Fake Reviews Battle On TripAdvisor After St. Regis Chicago Mistreats Marriott Elite Members

The brand new St. Regis Chicago wasn’t offering Marriott Bonvoy Platinum members breakfast as they’re required to. They claimed that their restaurant was operated by a third party, and this got them out of the obligation. It didn’t, and once there was a flurry of attention they were forced to follow the rules of Marriott’s loyalty program. This all was addressed quickly, in just a couple of days.

In the meantime, however, there were a flood of consumer reviews of the property on TripAdvisor – most of which were very bad (and likely fake). In fact, the vast majority of reviews for this new property (15 in total) were about the hotel’s handling of elite breakfast.

Most of those reviews surely come from people who did not actually stay at the hotel. That’s not fair, but it’s a common online vigilante response, to try to ‘cancel’ a hotel that the mob deems to be a bad actor. In each case the hotel responded with a cut-and-paste apology.

The hotel also appears to me to have responded with their own fake five star review as well. For instance, here’s the first review ever this person has posted on TripAdvisor, and it’s about the St. Regis Chicago:

We were here for just a one night stay for my hustand’s birthday. Amazing staff, location and atmosphere. Rooms are clean and comfortable. I asked for an upgrade to a higher floor and it was no problem.

Upon arrival we were greeted by a professional front desk attendant “Tanya?.” After telling her about the birthday celebration, we had an amazing treat delivered to our room.

Bed was very comfortable and we were able to walk to the adjacent park and to all of the restaurants along the river. Breakfast at Miru that was included due our status was perfect, although we were suprised at first that it was a Japanese restaurant. However their menu has a full slate of traditional breakfast fare, i.e. Croissants, oatmeal, etc.

Let’s dissect this for a moment. New reviewer shows up to write positively about this hotel, and they offer:

  • They are a Bonvoy elite and received their complimentary breakfast
  • They asked for an upgrade to a high floor, and that was granted. This reveals that elite benefits still reflect the hotel’s thinking: they aren’t proactively upgrading (the guest had to ask!) and a mere ‘high floor’ is considered an upgrade the member should be happy with.
  • They were only there for one night yet managed to walk “to all of the restaurants along the river.” How many restaurants did they dine at that night? Oops.

Not every five star review of the property comes from the hotel, however. This one appears to be trolling – but from a frequent traveler, rather than the property, given their history of writing TripAdvisor reviews (their account wasn’t created for this purpose):

Excellent for paying customers; Sorry points bros

This hotel seems – appropriately – focused on customers who are paying. It’s a reasonable four star property.

You can review the comments to see an uproar from the points crowd gnashing teeth about stingy policies towards freebies.

For those not accustomed to the points crowd, these are well meaning folks who are typically consigned to mid-tier hotels by regional airports, etc., for business or hyper focused on churning credit cards… all in the name of points. Rather than focus on making enough money to be rich, they focus their time on collecting points to act rich occasionally on a free stay at a “premium” property.

There is a reason you won’t find points at Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, Aman, Rosewood, etc. They don’t want to points crowd – who does not pay for hotel services.

Ask any concierge, front desk person, etc about “but I’m a diamond member or titanium platinum or extra special gold elite whatever.” “Great pal, I’m glad you spend 50 nights in a Staybridge Suites by the Grand Forks airport or the True in Topeka, Kansas.

They don’t tip well, they don’t pay for spa appoints, they don’t pay for laundry or room service. But… Marriott and Hilton love to dangle the prospects of luxury stays to keep the folks coming to the Hilton Garden Inn or the Courtyard by Marriott.

Sadly, this keeps Waldorf Astoria, Ritz Carlton, St Regis, etc. from ever being true luxury hotels. You can’t be a luxury hotel when you are filled with guest complaining about paying for breakfast.

If you’re and a true luxury hotel, skip any that accept points. If you need something better than a Sheraton, this will do.

Meanwhile another five star review criticized reviewers who complained about the hotel’s refusal to honor elite benefits, saying “This is a St Regis not La Quinta.”

We’ll see what the reviews look like moving forward, since one person reports that the hotel is trying to get written into the Bonvoy terms as an exception, where they’re not obliged to offer breakfast to Platinum members and above.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Every chain hotel has an army of good review writers, Hyatts do this all the time.
    So to be spammed by a few fake bad ones is poetic justice

  2. Check out the review for the newly-branded Hyatt Regency San Luis Potosi in Mexico. Yowch.

  3. Reviewed should need to be verified with something like a confirmation number to prove the review comes from an actual guest. I know that takes away the anonymity, but people need to learn to put in writing only what they would say to people’s faces and stop being so passive-aggressive cowards.

  4. In all fairness I think the reviewer, fake or not, means that they were able to walk to the area where all the restaurants are. That’s how I interpreted it. They didn’t say they had dinner at a bunch of them.

  5. TA is completely worthless at this point. After writing reviews on hundreds of properties over the years, I have abandoned using it and rely on sites that actually make an effort to restrict the reviews to real customers, like Booking.com. Many hotels have at least 25-50% of fake TA reviews at this point, reviews that are extremely easy to identify and would be very easy to restrict or remove. First time posters, people mentioning staff by name (let’s face it most of us don’t remember the names of hotel staff members). I once stayed at a property swimming in fake reviews, many of which I flagged to TA. Their response was 1) to ignore all the flagged fake reviews and tell me I would need to provide more proof and 2) to flag and remove MY review because I mentioned in it that I had actually stayed at the properties and mentioned that there appear to be many fake reviews. They are interested in profit from advertising, links and bookings, not authentic information. Useless as an actual review site at this point

  6. There are many harsh realities to ALL review sites. Yelp is just as bad if not worse. The proof that most of these properties employ an army of fake review writers is that the MAJORITY of all LEGITIMATE posters are there only to complain. Most people do not waste time writing when they are happy, only when they are unhappy. Yet, at most corporate hotels across the board you will find the majority of all posts to be glowing. That in itself is the clue. Small businesses in competitive areas take the brunt of it as they can’t afford or know how to battle back with developing their own fake review campaigns. Yelp and Trip Advisor are two companies that contribute to the dismantling of small companies across the world. And help large corporations get bigger and fatter. I wait for the day when regulations are imposed on them both. That governments require them to develop a system of verification (fully possible) AND offer small businesses the opportunity to be completely removed from the platforms if they choose.

  7. How come the fake 5 star reviews always mention one of the staff by name? It’s a dead giveaway.

  8. Booking.com is a good source actually, since all reviews are of actual customers.
    Although some chains (cough Hyatt) still manage to go around that by booking fake reservations for the sole purpose of leaving a review.

  9. @Gary. I agree about fake reviews. Like @Larry I don’t bother much with TA any more, and, I also agree w/@Stuart that most folk don’t review unless they are displeased.
    That said, what would you recommend TA and similar sites do to weed out fake reviews?

  10. The ‘Madeline’ positive review on TA was also on the Google review of this property. It may have been extracted from TA – not certain if Google does that. I never stay in properties this high end so have no skin in the game, but ust found it interesting.

  11. I wrote an honest review on TripAdvisor about the Holiday Inn Kensington Station-London after my horrible stay. I complained, politely (I am (was now!) a gold elite, too). and got no where. “We’ll give you (worthless) points. Try to book a room with points. Every IHG hotel I tried to book (I even tried some IHG properties in “podunk” just to see) and “Sorry. No rooms available at this price) on EVERY one. I wrote IHG America, IHG UK, I wrote the hotel and only got an email reply from some lackey. Buh bye IHG. I do write honest reviews on TA and I, like someone mentioned above, I look carefully at “who” wrote the review. As Judge Judy says, “If it doesn’t make sense…it isn’t true!”

  12. I rarely use TA and don’t believe anything on there. Years ago, I would post reviews and whenever I had a horrible experience the review would be flagged for some bogus, unspecified reason and not posted. Good reviews – no issue. TA is one big fake.

  13. I do read the reviews, but only the ones with 4 out of 5 stars. Those are written by folks who are mostly happy with the hotel but had one problem worth mentioning. If that problem is one that didn’t worry me (like the TV, which I don’t watch), then I know the hotel’s OK. The reviews with 1 or 5 stars are most likely to be fake.

  14. Can we say quiet part out loud? The whole review/rating system is dead. Started as revolutionary idea about 20 years ago, the system was hijacked by professional marketeers and bots and flooded and diluted the information coming from real people with fake one.
    High rating means nothing and does not prevent you from having the worst experience. Low reviews for hotels might still mean that hotel is bad but they are quickly moving to the point where Yelp (and IMDB) already are – when OK restaurants may have bad ratings but nice food. The only useful reviews are 1stars – using them you can quickly check what real or imaginary issues guests had and decide for yourself. Some services like Google Maps make is harder to sort/filter by 1 star, thus shooting themselves in the leg.

  15. “For those not accustomed to the points crowd, these are well meaning folks who are typically consigned to mid-tier hotels by regional airports, etc., for business or hyper focused on churning credit cards… all in the name of points. Rather than focus on making enough money to be rich, they focus their time on collecting points to act rich occasionally on a free stay at a “premium” property.”

    That’s some beautiful passive-aggressive prose right there, LOL.

  16. I find that the hotels.com reviews are somewhat reasonable for the HGI/Sheraton/older Hyatt Regency level and below, as there are usually a sufficient number of reviews (at least 300) for a property. I try to find properties which are rated 8.2-8.7 in my price range, and then look and book at individual hotel sites from there. In Europe I may drop as low as a 7.6 if I need two beds and a reasonable price point.

  17. @Luke- correct! My guess is not a frequent traveler, as they identified themselves, but rather someone who worked at the front desk of a nice hotel for a long time, who’s tired of DYKWIA’s…

  18. If the person has posted 20 or more prior reviews and are spread across the world, then they are genuine.
    If the reviewer only has one or two prior reviews, then it’s probably fake!!

  19. @Exit Row Seat. That is not a correct assessment. In fact, larger corporations and brands hire professional review writers who have many accounts that are expertly groomed to appear both genuine, and with other “reviews” showing in their “portfolio.” There is absolutely nothing that the algorithms or security teams at Yelp and TA can do to stop it other than create a verification system for each identity. Which they never will. They tell you they know how to spot them, trust me, they don’t. I would estimate that over 70% of all reviews that are glowing tend towards “fake.” As for the poor reviews, those tend to average higher as being authentic (most people only ever take time to write reviews to complain), however they also have their share of fakes given competitors use these same “writers” to go after others, especially smaller enterprises that pose a threat.

    Large organizations spend a lot of time and money on this to find people who are pros at not tipping off the system. That’s exactly the problem with these sites and why they are not only completely bogus but verging on criminal in the way they impact small businesses who don’t have the ability or money to skirt that system.

    I wish Yelp and TA nothing but the worst of futures, and a dismal failure. They deserve it for the pain they have inflicted across the world and how they helped to contribute to the demise of small businesses everywhere.

  20. The title says mistreated elite memberS…. is there actually any information that it was more than one person having an unfortunate encounter with new front desk staff?

  21. I’ve given the worst experience from Marriott employees. I don’t understand why they are still relevant. Marriott does not care about any customers/members except themselves

  22. So AmEx platinum will get you not only free breakfast, but late check-out, early check-in and $100 credit during the stay – and this is at the most elite hotels, Like Peninsula, without a frequent stay program. I don’t care how fancy the hotel is, people can do math and all of the above – whether via points status or AmEx – can make the difference between staying at one elite hotel over another.

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