Is TripAdvisor Still Relevant?

How do you determine what hotel to book in a city you’ve never been, where there aren’t chain hotels you’re used to staying at or where you aren’t familiar with the particular properties? Let’s assume it’s a hotel and not a home rental you’re looking for – where do you go for information?

There’s a robust discussion in social media about TripAdvisor – and whether it’s still relevant. The answer is yes – if you follow a simple formula to use it correctly.

Richard Kerr, formerly of The Points Guy and founder of the AwardTravel101 Facebook group (the first Facebook group ever sold) and currently with Bilt Rewards, asked on Twitter whether TripAdvisor was still relevant. This is a question about TripAdvisor, but I think also about internet reviews more generally – about the broad aggregation of largely anonymous product reviews and on a site that’s monetized away much of its original community-building.

TripAdvisor is relevant for two things,

  1. Large numbers of reviews, often very recent
  2. These often include photos

I hate that TripAdvisor has buried the reviews a bit. There are tons of fake ones but those are usually easy to spot. Ignore complaints with over the top negativity that lack specifics. I don’t rely on a single negative experience. I look at consistent themes across reviews and photos (again, excluding outliers that are likely fake).

There isn’t one single site that’s better for this than TripAdvisor. You can go to TripAdvisor and other places for reviews, but it’s hard to get a broad swathe of traveler opinion without it.

If someone I know has reviewed a hotel, that’s better, because I know how they think and how to attenuate their reactions relative to what my own would be. That gets at something important. TripAdvisor ratings are mostly irrelevant and there’s certainly nothing worth parsing between being best, second best, or fourth best in a city that has more than a handful of hotels.

Often the best-ranked hotels on TripAdvisor are cheap, or good value, not necessarily ‘the best’. And great properties are downgraded for reasons that have less to do with the property itself and more a mismatch of guest expectations. One example I’ve used for years was seeing a one star rating given to the Ritz-Carlton Central Park because room service breakfast was expensive. Well, yeah. Because it’s the Ritz-Carlton Central Park.

Again, look for consistent themes regarding specific complaints. If plenty of guests complain about stained carpeting and furniture and mold in the showers that’s more likely than not to be true and good to know. If people downgrade a hotel’s rating because “it was terrible I’m never staying here again” ignore that because the reviewer didn’t provide any basis on which you can know if their reasoning matches yours at all.

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. Not so much for chain hotels who have armies to inflate their scores with fake reviews.

    However for smaller hotels, still very relevant.

  2. I used to contribute there but have stopped because the reviews are so buried under bookings engine and other junk. They got way too commercialized.

  3. They really sure do try to bury those reviews my goodness. And why in the world can’t you have “traveler ranked” be the default? It’s so annoying. That being said, I still use on occassion but take everything written with a grain of salt.

  4. Great post. I still use TripAdvisor but use the parameters you’ve mentioned as well as looking at the number of reviews a user has posted. I do find it laughable when someone gives a property a one star rating for something like having to wait a little extra at check-in, or a breakfast waiter maybe taking too long to bring coffee. Are people really this on edge all the time?
    It’s also becoming helpful to read the google reviews for a property. If they’re completely opposite of TA, then something is up.

  5. I read it and other sites (such as bookings) and read the negative reviews first. Some are stupid nitpicky but others include good info (too noisy, renovations, etc). You can usually pick out the honest reviews from the over expectation or cranky crowd. Especially those expecting 5* amenities for a 2* price.

    Then I read the positive, trying to filter out the fanbois.

    The method occasionally fails me but overall a decent track record. The key is not to rely on one for either good or bad reviews.

  6. My approach to Trip Advisor is to use it as a reliable forum as mentioned in your article but to then search the web asking “Best 10 (of whatever you are researching….hotel or restaurant)” and then compare the results. I seldom am disappointed.

  7. For those who don’t know, TripAdvisor is on the skids these days. They had a failed attempt at moving to a subscription model (Trip Advisor Plus) and their CEO ended up getting booted because of it. They are currently on the hunt for a new CEO who can figure out a cohesive strategy. In short, expect things to get worse with them–not better, at least for the foreseeable future.

    I generally find Booking.com to be the best review resource these days just due to the sheer number of reviews since they are such a behemoth. Additionally, while I agree with Gary that TripAdvisor’s ratings are basically useless, I find a decent amount of value in Booking’s ratings, at least as a starting point to dig deeper.

  8. I think you can get some traction with chain hotels also.

    Again, as Gary stated, it’s about looking for themes. I have noticed (both online AND in-person) that if you’re seeing a lot of comments similar to, “property needs updating”, “rooms could use a re-fresh”, etc. that’s something you can trust.

    In general, since Covid, I’ve ben noticing many properties not quite up to the level they were at before the pandemic. My travel (Hilton Diamond) is not close to what it was back in 2019 (ahhh the good ‘ol days!) so it makes me wonder how many other properties need that ‘refresh’!

  9. Good article, and pretty much spot on.

    The most relevant comment in your article is in regard to the “mismatch of guest expectations.” It seems that many reviewers do not understand what to expect within a given price range.

    I use TripAdvisor a lot, and much in line with your recommendations. It is important to focus on the details of any negative comments, and evaluate them in consideration of the details of the property. Also, a lot can be learned by looking at the profile of someone who is issuing a blistering comment about an establishment.

    I have not been reviewing properties on TripAdvisor as much in recent years. I am thinking I will start doing so again on my upcoming trips.

  10. TripAdvisor Plus saved me a ton on my Safari in South Africa. I couldn’t find an all inclusive within Kruger national park for less than $1,000. TripAdvisor Plus had one for $350 when the hotel’s website was $1500!

  11. Would it be fair to say that a lot of frequent, somewhat knowledgable, travelers do not post there? Years ago I used to but just got too busy/bored with the work it involves.

  12. I still leave reviews, but am finding more and more chain hotels which have many, many reviews that are fake, often naming someone at the hotel in the comments (Jess was amazing, Ricky at the bar made the best drinks ever, etc) and having 50 comments in a row naming the same employee and all having 1 contribution. When searching for Orlando hotels, I kept seeing Holiday Inn hotels doing this, and in Anaheim I noticed some of the Marriott chain hotels doing this.

  13. What ABC said!

    (I have pretty much stopped leaving reviews almost anywhere…what’s in it FOR ME?? Yahoo tries to bribe you with “elite” status, but…)

  14. I agree with Joe S. It must be a Florida thing. Anytime that I stay in a boutique hotel owned by a property group in South Beach, I am handed a card with a name on it. Before checkout, they drop their name and promise of a rebook discount. I took them up on a rebook invite, Capital One travel was cheaper. Trip Advisor has many reviews that are incentivized.

  15. I ignore trip advisor. There are many more sources to get information so why go with a source that is so easily manipulated.

  16. I still check it before booking a hotel overseas. TA gets a lot of reviews from non-US travelers and reviews from frequent tourists who review hotels in different locations. Those reviews tend to be more reliable. And, the traveler-submitted photos can’t be beat. You simply cannot trust the hotel’s own photos for an accurate or up-to-date representation of the property.

  17. Agree, Gary. TA is relevant due to sheer *volume* of content. We’re each responsible for doing our diligence as to what to believe or disbelieve, but the data is there for us to sift through. There simply isn’t a comparable dataset anywhere else.

  18. I am/was a founding member of TripAdvisor, used to say Founding Member right next to my name. Still have some FM swag from the early days. But I haven’t logged into the site for a few years and I just did now–what a terrible new web design.

    Don’t know where I can go for decent reviews and insider insight, a site without all the cheesy graphics plastered everywhere. I prefer words, not pictures–I’m not a 7 year-old that constantly needs visual stimulation. Even Lonely Planet has dumbed down. Is this the wave of the future?

  19. I was an early contributor to Trip Advisor and I think a company that merged or evolved into it: Concierge.com. Eventually, I thought: what am I doing? Some company is making money off of my work. However, I sometimes use it to praise a certain worker at a hotel. I know that they often get recognition or even rewarded for that. I have been thanked for doing it at hotels I frequent. The highlight came when my review was on the worker’s Facebook page.

  20. I ignore any review that is from first time reviewer
    Usually you will find a series of those, consecutively, praising an employee by name like “jimmy the valet was amazing” or “bobby the bartender made us feel like family”

  21. KimmieA – I think everything is following the instagram model, few words and more pictures. I think in a short time, the TikTok model will be prevalent and reviews will just be people dancing around the property.

    Of course, TikTok already has hotel reviews.

  22. Good article. Even though it’s gone downhill, I still use TA a lot. First thing I do is switch from its BS “Best value” to “Traveler ranking.” Then I do take overall ratings into account, take the reviews with a big grain of salt, ignore those from posters with just a few reviews, value those that go into some thoughtful detail, and consider consistent negative or positive themes that cut across reviews.

    I also find its word search function useful – eg, quiet, noisy, upgrade, Globalist (for Hyatts), etc. And for beach properties, I like the map function that shows whether there are local, non-hotel restaurants nearby.

    So yeah, there’s a lot to filter out. But for me it still serves some useful functions.

  23. I love your blog because of posts like this! I feel the same way about TripAdvisor’s usefulness- particularly finding themes in recent reviews (construction issues is a big one!) but the user interface for TripAdvisor is SO awful that it’s become borderline unusable. It would be great if it looked more like Yelp, particularly with the ability to categorize/search photos.

    Side note – had no idea Facebook Groups could/would be sold and would love to hear more about that story.

  24. Ill say as far as Tripadvisor, its one data point for me. I want to know what to expect. Thats the best way I put things. What should I expect. I cross check reviews on Marriott website, Google, and Flyertalk. We all know that regardless of reviews things can go bad. One of the guys I listen on the radio always said when it comes to Yelp reviews or Tripadvisor he always looks for NY customers since they are the toughest. Ill say the same thing for Yelp.

  25. We used to use and rely on TripAdvisor when going to Europe. It just became too overwhelming. Booking.com is booking.con.

  26. I use it, constantly. There are just too many places in the world that there is no guidance anywhere else. I also use it as a tickler to remember restaurants that I read about and want to try. That is really helpful to me. I create lists for my destinations that I can easily refer back to. I still leave reviews, but not as many as I did because we have not be travelling as much.

    But as other commenters state: there is just plethora of info on Tripadvisor. The reviewer pics are very valuable. I can easily pick out the shilled reviews. If there are pics in a review, I trust that review more than those without pics. Many times that I needed to know a specific detail about a property and that property’s website was lacking. Calling the property, well, amazingly many FD clerks are clueless. On Tripadvisor, I usually find the answers or can ask a reviewer for info.

  27. For many years, I was the # 1 reviewer in Miami on TA with around 1200 reviews. Then two years ago, out of the blue, came this Miami reviewer who had 2,000 more reviews than me who leaped into # 1 place! That smelled very iffy to me….however, I do still post reviews, I try to be as fair as I can. I do sometimes use the names of staff but only if they have been incredible (once in Brighton, England I told the server I was going to mention him in a review and he was thrilled, because he said if that ever happens, management gives them a bottle of bubbly!) and in Cape Town, South Africa, my husband and I received such amazing service at a restaurant at the V & A waterfront, we told them we were going to give them a 5* review on TA and they were thrilled. The food and sommelier were so good that we returned the next night. When we got to the door, the manager opened the door and said “Mr and Mrs. Wood, your regular table is ready for you” LOL – so we’ve had some wonderful moments courtesy of TA but I agree with many others, there are a lot of obviously false reviews these days which in turn, has made me less willing to spend my valuable free time continuing to post reviews…..however I do try to keep going as I have benefited so much personally from the reviews in the past myself and found some really amazing places to eat and visit thanks to TA. I agree with some others, it’s particularly helpful for overseas travel still. Wine tours and shark diving in S. Africa that we would never have found otherwise!

  28. My favorite TripAdvisor review was one that gave the Aruba Marriott Hotel a 1 star review because the “reviewer” wasn’t allowed to check in at 10am “despite holding Marriott Rewards Silver status” (this goes back a few years) and because “it rained every day of our stay”

  29. if nothing else, Tripadvisor got the Al Maha to reinstate full board on award stays when they tried to cut it off a couple of years ago. A series of horrific reviews changed their minds about the decision

  30. Not only is TA full of fake reviews but they work hard to keep them. I have several times come across hotels that are so full of blatantly obvious fakes that I try to mention it in my real review. The result is MY review gets flagged and not published (I think the word “fake” is a trigger, among others) . I’ve also flagged multiple blatantly fake reviews, followed up with e-mail to TA to document why they are fake, and they still never get removed. It is so obvious they could easily get some AI to trigger all the fakes (first or second posts, almost every one) but they seem invested in not doing so. After all they are a TA not a review site and they make money from content, apparently not caring whether it is real or not. I still look at TA but use Booking.com and other verified sites a lot more these days. Also Google reviews does a good average of all the sites and breaks down the ratings by different areas. TA is past its prime and invested in supporting dishonest practices

  31. TripAdvisor can frequently remind me of the funniest Craigslist review I read. The category (many years ago) was Religious Institutions, and a person had given a Catholic church only one star. The review consisted of just one sentence: “The host were stale.”

    I have absolutely nothing to add to that.

  32. @jsm:

    I might be able to go you one better. I remember a Red Lobster review where the reviewer said – and I quote – “the popcorn shrimp had no real discernible popcorn flavor.”

  33. Generally many posters on review sites have an axe to grind and give negative reviews.
    Also I discount most British reviews, due to the fact that they are born whingers (sorry guys!) and rarely happy about anything.

  34. I don’t like the site as much as I once did. If it used to be the Queen on my trip planning chessboard, lately it’s been more like a bishop, which means I’m still glad to have it.

  35. Trip Advisor is an e-commerce lesson that you can monetize yourself into oblivion. In earlier days, I would write a lot of reviews — both to help fellow travellers and to remember the details of the property for my future use — but the pivot to full throttle commercialization drove me away. Obviously, they pissed off many other travellers who also dropped out, giving google a chance to use their web search monopolization to increasingly marginalize Trip Advisor. These days, I usually read google reviews first, booking.com next (if I need more info) and Trip Advisor third (if necessary).

  36. Oh, I agree that TA’s website is just a mess. And TA reviews can be full of spiteful idiots who can hardly find their way to the airport. TA’s jumbled website is no doubt aimed at the younger set who are starting to travel on their own. They probably like the jumbled up mess with the flashing lights and blinking letters and videos interrupting your views.

    But TA is just as relevant as ever, hands-down one of the most clever, useful information sources to ever hit the internet. I find that it just takes a little longer these days to extract intel from TA … and it won’t work at all if you can’t READ.

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