Spanish hotels are classified with a five-star rating system and generally speaking the criteria used are similar to those of the UK. Only the most luxurious and well equipped hotels earn the much coveted five stars - even the Spanish government's own chain of impressive Paradors don't aspire to these dizzy heights of luxury, with the vast majority earning four stars.
A cheap one-star hotel is quite rare in Spain but what can be confusing is the proliferation of "hostals" which can have anything from one to three stars and are often superior in terms of comfort and facilities than a one or two star hotel.
Before mass tourism arrived in Spain in the mid-sixties, hostals were extremely basic - the sort of places where truckers and low-budget travellers with minimum expectations bedded down for the night.
These days most hostals provide en-suite accommodation and restaurants with good quality, home-cooked fare at a very reasonable price. They're not the sort of places where package tourists normally stay but if you're travelling in Spain it's worth looking out for them because the better ones offer excellent value for money. In popular holiday towns, you'll normally find them in the old quarter or along the roadside approaching the resort.
At the bottom end of the scale there are cheap pensions which are usually small, family-run establishments. In the old days, these were primarily run by single or widowed women needing a source of income. Now they're thriving businesses which attract discerning tourists who prefer to "go native" rather than follow the package holiday crowd. You won't often get an en-suite bathroom in a pension but you're normally guaranteed a friendly welcome and a stay in a spotlessly clean family environment. No one cleans as feverishly as a middle-aged Spanish mama!
Self-catering rental accommodation is a popular choicite of lodging for many of the millions who flock to the Spanish costas each year. The big resorts have thousands of villas and apartments to rent via agents or directly from the owners.
A holiday villa rentals with a swimming pool is perfect for families and can prove quite cost-effective if you're travelling in a group as you normally pay a set price for the villa rather than paying per person. Standards range from over the top opulence (sumptuous mansions with maids, jacuzzis, the full works!) to quite basic facilities so it's important to check exactly what you'll be getting for your money.
The same applies if you're planning to rent a self-catering apartment - the best are modern, well equipped and have access to good communal facilities such as swimming pools, bars, play areas etc. The worst are fleapits.
Most resorts have "aparthotels" which offer the freedom of a self-catering apartment combined with the convenience of hotel facilities on your doorstep.
All the costas are well served with campsites and if you venture inland you'll find a wealth of charming and affordable country homes and town houses which have been sympathetically converted to accommodate tourists. Look out for the local authority's "turismo rural" seal of approval which guarantees quality standards.
If you're staying on one of the Balearic Islands be warned that you'll be charged the new "eco-tax" - an average of 1€ per night dependent on the grade of your chosen lodging.