Before booking a trip where I’ll be staying somewhere new, I consult the ever-expanding industry of online reviews. Navigating the different sites can be annoying, there are so many of them, each with different posting protocols. Some sites can be manipulated to favor advertisers, so I generally rely on They post all reviews and tally the ratings by category, based on a 5-circle system:

Very Good

They tally the number of reviews in each category show the results in an easy-to-read bar graph. They also break down the reviews by group: Business, Couples, Family, Solo, etc. You can click on any group to read the reviews by people in your travel category.

Reviews can be very helpful if you know how to use them. First, check out how the rankings work and how “Best” hotels or restaurants are determined. If you can’t easily find this information, give Trip Advisor a try, it’s easy to understand their system. Obviously not all reviews are real. Bad reviews can be the words of a disgruntled ex-employee or posted by a competitor or on a competitor’s behalf. Some are posted by people who are just plain mean, and some are so glowing you know they can’t be true. While planning for a recent trip to Orlando, I read a terrible review of the Ritz Carlton Grand Lakes that said the carpet was worn and dirty and the décor was dated and badly in need of updating. It went on and on and even included a statement that the toilet paper was “gas station quality.” I didn’t find one item to be true=–happily the toilet paper seemed just fine. Here are my top ten tips for sifting through online reviews:

1. Understand the ratings system for each website.
2. Look for reviews that offer an opinion of value for the money.
3. Ignore the worst and the best reviews concentrate on the rest.
4. Look for reviews that are specific about likes/dislikes
5. Give more weight to reviews written by someone in your demographic (single vs. family, etc)
6. Reviews that offer tips that will enhance your stay are a bonus.
7. Discard reviews panning a business over something insignificant. For example, how important is turn-down service to the overall experience?
8. Pay attention to reviews that alert travelers to construction, remodeling or other inconveniences.
9. Reviews that offer helpful hints on the surrounding area are a plus, especially in exotic locales.
10. Skip reviews that are poorly written or contain multiple spelling and grammatical errors.