THE BLOG
11/25/2014 10:09 am ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Are Those TripAdvisor Reviews Reliable?

These are my tips that I rely on when reading reviews.

1. How many reviews has the reviewer contributed?
Reviews written by someone with a limited or minimal number of postings are suspect whether they are positive or negative. If the review is glowing and the the commenter has a limited number of contributions, I am concerned that the hotel is either directly posting or incentivizing people to post raving reviews to overcome warranted critical comments. One Hamptons property that I thought was mediocre had terrific reviews. When I went back to look at the reviews, it appeared that the the harsh reviews were from people with many postings while the glowing comments were from with reviewers who had only posted once or minimally.

The same is true in reverse. Some reviewers feel entitled and use the reviews to extract or obtain freebies from the hotels. Commenters who have a low number of reviews or a pattern of posting numerous harsh or auspicious reviews are dubious.

2. Has the reviewer stayed at comparable properties in the past?
Is this their first time staying at a five-star property? Are their expectations unrealistic?

Do they regularly stay at five-star properties and are now critiquing a three-star property based on their previous five-star experiences? The three-star property is not going to become a five-star property just because the guest demands it. But is the three-star property a great value for the price and location? The review needs to be fair to the property and the expectations need to be appropriate. The review should point out what the property offers or why it doesn't have value.

3. What destinations has the reviewer previously visited?
Has the reviewer visited comparable locales? A traveler who is accustomed to major cities may be unprepared to visit a third world country. Staying at a resort is very different than staying at a hotel. Understanding how they usually travel allows me to understand whether their review is reliable.

A fabulous Gert property in the Gobi Desert, Mongolia did not offer in-room showers for most rooms at the time we visited. This would typically not be a property I would select in a major city but I did in the Gobi Desert. It was the best available. The place was authentic and fabulous. We had to adjust our expectations to where we were. Had I never been to a remote destination, I might have been upset and written a harsh review. That would be unfair to the property who was upfront about the limited availability of private showers and what the locale offered. The reviewer who is not prepared to shift their expectations based on the destination is not a dependable reviewer.

That said, I once stayed at the Villa D’Este where I reserved a Garden View room. The room I initially, received had trellis covering one window and the other room faced a steel staircase. There was nary a garden in sight. The room was horrific for any property let alone one who at the time charged 750 euros or the equivalent of $1,000 U.S./night. The scathing review was completely warranted based on the property not delivering what was promised, comparable five-star properties, the location, the price and their attitude when we complained.

4. Is the review balanced?
Was the reviewer overly complimentary or only negative? Every property should have pros and cons even if the person liked or disliked it. The review is untrustworthy to me when it is only favorable or unfavorable.

5. Does the review indicate the reviewer has an Amex card?
Reviews identified with the word "Amex" by their profile name does not mean that the reviewer is more reliable but it does indicate the person is authentic. Amex has confirmed and verified their identity even if they choose to remain anonymous online. An Amex card can only be linked to the person listed on the card so it prevents phony reviews under assumed names or email addresses.