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Yes, Hotel Reviews Matter. But You’re Not Using Them Correctly

Before you book your next hotel online, be sure you’re using reviews in all the right ways to avoid a hotel nightmare.

We’ve all had bad hotel experiences. There was the time I booked a week at a Napa Valley resort only to check in and learn that the gym and the spa (!) were under construction and, thus, closed. Or the time I booked a family vacation with my young kids at a hotel in Greece, only to learn at 2 a.m. on our first night that it was a popular Spring Break hotel for European college students. Years later, I’m still catching up on my sleep.

If I had researched both cases properly, I would have chosen different hotels and had a much better travel experience. We can learn a lot from hotel reviews, but it takes a deeper dive than just a quick look at the star ratings. I’ve been known to comb reviews for hours before booking a hotel to ensure I’m not making a mistake.

It goes without saying, but you should actually read the hotel reviews. They provide a wealth of information and can seriously make or break your travel experience. Ratings can be quite subjective, and yes, people tend to complain more than compliment, but taking the time to filter through them is worth it. Here’s how you can make the most of hotel reviews to avoid your own hotel nightmare.

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Sort Reviews by Date

Start with the most recent reviews. You’ll find out if the hotel is under new management, under construction, or has other issues that could impact your stay (like that time I arrived at a Caribbean resort only to learn that the nearby sewage plant was under construction, resulting in a putrid smell that literally kept me inside the whole trip but I failed to read the most recent reviews). Look at reviews from past years for the same month you’ll be traveling. Note if there are annual events—or celebrations, as in my Spring Break experience— that could disrupt your sleep and, thus, your trip.

Skip the Star Ratings and Search Reviews Using Keywords

I’m a ridiculously light sleeper, so nothing ruins a trip more for me than a noisy hotel that prevents me from getting my beauty rest. I meticulously search reviews using keywords that are important to me, like noise, safety, construction, elevator, clean, etc. Use keywords also to search reviews to learn about the hotel’s amenities. Does the pool get crowded? Is the onsite restaurant good?

Make a List

Make a list of top things that are important to you when staying in a hotel, and use the reviews to check off your wants/needs. Are you looking for onsite dining? Rooms with a microwave? A quiet neighborhood? An indoor pool?  A spotless room? I’ll create a checklist for more expensive hotel stays and use reviews to choose the property that fits all my requirements.

Keep an Eye Out for Specific Details

Make a note of any reviews you read that mention specific room numbers and the pros and cons. Perhaps others complain that the room is too close to the elevator, so you get a lot of night noise. I once ended up in a room above the trash room and didn’t appreciate the loud garbage truck arriving every morning at 5 a.m. I wrote a review and warned my fellow travelers about this particular room location. It’s perfectly fine to call the hotel and ask them to make note of a room number you do not want to be assigned.

Look for Reviews Outside of Review Sites

Do a Google search of the property name, as travelers may have written about the property outside of the traditional review websites. Most hotels are also listed on multiple sites, so don’t rely on just one.

Check Out Travel Message Boards

Surf travel message boards for the name of the hotel. These boards can also shed some light on travelers’ experiences that are less of a review but more tip oriented. Are restaurants and shopping walkable? How hard is it to get an Uber? Is there nightlife nearby that could be fun or a noisy headache? Having access to this information could make your trip more enjoyable and less of a hassle.

Look at the Hotel on Google Maps

Map the hotel using the street view feature. This will allow you to see the streetscape in front of the hotel. Is it on a busy street with heavy traffic? Is the entrance neat and manicured (which can indicate the hotel’s interior)? Are there busy businesses or late-night venues nearby that could be noisy? I go so far as to see if a convenience or grocery store is nearby for essentials like water and snacks.

Pay Attention to Private Condos

Many resorts these days feature privately owned condos managed and rented out by the property manager. Read reviews on these types of properties extra carefully. I’ve seen past guests post that particular condos are in need of updates (no one wants ’80s-era decor in a vacation space), so you’ll know to avoid booking those specific condos and look for the modern, updated accommodations.

Be Aware of Hidden Fees

Scroll through the hotel details on different sites, as not all are transparent about additional costs. Look for additional fees or restrictions on parking, pets, wifi, and meals. I was shocked to arrive at a property in Miami only to learn that there was a $50 resort fee (and it wasn’t a resort but a standard hotel) and $54 for nightly parking. Those fees add up!

Don’t Skip the Negative Reviews

Maybe this is a bit much, but I also read negative reviews to see if the management responded. This will tell you how responsive the manager might be if you do have a problem with your room or experience. I’ve seen managers respond to post-travel complaints who are extremely apologetic and offer a credit to the traveler for their poor experience. This tells you that a manager will most likely be responsive in case you have a complaint while onsite. I’ve also seen managers get very defensive and rude in responses to guests’ complaints. That’s probably not a place you want to stay.

Follow these tips, and you’ll appreciate the advice of others to make your hotel stay more enjoyable and avoid hotel nightmares. And make sure you pay it forward and write your own constructive review for your fellow travelers.

Rasputin1 May 26, 2023

Agree with Renni below.  Check the nationality of the reviewer.  Many hotels in the sub-continent get rave reviews from one liners in poor English.  They have never written a review before.  


I read hotel reviews the same way I do for products. Start with the lowest and see just what the complaints are. 
For hotels, thin walls and bedbugs. For, say a refrigerator, noise and/or shelves that break easily. Notably, I ignored a one star review for the last frig I bought that could only find the shape of the ice cubes to complain about. 

sarashaw2814 May 25, 2023

Do check the reviewers.  I have seen glowing reviews of properties that other reviewers stated were somewhat rundown or lacking in staff.  Often the "glow" writers appear to have no previous reviews or history of travel. I have noticed that they are frequently several all on the same review date, leading me to suspect that these are actually fake travelers.  Check what other reviews the traveler has written.

renni May 25, 2023

You need to check where the reviewer is from.  Europeans are used to smaller rooms, Americans just the opposite.  You need to also check the hotels within the area and see what they are like too.  You wouldn't expect to find a great hotel in the midst of not so great hotels.

Fernata May 17, 2023

HelloThe topic may be old but I want to share something new.When traveling, here are some tips to avoid bed bugs:Research and choose reputable accommodations with good reviews. Inspect the room for signs of bed bugs, such as small dark stains or shed skins.Keep your luggage elevated and off the floor or bed.Consider using bed bug-proof encasements for your mattress and box spring.Keep your belongings in sealed bags or containers to prevent any hitchhikers.Be cautious in shared spaces, such as public transportation or lounges.After your trip, wash and dry your clothing on high heat to kill any potential bed bugs.Before storing your luggage, vacuum and inspect it thoroughly to ensure it's bed bug-free.