10 Insider tips for evaluating TripAdvisor reviews

Insider tips on using Trip Advisor reviews
Insider tips on using Trip Advisor reviews

Evaluating TripAdvisor reviews is often more art than science. 

To plan a vacation, people around the globe are increasingly seeking out insider tips and recommendations from online review sites.  With travel sites in 21 languages and a collection of more than 500 million user-generated traveler reviews, it’s not surprising that TripAdvisor leads the pack.

In fact, TripAdvisor reviews have changed the travel landscape dramatically by giving travelers a public platform on which they can gripe about a lumpy mattress, an overcooked entree, an unexpected fee, or lackluster service. But even the most savvy traveler needs to do due diligence to get the most out of TripAdvisor—or any other online review site.

Earlier this year, New York Times’ frugal traveler, Seth Kugel, penned a column about TripAdvisor that provoked hundreds of reader comments. I’ve culled advice from those comments (and added some of my own) to help you evaluate the reviews you read. Here are 10 insider tips for using Trip Advisor reviews:

1) Look for trends

Don’t be swayed by one or two reviews that are either exceptionally good or exceptionally bad. Take the time to read multiple reviews and look for consistent trends.

2) Check dates and timing

Things change. If you are looking at old TripAdvisor reviews, the problems may have been experienced under different management or before a more recent renovation.

Sequence is an important indicator, too.  Bad reviews followed by good ones are more reassuring than good ones followed by bad.

Also, see whether the visits took place during the same season when you plan to travel. Perceptions of a seaside resort in winter may be totally different than in the height of the season.

3) Pay attention to specifics rather than global judgments

Look for useful details. If someone hated (and poorly rated) a hotel because the walls are paper thin, that is more informative than an individual simply saying he/she wasn’t able to sleep.

4) Look for outliers and negative reviews

Pay specific attention to major shortcomings that may compromise your stay. However, recognize that an especially harsh review may simply reflect the mood of a grumpy reviewer or a competitor. You can vet the negative reviewer’s comments by looking at other reviews by the same individual.

5) Evaluate the experience of the reviewer

Give more weight to experienced reviewers. The comments of a seasoned traveler are generally more helpful than someone who rarely travels. Additionally, in the case of restaurants, you may want to give more credence to the experiences of reviewers who are local and know the gastronomic terrain. 

6) Know thyself

Not everyone is looking for the same type of experience. For example, if you are a backpacker, you may be more interested in hostels reviewed by backpackers than hostels dissed by luxury travelers.

Additionally, don’t forget that people of different backgrounds, ages, socioeconomic status, etc. may have different travel expectations, perceptions, and preferences.

7) Evaluate the responsiveness of management

When a negative review appears, does management make a credible attempt to apologize or explain what happened? Or, do they spill out a boilerplate apology or even worse, make believe Trip Advisor doesn’t exist?

8) Check the forums

If you have unanswered questions, check out the forums on Trip Advisor where members may have raised the same concerns and where you can pose new questions.

Don’t hesitate to contact reviewers and commenters to ask them questions as well.

9) Don’t forget to look at the photos

Publicity shots on property websites can be deceiving. On the other hand, photographs taken by real people offer a better glimpse at what a room really looks like. For example, a picture with two suitcases on the floor and toiletries in the bathroom will allow you to better gauge space (or lack thereof) than a room that is staged and photographed with a wide angle lens. 

10) Don’t rely solely on one review site.

While TripAdvisor, the largest and most popular review site, is a wonderful source of crowd-sourced information, check out other edited review sites (e.g. Frommer’s, Fodor’s, Lonely Planet and Zagat) where experts weigh in. Also scour books and websites to be a better-informed and more satisfied traveler. I hope you’ll drop in here, too:-)

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  1. Great tips. I like to narrow things down using Frommers and Fodors then I go to Tripadvisor to read the reviews. I also find that it is helpful to come see what restaurants, attractions are hotel in the top 10 on Tripadvisor. Sometimes these are never mentioned in other guidebooks.

  2. When planning a trip, i research destinations first, go to their website and do some snooping and, then, my very last process is to check out my short list on TripAdvisor to see if I’ve missed anything. One thing that concerns me about Tripadvisor is that one bad review can move a company to the next page of listings thus hurting the company’s visibility. That’s why so many bed and breakfasts, small inns and smaller hotels have become almost aggressive in requesting good views from clients.

    1. Destination websites can be very informative but my experience has been that when it comes to comparing properties or restaurants, for example, everyone gets equal weight. There is no substitute for doing your homework before a trip~

  3. One can also email the reviewers directly for further information and comments. I have been emailed several times by folks who read my reviews and then want further information or to ask specific questions as they relate to their trip.

  4. As the owner of a B&B – I’d like to offer my two cents about the outlier comments… take them with a grain of salt. When you find a property that has 100+ excellent reviews and 2 poor and/or 3 average – read those reviews but take them with a grain of salt. If 50, 60, 80, 100 people found a property to be excellent, then there is a very good chance that the poor or average review was written by someone who simple decided they’re going to set everyone straight, Ha! And when you read those reviews pay close attention to what the critique is focused on – when I read them I quite often can detect between the lines what was really the issue and 9 times out of 10 there was absolutely nothing the lodging facility could have done about it. Again, just my two cents.

  5. I love reading reviews and usually I average them out, if there are more positives than negatives then it usually is a worth try for me. Thanks for the tips.

  6. Your suggestion to know something about the reviewer is a good one. One person’s luxury splurge is another’s moderately priced accommodation. Some hotel rooms my husband and I were perfectly happy with on our first trip together in 1981, we would find cringeworthy now.

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