Does Anyone Trust TripAdvisor?

While there are many things I like about TripAdvisor, it is completely untrustable. While a person can write a good review, there’s something not to trust about group mentality. Still you can read between the lines.

We’re all above average aren’t we?

Also, I’m very certain that most all reviews are above average. Yes, most stays are above average. Make whatever sense of that you want. And this is despite the fact that people see these review sites as an outlet to vent.

Here are four randomly selected profiles to show that people are more inclined to write 4 and 5 star reviews:

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These were the first four random profiles I saw on Trip Advisor that had more than 10 reviews. Most of these reviews are 5 star, or split between four and 5 star. What does this say about people? People are easily pleased? Everyone makes the best choice no matter what the choice? 3.5 is the new 1?

It’s all relative to what you pay!

One of the worst expensive hotels I’ve stayed at was the Park Inn in Houston… I mean, I’ve stayed at some pretty bad hotels. In Cusco, Peru I asked a guy how much for a room and he said $2. Then he thought and then asked (in spanish), “are you staying the entire night or just a little bit?” at which point I decided to find another hotel. But at a $2 hotel your standards and expectations are different… which is exactly what’s wrong with TripAdvisor.

Where was I?

Oh right, Houston. So this Park Inn was gross. I mean it- it smelled like burnt rubber, carpet was stained, the entire place was shabby, etc… Seriously it was about motel 6 quality. We actually had four rooms for two couples for the 50k promo and they were all equally bad. At first I thought I was treating my parents and then I felt bad for subjecting my parents to this for 200,000 points. Ashamed.

This is just the first example of a hotel that came up that was just terrible. The TripAdvisor rating? 3.5

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You know what other hotel in Houston is rated 3.5?

The Westin.

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And what else? The Econo Lodge…

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Ok, in all honesty, I would rather stay at the Econo Lodge than that Park Inn again. But, The Westin. We’re comparing apples to durian here. How could they all have the same ratings? I don’t need Trip Advisor to tell me that the Westin is much, much, much nicer. Yet, according to Trip Advisor, it’s not nicer.

Search by Star Rating first

Of course, how much you pay impacts how good the stay was. It’s the entire flaw of user ratings. I’ve stayed at $10/night hotels in different parts of the world and have enjoyed them. I’ve also stayed at an InterContinental and thought it was terrible… mostly because of the price compared to what you get.

My fix is Kayak, just like the screenshots above. It shows first the star rating and then the trip advisor rating. I can usually assume that while people who stay at Westin hotels aren’t generally rating Econo Lodges (or they at least consider price), they probably are comparing other 4 star hotels. Kayak just lets me compare all those things at once.

Or just search FlyerTalk

I’ll search google for a hotel and flyertalk, like this, “intercontinental budapest flyertalk”. I can usually find what I want to know on the latest page or two. I find the hotel pages to be the most accurate threads in the entire forum. The people posting know hotels more than the average person, are often on point stays or are regulars to the hotel, often have status, etc…

What I really want to know is this:

  • Overall rating of the hotel
  • Is there a club lounge and what can I expect in terms of food?
  • Will I have access to it?
  • Location and transportation

I don’t trust the rating on TripAdvisor and the rest of the info is hard to come by.

What I love about Trip Advisor

On occasions I do switch over to Trip Advisor. Ultimately, Trip Advisor is a better idea than the forum style FlyerTalk offers since it has ratings, organization, the ability for the hotel manager to reply, etc…

But my favorite part is user photos. Nothing gets real like the photos.

For example, let’s compare photos for the Park Inn that I stayed at in Houston with the few user photos. Here is a photo that the hotel has up:

And here are some photos that the users have up for the same Park Inn:

Although those pictures don’t capture the smell it much more closely resembles my experience.

But sometimes all the user photos are great as well, and that’s a good sign.

Look for red flag themes

Here are a few reviews of the Park Inn North Houston. See if you can find a theme:

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My favorite line of all of them, “Room Tip: make sure you do not get a room that is moldy or that smells of urine”. What a good room tip! Mmm… Pass!

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16 Responses to Does Anyone Trust TripAdvisor?

  1. Will says:

    True story from Mexico City – if there are vibrators for sale on the room service menu you might want to rethink your stay ;-)

  2. flyingcturtle says:

    I basically use trip advisor just for hotel locations and for the customer photos. Ratings are subjective, photos are proof!!

  3. alan says:

    Obviously some reviewers are just people who can never be pleased and some are just kiss up bogus. I really like TripAdvisor but of course you must read a lot of the reviews to get the true picture.

    • Paul says:

      Vast majority of reviews are worthless gushing. Very few are serial complainers. I search out people with big posting history, as they then have a realistic basis to make comparisons. Unfortunately, they are too few.

  4. Travel Is Free says:

    @ flyingcturtle – Yea, the TA user photos are a big part of my hotel research. I think I do it before every new hotel booking.

    @ alan – I agree. No lie, I do still use TA, but the amount of reading to “get the picture” is much more than FlyerTalk imo.

  5. Paul says:

    One of the TripAdvisor comments you posted was telling: “I never complain, but this was aweful (sic)” In other words, only the absolute worst properties get complaints.

    People over estimate quality because they are reviewing a choice they made, so human nature is to never admit a mistake. And with so many people relatively uneducated about what “quality” actually means (the Average Joe shops at Walmart and vacations at Disneyland – nuff said), it’s no surprise that most anyplace that is better than the dump they live in, so gets good reviews.

    Don’t know if you realize it, but hotel management is able to “sanitize” reviews if you read their T&Cs. They are able to contact TA proactively if they suspect a bad review is coming.

    And yes, pictures are worth a thousand words. That’s the best feature of TripAdvisor imo.

  6. Curt says:

    Going to disagree….I use TA extensively. GRanted there are always exceptions but I find their reviews very helpful. I look for places with a large number of reviews. I look for reviewers with dozens of reviews and contributions to TA and pretty much ignore the 1 post reviewers. I look for an overall consensus in reviews with the bell curve tilting toward the upper end. Nothing is perfect, but I find TA hotel reviews to be a great starting point. And, I do agree, I find great value in user photos.

    With regard to “sanitized” reviews….I’ve written some pretty poor reviews of some places and they have never been edited in any way. All one has to do is read the “Terrible” reviews of any property to realize if someone is editing them, they are doing a pretty poor job of it.

  7. First thing I do is ignore any “one-hit-wonders” as it’s probably either a friend of the owner or friend of a rival hotel’s owner. I pay more attention when the reviewer has done at least 20 reviews preferably in different cities. I mostly want to know about the location, if it’s in the middle of nowhere and no public transport around for a city property I would avoid it. For eco-lodges, I want to know if the people were happy with the overall experience, if they raved about the guides and if they mention birds coming into the property for fruit trees or whatever as this can really enhance your experience.

  8. Travel Is Free says:

    @ Paul – Right, that’s kind of what I meant by “we’re all about average” is we all make above average choices. :-p
    But wait.
    Sanitize? How does contacting TA ahead of time about a complaint help? They get to review it? Get rid of it or what?

    @ Curt and Tara – I guess I should have mentioned something about seeing how often the person contributes. I think Yelp automatically sensors 1 post reviewers out. Of course, yelp is very different but they have an algorithm to weed out bad reviews. Maybe this is one of the good things or bad things about TA. Not sure. But I like that the hotel can respond at least.

  9. Denise L says:

    Not sure why you think 2 different hotels with different star ratings can get a 3.5 TripAdvisor rating. Obviously, a 1-star budget hotel can get a 5 TripAdvisor rating that can not compare to a 5-star hotel. You can not just look at the TripAdvisor rating to determine what to expect at a hotel.

    • Travel Is Free says:

      Right. Which is what I said… Kayak gives the star rating and the TA rating and the price. TA only gives the user rating, which by itself is unhelpful.

  10. Marcus says:

    Good points made by everyone. Just consolidating them into a list.

    –Photos beat reviews. And I’d put greater weight on guests’ photos, rather than the glossy professional photos provided by hotels.

    Back when I stayed at hostels, for me the biggest red flag was when a hostel didn’t put up any pictures of its bathrooms and showers. Another red flag was if they only showed photos of the private single and double rooms, no photos of the dorms.

    –For bad reviews, ignore individual reviews and look for recurring themes to the complaints, like about “smell” in the example.

    –Consider the reviewer. Is this their first review? Suspicious. If they have 100+ reviews? Most trustworthy, but might also be more picky.

    For more on the shady underground world of manipulating online reviews, there was an August 19, 2011 New York Times article by David Streitfeld titled, “In a Race to Out-Rave, 5-Star Web Reviews Go for $5.”

    I had a good laugh at that sub-headline about being above-average. There was a statistic somewhere that said something like, “Women reported that 75% of men were below-average in bed. On the other hand, 75% of men reported they were above-average in bed.” Who to believe? :)

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