Hotel Gives Out Bonus Points For TripAdvisor Reviews, This Is Why Most Reviews Are Bogus

I don’t look at average review scores for a hotel property on a site like TripAdvisor. A lot of reviews may be fake, and the reviewers may not have similar tastes or expectations even if they’re real.

  • You get fake reviews promoted by a property to boost their score, and fake reviews by competitor properties to trash a score
  • Guests may accept poor service because that’s what they’re used to, or have unreasonable expectations – you’ll always see complaints, for instance, that room service was expensive at the Ritz-Carlton Central Park. Of course it is.

But there’s another thing that skews ratings: incentives by a property to post great reviews. Hotels that do this will get more positive reviews. That doesn’t mean it’s a better hotel.

Here’s an IHG Rewards property, a Holiday Inn Express, that is trying to goose their reviews.

  • They direct you to give them all 10’s on the chain’s post-stay survey if you receive one. Many people would think an ‘8’ is good, but everyone has a different scale and they’re looking for the highest score possible. It helps to tell people that.

  • They want your room number and stay date to tie your review to a particular reservation. They’ll know who left it. And they will give you bonus points for the review. When they’re ‘paying you’ for the review, and it isn’t anonymous, it’s almost guaranteed to be positive.

  • And they still will give bonus points for liking them on Facebook, which seems so 2008. Brands used to think investing in Facebook fans was worthwhile, because they could market to those customers forever through the platform. Since then we’ve learned that Facebook will throttle displays to consumers unless the businesses pay for that distribution. It’s hard to make money on someone else’s platform. There’s a reason airlines stopped doing this.

We’ve seen hotels sue guests over their reviews, and that can have a chilling effect. I’ve seen Airbnb properties that require guests to sign a contract requiring a guest to submit their review in advance to the management company, to require a waiting period prior to posting a review, as well as an opportunity to address concerns prior to posting.

There are a lot of reasons you won’t see reviews as an honest reflection of a property. That’s why what I’m a lot more interested in than ratings or superlatives is specifics. If a lot of guests say a property is great, without a lot of specific reasons why, that review is useless. If there are several reviews mentioning the same specifics, good or bad, there’s a greater likelihood that those specific facts are real reflections of the property.

Are bath tubs moldy and furnishings dirty? Probably, if a lot of reviews mention those things (with pictures!). And that’s actually what I want to know prior to booking. Look for consistent specific facts mentioned across reviews to get a real sense of a property. That’s how to use reviews, because there’s too much ‘review noise’ out there and hotels themselves even promote that.

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, 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. It looks like this property is already being called out on TripAdvisor. Search for Holiday Inn Express & Suites Petoskey.

  2. I feel that this column contains a. Certain amount of baloney. I have stayed at many many MANY hotels over the years, both chains and independents, and Ive never seen an offer for “bonus points” for a review. Why are there no specifics in this column?

    In any case, what the column suggests is simply common sense. Discount reviews by people who have done only a few reviews, especially if they’re fabulous or mention an employee’s name (inevitably their cousin). Discount reviews that are two sentences full of wonderful. Look at reviews that mention specifics, both good and bad. I find TA reviews enormously helpful when they tell me what’s within walking distance, in Europe whether there’s actually an elevator, how good the included breakfast is, or whether the indoor pool water is actually warm enough to swim in (a problem in New England).

  3. I had a merchant on Amazon offer me a 75 dollar gift card to take down my negative review over a cooking knife.It cut poorly as it wasn’t sharp and had a bad balance/ weight ratio to the handle.The reviews were glowing on the knife so I fell for it and bought it.
    They started at 25 and worked there way up to 75 dollars.One of the employees said he would be fired unless I agreed to help him and delete the review in exchange for the gift card
    I kept my ground even though Amazon couldn’t care less and didn’t respond to the issue

    As for hotel reviews I check Trip Advisor and also Yelp where its far less censored and can tell the difference pretty quickly when I read fabulous best stay ever with no details from real reality
    Yelp always takes the hotel down a whole star or half a star as they don’t have to sell rooms and make the hotels seem better to book.Yelp reviewers even curse at bad hotels
    TripAdvisor is overly censored even if someone dies on their stay
    When Tripadvisor first launched it was the best site ever.The site wasn’t selling rooms and the truth was out there.The original owners took the money and ran
    So its still helpful but a highly tainted as a source of information
    And don’t you just love after a rotten stay hotels say a true teaching moment for us and we hope you will come back and get lucky the next time if you decide to give us another chance? Or don’t answer at all lol

  4. I’m an InterContinental and Hilton loyalist. I’ve seen that stupid letter before, I forget which hotel. I used it for scratch paper. Any hotel crass enough to bribe people for all ’10s’ gets nothing from me, even if I loved the place. When it comes to hotel reviews, I use TripAdvisor and have for years. But the only way to make the system work is to READ the reviews. If you haven’t got ten minutes to read a dozen reviews, you’re doing something wrong. Reading the reviews allows you to find out what’s what on the things that are important to you and the things you don’t care about. Reading the reviews make it crystal clear who is annoyed with some little thing at a hotel so gives it a bad review, vs someone gushing over every little thing at a hotel. Let’s face it, what’s so exciting about a Holiday Inn Express in Podunk Nevada? I can’t imagine a hotel GM stupid enough to think he should bribe guests to leave reviews. Yuck.

  5. Due to personal circumstances (health, financial, and a mother in hospice care at home)not to mention Covid, I have not eaten out or traveled much in the past year+ but I did regularly review such places as hotels and restaurants on Trip Advisor. There was a disclaimer and if you couldn’t swear it was yours and you were not being compensated, you couldn’t publish it. Has that changed? Not that people don’t lie. But I will read the reviews and may give as much or as little attention to it all as I want. Generally they seem pretty honest….

  6. When I see a higher rating on a Holiday Inn Express over say, a Four Seasons property…It’s obvious that the reviews are skewed or don’t get out much.
    I pretty much ignore the top and the bottom numbers in most reviews.

    There have been 3rd world “Reviewers” using VPN’s (to get the USA or European Address) to impersonate legit customer reviews for many years now. None of this is new

  7. @Dan
    I see where you are coming from but think you are missing one piece:
    I always take into account the type/category of the hotel in my review. My expectation for a Four Seasons is a lot higher than a Holiday Inn Express, given the difference in prices I’m paying.

  8. Remember, the surveys are used by corporate to determine a property’s performance. IHG deflagged a bunch of properties. By gaming their survey score a property is avoiding corporate accountability.

  9. Surely, this doesn’t work for the hotel in question? Anyway, I can’t help but feel that many travel blogs and forums are overly critical of Tripadvisor. Sure, it contains a lot of fake reviews, but it also contains a lot of real reviews (including mine). My experience is that the scores are usually pretty accurate, at least if you also read recent reviews from members with 50+ other contributions. If Tripadvisor would close, it would make it very difficult to book good hotels, IMHO. If you don’t use Tripadvisor or other review sites, what do you go by? I stay at around 100 different hotels per year, and I’m yet to find consistency across any brand (there are good Hiltons, there are bad Hiltons, …) so I need reviews. And I personally like sharing my reviews on Tripadvisor 🙂

  10. I’ve seen this a few times over many years. I will look at Tripadvisor reviews. I look at the traveler photos (only trust those about 50%) and then I look through for an average. You can usually discount the obvious ones “This Super 8 is the nicest hotel I’ve ever stayed at in my life, I love it so much” and the “I found a hair in the bathtub and called the front desk and they refused to give me a refund, I will never return”. So in short it’s like Olympic judging, it’s fixed and you have to ignore the 5 star and 1-star reviews to get any sense of the property.

  11. Kinda like a credit card issuer paying a blogger big comissions for writing pieces with titles like “Ten Things I Love About the BigBank Titanium Card?” and converting readers to applicants? You mean that doesn’t result in completely objective informative posts?

  12. Today, I called the Holiday Inn Express & Suites in Petosky, Michigan, at (231) 487-0991 to ask about receiving a 1,000 IHG reward point bonus for each TripAdvisor review and 500 IHG bonus points if I like them on Facebook. Unfortunately, they are not currently doing this promotion, so I booked elsewhere.

  13. I just looked at the Miami Beach restaurant reviews for Donna Mare linked above, and I do see that many reviews are written by people who have few reviews. But I reviewed this restaurant last February, and I have 463 reviews. And there are a couple others like that on there too. No one mentioned anything to me about an incentive for a review. But when you’re in a vacation spot that attracts a lot of young people, you’re going to get reviews by people who haven’t been to or reviewed a lot of places yet. I think I’m going to start asking restaurants if they’ll cross the cappuccino off my check if I promise to review a place. (That just sounds ridiculous.)

  14. The Aloft in Bentonville AR straight up offered me 1,000 points if I sent them a screenshot of a 5 star review a few weeks ago. Obviously I left a 5 star review, and they did in fact give me the points. There was nothing 5 star about the property, but in their defense, they didn’t really do anything wrong either.

  15. Hey Gary,

    Where is it best to look for reviews? As a higher status hotel chain member, I often look at the reviews by other gold, platinum, etc members on the chain hotel apps.

  16. @Bob

    Thanks, probably true. Still don’t see a good choice other than following Gary’s advice and reading a bunch of TripAdvisor reviews and discounting the ones without sufficient detail.

  17. I used to be a top-10 TripAdvisor reviewer from my city (primarily for restaurants). When Covid started, I stopped going into restaurants–with very few exceptions. My husband and I owned a vacation rental home in the Caribbean, and aside from repeat guests and referrals from clients, our main source of new rentals were positive reviews on TripAdvisor and VRBO. We definitely asked guests to leave a review, but we never suggested what it should say or how they should rate it (or offer them anything for a good review). Nearly every review we got was five-star–which we believed was deserved. As an FYI, we called each guest 24 hours after their arrival to ascertain there were no problems; if there were, we immediately spoke to the staff and had the matter corrected.

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