What’s the first thing you do when booking a hotel? Let me guess—you check the reviews. Travelers today use online review sites to assess hotels, restaurants, attractions, and many other types of businesses. But can you really trust what you read online? This post outlines the good and the bad of online hotel reviews, and provides some tips to help you get the most out of online review sites.
What did we do before sites like TripAdvisor and Yelp? How did we know which Denver hotel had the best view (the Denver Renaissance—book a room on the top floor) or which Portland restaurant served the best burger (Slow Bar? Little Big Burger? Tough to decide)? Online review sites give us access to millions of reviews for establishments around the world, helping us make better decisions about where to spend our travel dollars. Never before have customers had so much access to information before making a purchase.
Unfortunately, like all information on the Internet, online reviews need to be taken with a grain of salt. Here are some reasons to be wary of online hotel reviews:
- Some reviews are fake. It’s estimated that about 10 to 15% of online reviews are fake. Hotel owners pay people to post sparkling reviews of their properties, and sometimes they even post negative reviews about their competitors. Review sites like TripAdvisor use algorithms to detect fake reviews, but they don’t catch everything. In fact, because of the fake review problem, TripAdvisor was forced to reword its advertising that suggested its reviewers were all real customers.
- Reviews are sometimes censored. Not all reviews get published, and it isn’t always because they are fake. For example, yours truly recently submitted a review of a large-chain hotel in downtown Seattle to the hotel chain’s website. Overall, the review was glowing: I said the room was excellent, the staff was excellent, and so on. I also mentioned that I was unhappy with recent changes to the company’s loyalty program, which got my review censored for “irrelevant” content.
- Reviews can be outdated. Hotels change—they go through renovations or get new owners, which often makes older reviews obsolete. But the negative comments about old rooms and bad owners stay on review sites indefinitely.
- Not all review sites are created equal. There is a difference between a travel booking site that hosts reviews and a review site. Expedia is a travel booking site—only customers who have purchased travel products through Expedia can post reviews on the site. TripAdvisor is a review site—anyone can sign up and post a review.
5 Tips for Using Hotel Review Sites
Despite the warnings above, the vast majority of online reviews are probably trustworthy. Here are five tips for getting the most out of hotel review sites:
- Check more than one review site. Don’t entrust your entire hotel stay to one site. Check TripAdvisor, Google Places, Expedia, Orbitz, and of course Hotel Engine. You don’t have to read every review, but at least glance at the star ratings for a better overall picture of a property.
- Don’t trust overly glowing or overly critical reviews. If a review sounds like it was written by the hotel owner’s best friend or worst enemy, it probably was.
- Look for hotels that have more reviews. More reviews = more reliability. Fake reviews are more likely to be found for small, new, independently owned properties trying to drum up business.
- Look for recurring themes. If one guest complains about a dirty room, the review could be fake or the hotel might just have been having a bad day. If 80% of guests have the same complaint, there is likely a problem.
- Put more weight on recent reviews. Recent reviews are more likely to accurately describe the current state of the hotel.
With these tips in mind, you should be well armed to navigate the sea of hotel reviews. Check out this infographic from Olery showing what travelers think about hotel review sites.
For a limited time, get $10 in rewards dollars when you join Hotel Engine, a members only site that will save you money on hotels.