The Four Seasons Hotel in Georgetown scored one of the biggest prizes in the hotel business last week when the Mobil Travel Guide awarded it five-star status. The upgrade from four stars makes it the only five-star hotel in the District and one of 32 in the United States.

Mobil publishes elaborate criteria for five stars. In addition to the markers of excellent service and well-appointed rooms required for four stars, a five-star hotel must have, among other things, staff who avoid "slang and phrase fragments," a choice of two or more free newspapers and three phones in each room, including one in the bathroom.

Chris Hunsberger, the Four Seasons' general manager, attributed the newly achieved status in part to a renovation, just being completed, that cost $40 million over the past four years. But he also said the hotel has stepped up staff training. For example, when a guest asks for restaurant recommendations, he said, staff members are supposed to offer not only to make a reservation but also to find out what kind of event the guest has in mind and call the restaurant to make sure the experience will fit what the guest is looking for.

Other local luxury hotels, such as the District's two Ritz-Carlton locations and the year-old Mandarin Oriental, covet a fifth star. In fact, when the Mandarin opened, its managers made it clear that was one of their goals. Last week, though, managers of the four-star competition were magnanimous.

"I only see the good in this," said Paul Westbrook, area general manager for Ritz-Carlton. "This is a wonderful recognition for them that will serve the entire luxury market in a good way. It paves the way for the rest of us."

Darrell Sheaffer, general manager of the Mandarin, agreed but couldn't resist noting, "It's a very fine line between a hotel that is an upper four star and five star."

-- Neil Irwin