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Hotel review sites: how to read between the lines
How to read reviews

Do hotel review websites leave you confused?

You’re looking for the ideal hotel and you want to know what previous guests think so you look at various review sites. Or maybe the hotel booking website you’re searching on has its own reviews. Either way, you’ll probably find a lot of conflicting information and end up more confused than when you started. So, how do you cut through this maze of information and make a decision on which hotel to book?

Read hotel review sites
Read hotel review sites

First get your shortlist

Let’s assume you’ve looked at a few hotels and made a shortlist of hotels that you like the look of. If you haven’t already read it, take a look at my guide to finding your ideal hotel. In that article, you’ll find lots of tips on searching. You’ll also learn that I use a lot and I recommend you do too. You don’t have to book through them but it’s a great tool for finding good accommodation options.

So, you’ve got your shortlist. If you haven’t narrowed it down yet then look at some photos, read the descriptions and pick some you like. Reading reviews is time-consuming and you don’t really want to have to spend all day wading through other people’s opinions.

Start with the reviews

First, check the reviews on itself. These reviews are more reliable because only customers who book the hotel can leave a review. You won’t see fake reviews by the hotel itself, by its competitors or just random people who like to do that sort of thing.

So, what should you look out for and what should you ignore? Firstly, if the hotel has generally great reviews don’t worry about the odd negative comment. We all have different requirements and ideas of good value when we stay in a hotel. This can colour our reviews. Don’t get hung up on the odd unusual review, look for patterns.

On guests are encouraged to leave both positive and negative comments by filling in a guided review form. This asks them specific questions. Their overall responses generate a score. You’ll also see that the review scores are shown for individual elements as well, for example, cleanliness and free wifi. You can get this to get an overall idea of how strong the hotel is on these points.

Reviews are rarely all positive

I’ve noticed that people who write on hotel review sites are often quite vague about the positives. So they’ll say things like ‘great hotel’, ‘fabulous’ etc. On the other hand, they’ll get very specific on the negatives. For instance, ‘there was a cobweb behind the tv’ or ‘I counted three hairs in the sink’. You need to balance their negatives against their positives. Sometimes you’ll see something like this, ‘There was dust behind the tv but I called reception and they sent someone straight up’. Or they’ll say ‘The bathroom was a bit small’ in the negative points but ‘great hotel, we’d stay again’ in the positives. In my opinion, these are really positives. You get the idea.

Obviously, the first thing to do with the hotel reviews is to read them. What is your initial reaction? Do you tend to believe them or not? I tend to trust my gut instinct on these things. If you’ve read a few reviews and they make you feel uncomfortable about the hotel then cross it off.

What to look for?

What if you really like the hotel and most of the reviews are good but you find the odd bad one. Usually, if several people highlight the same negative then it is probably true. Then I have to decide if that bothers me. It might seem weird but just because someone else has a negative about the hotel doesn’t mean it has to worry me. For instance, what if they say that parking was too expensive or there was never a space in the car park. If I’m don’t have a car that’s not going to affect me. So check if the negatives actually apply to you.

Look for red flag reviews
Look for red flag reviews

My personal red flags on hotel review sites are repeated negative comments about cleanliness. I don’t think anyone wants to arrive at a hotel and find their room is dirty. You want a nice space to relax in and for me that absolutely means clean. I also look out for repeated complaints about customer service especially reports of long queues to check in. When you travel to a hotel you want to get checked in with minimum time and fuss so you can relax. These are the things I focus on. I’m sure you’ll have your own.

When can you ignore a hotel review?

So which comments should you ignore? Firstly, you can set aside reviewers who tell you it was too expensive, that’s a personal judgement. Set your budget and pick a hotel that fits it. Don’t worry whether someone else thinks its too expensive. If you agree that it’s too expensive then that’s different but you should exclude anything out of your budget earlier in the process.

I ignore reviews which are simply the result of poor planning and research. For example, when we travelled to Tokyo I read a lot of complaints about small hotel rooms. if you do your research you will already know that all hotel rooms in Tokyo are small. You can’t complain about a Tokyo hotel on that point. Likewise, you’ll read complaints that New York hotel rooms are expensive for their size. Again, yes they are but that’s a whole market issue not a negative against a specific hotel.

As I mentioned earlier, people are often far too vague about the positives. Unfortunately, this can mean you get more involved in the negatives. Try not to do this. If the majority of guests had a positive experience you probably will too. Just remember there’s actually no such thing as the perfect hotel but there is the ideal hotel for you and that’s all you should be concerned about.

Hotel Reviews

Look at tripadvisor reviews

Now, I’ve talked you through how to read reviews and you know that on their site you have the benefit of knowing that the guest has stayed in the hotel. However, we all know there is another big hotel review website which just can’t be ignored, Tripadvisor. Of course, you get some really good Tripadvisor reviews and I spend a lot of time on their site reading them. The great thing about Tripadvisor is that they list more than just accommodations. You can get reviews on everything, for example, tourist attractions, tours, restaurants. It’s a gold mine of information but you need to use it carefully and understand the nature of Tripadvisor reviews.

Unlike reviews you can assume that Tripadvisor reviews are written by actual guests. Anyone can write a hotel review on Tripadvisor. Nobody will check if they actually stayed in the hotel or not. Unfortunately, this means that a hotel’s competitors can post a negative review just to put you off. While the hotel could get its staff to write positive reviews or offer incentives for its guests to do so. In view of this, you need to be careful when you read them.

Now, I like Tripadvisor and it’s a great resource you just need to know how to use it to get the best benefit. Make sure you’ve read the reviews on first. Then read Tripadvisor reviews and see if they’re similar. The advantage of Tripadvisor reviews is that you’ll get lots more for each hotel so you get a wider perspective.

Look at positive and negative reviews
Look at positive and negative reviews

Be careful of certain types of reviewer

Look out for the following though. Reviewers with only a few reviews. You can see this under their name. If the only negative comments are by people with less than about 100 reviews I ignore them. If you find a review which is different from the general mood look to see if it’s written by someone from the same home town as the hotel. That’s another red flag so ignore it. Essentially, you are looking for a general overview of guests’ experiences. Trust your gut instinct.

Another thing to look out for is negative reviews which are potentially out of date. This applies equally to Tripadvisor and to general hotel review sites. If there are a string of reviews complaining about building work disturbing their stay it’s not relevant to you if they were written 5 years ago. You might want to double-check with the hotel to see if there is any work still going on though.

Has the hotel responded to the review?

One more thing to consider. On Tripadvisor reviews, the hotel can respond to any comments. I like hotels that do bother to respond. Of course, that response needs to be professional and polite not a tirade of abuse aimed at the original reviewer. You can tell a lot about their customer service from the way they write these responses. If they monitor their online reviews and provide factual, useful feedback then chances are they care about their guests and want them to have a good experience.

Don’t forget to leave your review

Just one final point. Don’t forget to leave your review when you get back. If we all contribute it really helps every one to get a good experience.

Don't forget to leave your own review
Don’t forget to leave your own review

Hopefully, I’ve addressed some of your concerns about using hotel review sites and given you some pointers to read reviews more effectively. If you’ve found this useful then check out some more of our expert advice tips and advice articles.