Hotel Reviews: What To Look For & What To Ignore

Have you ever looked at an accommodation review and thought, “Yeesh, I'll pay a bit more for somewhere nicer”. I’m 100% guilty of this. But is it always necessary?

The freedom and anonymity of the Internet has allowed sites like TripAdvisor to become dumping grounds for people with high-needs, a bad day, or a stick up their you-know-what. 

Truth be told, it is a heck of a lot easier to recall a full-on crappy hotel experience than a “pretty good” or “average but functional” place. And without having to attach our names or faces to anything we say in the virtual world, some find it just feels plain good to complain without consequence or confrontation.

The Problem With Review Sites

  1. Bad reviews encourage further whining. Although accurate negative feedback is valuable for travellers, negative feedback often eggs on further complaints. This can send a reasonable accommodation into a downward TripAdvisor review spiral.
  2. Review authors are not travel experts. In fact, more often than not they're everyday complainers! Like many, I first used TripAdvisor to dump my disappointments back when I was a high-maintenance, once-a-year traveller. My star-ratings were swayed by emotions and mishaps, rather than a broad reflection. That's a lot of power for someone who's truly not a “senior” critic!
  3. Bad reviews often outnumber good ones. And that's not just because a place is legitimately “bad” – people are more likely to remember and write about a poor experience than a mediocre or fairly good one. This can skew a hotel average to being low or medium, when in fact the weight of those few 1-star reviews is what's dragging it down.
A treehouse accommodation we stayed at in the Australian rainforest. Someone on TripAdvisor gave a 2-star review because an item in the kitchen didn't work (which could have been fixed on the spot had they said anything).

Figure Out What You Want In An Accommodation

Before skimming accommodation reviews, ask yourself first: what are my must-have’s? What will disappoint me if it’s subpar or not provided at all? Determine what's important to you before making travel spending decisions based on the reviews of (oftentimes) crazy strangers.

Common priorities for travellers include:

  • Location: Is it central? Do you need to take transit (and do you mind)? How accessible will it be late at night? How close is it to attractions?
  • Internet: Is it functional? Is wireless provided or do you need a LAN cable? Is it accessible only in the lounge or does it work in your room?
  • Cleanliness: Is the room serviced (and do you care if it isn't)? Is all you want a clean, laundered bed, or will you be disappointed if the lobby is outdated and the wallpaper is archaic?
  • Room size: Are you picky about how much space you have to wander, or will you hardly be in your room anyway?
  • Breakfast: Will you be upset by a free breakfast of simple toast/jam, or not care because it's FREE?
  • Bed: Will you be devastated to find the “queen” bed is actually two twins pushed together (common in Europe)? Or do you just want a place to rest your head each night?

Once you’ve established what you're seeking, you’ll likely find that people's complaints probably don't apply to you. For instance, if someone gives a place a 1-star and mentions that the room is clean but the customer service sucked, then their ramblings won't matter to you in the slightest.

Some just don't care where they sleep!

What To Look For In Reviews

Once you know what you want, you've got to distinguish which reviews are objective, and which are an emotional outlets. Emotional reviews have three telltale signs: sarcasm, excessive!!! exclamation marks, and ANGRY CAPS LOCKS.

Questions to consider when assessing reviews:

  • Are all the basics covered? E.g. Internet, cleanliness, location, value, customer service, etc.? Or is only one (often perceived bad) aspect being focused on?
  • Does the review seem fair and unbiased? Are there backstories likely biasing the reviewer (e.g. “after missing our flight, we then had to stay here…”)?
  • Did the person do their homework? Are they making complaints about things they should have known about, such as the hotel location or a charge for wifi that's clearly stated?

Remember: They're Just Reviews

Reviews can be a valuable resource for information that most hotels won't share. Often though, reviews are simply rants that strongly outweigh and fair and just assessments of an accommodation. If spending less money while you travel is a priority for you, keep these tips in mind, maintain an open travel attitude, and take reviews with a grain of salt – it could save you plenty!

Want more cost-cutting resources on hotel booking tips & tricks? Check out our tips on How to Book the Cheapest Hotel Possible.