When resort guest reviews look really good, you still have to research

An average person might only take one or two trips per year, so it’s hard to really understand how to interpret guest reviews to make a quick choice. With websites like TripAdvisor, Expedia, Booking.com, and Agoda all having scores or even hundreds of reviews for each hotel, more and more people are using them as their primary way to judge where to stay.

While this might be a good place to start, and a good way to narrow the list down, it can also lead to booking regrets for those who don’t consider other factors. There’s one major trend that I’ve noticed that has tricked me a few times and is an easy trap for anyone to fall into. We’ll cover the things to be careful of below.

Reviewers tend to review service much more than location

Several of the main sites mentioned above only allow reviews by those who have booked and stayed at those hotels, but TripAdvisor in particular doesn’t book rooms so it allows reviews by anyone and everyone, regardless if they’ve even been in that country much less stayed at that hotel. Some people complain about fake reviews, but I find that it’s not really a big problem, especially for popular hotels in popular cities, namely the ones most of us stay in.

But one problem this can lead to is that most people only bother to review a hotel on TripAdvisor if they had a wonderful experience or a terrible experience. People consider the location of the hotel and the room plus the facilities when they first check in, but it’s really the service that they think about after they’ve checked out.

In other words, if a resort tried to add bogus minibar charges to your bill upon checkout, or they booked you a taxi that overcharged you, or even if there was a long line at checkout, guests will be left with a bad taste in their mouths. A review that might have been 4 stars is suddenly down to 1 or 2 stars because of the bad experience when departing.

Conversely, and this is the trap I referred to above, you’ll often find hotels with great reviews that seem way cheaper than their competition. If you can book a room with an average 4-star review for less than one that averages 2.5 stars, why wouldn’t you do it? A better question is, why is the well-reviewed hotel so cheap? The answer is almost always that they have a remote or otherwise poor location.

In fact, if you see a hotel with great guest reviews that is suspiciously cheap, I can almost guarantee that it will have a crappy location. I’ve stayed in a few of these myself where you check in and receive a warm welcome or even a free drink. I’ve been given a beer upon arrival a few times in tropical resort areas, and it makes me feel great about the place. Then the owners and employees always say hello and they offer to help you arrange sightseeing or even drive you into the city center.

With this kind of treatment you can’t help but give a 5-star review when you leave because the owner and/or staff did everything they could to make your stay nice. The problem is, the hotel was probably several blocks from the beach or a long ride from the city center. If it was right on the beach or in the center of town they’d charge more than their competitors with that kind of service, so you need to be very cautious when you see this combination.

In many cases a remote location is just fine, and you can take advantage of the great service for cheap that way. But for most guests, having a good location is a huge influence on whether the whole visit is pleasing, so for many of us it’s better to skip the well reviewed site and do the best we can in the better locations.