What to look for when reading resort reviews

It wasn’t all that long ago that hotel and resort reviews were only available in guide books and such, but thanks to TripAdvisor, around half of potential guests check the reviews before booking. Many other hotel websites also have reviews, including several that only print “verified” reviews of people who actually stayed at the hotel.

By now most people are also aware of the fact that there is a certain amount of dishonesty when it comes to TripAdvisor reviews. Sometimes it’s a hotel creating its own overly positive reviews or creating negative reviews of competing hotels, while other times it’s guest being bribed for 5-star reviews or placing scathing 1-star reviews when the hotel refused to give them a free upgrade.

If you read hotel reviews as part of your job, as I do, it’s easy to see what to look for and what to ignore, but most people don’t have that luxury. So here are a few things to watch out for.

Ignore hotels that average 3 or lower in total score

TripAdvisor (and many others) use a 1-star to 5-star scale, and you might think that anything rated 3 or higher is above average. But in fact, the average TripAdivsor review is 4.1 stars, so overall, even an average score of 4.0 is below average. A hotel that averages below 3.5 is way below average, and anything below 3.0 is dreadful. It’s better to just move on.

Read any 1-star reviews carefully

One pattern you’ll find on many hotels is that the vast majority of scores will be 4s and 5s, and there are a cluster of 1-star reviews mixed in. Sometimes these are a reason to worry, but other times they should just be ignored. An alarming number of people will, for example, book the cheapest room in a hotel and then beg for an upgraded room once they arrive, threatening bad reviews if they don’t get it.

With reviews like this you’ll usually see people mentioning things that totally contradict the majority opinion. For example, if most reviews say a hotel is spotless, and one or two reviews say it’s filthy, those bad reviews are probably written by people trying to bring down the score for other reasons. Sometimes the bad reviews will even mention a story of the customer being unreasonable and not getting their way, so those are easy to ignore.

Pay attention to reviews that say the star rating is too high

You may or may not realize that in most of the world a hotel can claim to be any number of stars it wants (although many European cities do regulate them). So if you are looking for a 4- or 5-star resort hotel you should scan the reviews to see if many of them agree that their rating is inaccurate. It’s not uncommon for people to generally like a hotel, but think it rated itself too high.

These declarations often come in the title of the review, so a quick scan for “Not a 5-star hotel” in the titles should let you know if the rating reflects the reality. In many resort areas, like St. Thomas or St. Lucia, you’ll find “3-star” resorts that fill up for US$500 per night, while there are “5-star” resorts that only charge US$200 and get a steady stream of bad reviews. Stars don’t mean the same thing everywhere.