced vending machines for snacks, drinks and laundry supplies. A coin laundry is good to find on longer trips.
Water: Room must have toilet and shower. Some of us think a bathtub is important. Liquid soap is better than those little bars. A large sink is important, preferably separate from the toilet and shower, for light clothes washing. There must be shelf space and hooks for toiletries in the shower and at the sink. A drying rack over the heater is good, but "towel warmers" are silly. Big towels and face-cloths are important to some, and uncommon in Europe. A nice touch is a warm bathroom floor.
Beds: fairly firm, with extra pillows. Duvets are easy and fun, but can easily be too warm. Double beds for each person are silly. We'd rather have a cheap rate than high-thread-count sheets! Attached night-stands are good, as are adjustable reading lights for each side of a double bed.
Heat and ventilation: easy temperature regulation is very important. Hotel rooms are most often stuffy and too warm. Air conditioners are often very noisy. Windows that open are good.
Furniture: 1 or 2 comfortable reading chairs, with an adjustable light and table are important for those of us who know reading in bed is uncomfortable. Bureaus are pointless — a better idea is a wide low shelf for suitcases, and a small closet area for hanging things. A long desk is good for working at, and for the appliances.
Appliances: Mini-bars are a waste of space, while a small fridge is good, especially for longer stays. Hot-water-makers (with coffee, tea and hot chocolate) and microwaves are very nice, and important if there isn't an included breakfast. Overall, we can do without a TV, but if there is one, it should get BBC and CNN, and have a placard listing the stations. A telephone with local service, calling-card billing and phone book are good, since cell-phone coverage is problematic at best and there's no other good way to find local phone numbers. Internet access will be important in the future, and will partly substitute for the phone and TV, but so far the online phone books stink loudly. An alarm-clock radio is important, and should have a list of stations with their formats.
For guest houses, B & Bs and other small places, lounges for general use are nice, with books, chairs, windows and no TV. These can substitute for a lack of space in small rooms, and are important for group outings.
When breakfast is included, we want plenty of American style coffee (European coffee is thick and over-roasted, but at least the cups are small), plus juice, fruit, pastry, cereal and dairy options. (The nicest European breakfasts had eggs, fruit and several each of meats, cereals, juices, breads and pastries, jams, yogurts and cheeses, hot drinks. The worst have been in the American West — just small store-bought donuts and coffee in paper cups, consumed standing in the lobby. So much for "Continental breakfast.")
Room service, shower caps, shoe polishers, irons, exercise room, game room, bar, slot machines, bidet, mini-bar, lobbies whose function is just to impress, religious paraphernalia, fireplaces that don't work. Balconies are not useful for overnight stays, and only worth anything if there's a view, and chairs and weather to enjoy them. Swimming pools are not useful for overnight stays either, and seldom for longer ones.
Variable flush toilets are common in Germany: