Why won’t Airbnb let me review my ill-fated rental?

Mandy Fleming’s Airbnb rental couldn’t have happened at a worse place — or time.

Thousands of miles from home, on an extended visit to Hong Kong during the Christmas holidays, she showed up at her apartment with her husband and six-year-old son for an 18-night stay, only to discover the place fell dramatically short of its description.

Now, Fleming has a simple request: She wants to warn others about her substandard accommodations. And she wants my help.

I can’t invoke the British sitcom Fawlty Towers, since this happened at an apartment. But I would if I could. She contacted me a few days after trying, but failing, to fix the many problems in her rental.

And there were many.
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How do I spot a fake review?

Online reviews are great sources for information about a hotel or restaurant — except when they’re not. Here’s how to spot a fake.

Why fake reviews don’t really matter

Don’t believe everything you read online, especially on user-generated review websites such as TripAdvisor or Yelp, which claim to help you find the best hotels and restaurants.

At least that’s the standard warning issued repeatedly by travel experts for the last decade. The ratings are rigged by hotel or restaurant operatives, or by unhappy patrons trying to shame a business, they say. Since the sites make no meaningful efforts to stop these bogus posts, all the so-called user-generated sites should be ignored when you’re planning your next trip.

That’s wrong.
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Is Glenn Monroe’s bed and breakfast really a “horrible” place? Let’s ask TripAdvisor

Glenn Monroe and his wife own the Westbrook Inn, in Connecticut, which he describes as the “perfect” place to “step back in time to the romantic Victorian era.”

But that isn’t how some TripAdvisor reviewers see it. Although the Westbrook Inn is fairly highly ranked on the site, it has a few critics, some of which claim his rooms are overrated and that Monroe’s staff is “not nice.”
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New confidentiality clauses can influence vacation rental reviews

Look who's trying to doctor those online reviews! / Photo by I Scott-Flickr
Tom and Terri Dorow didn’t like their recent vacation rental in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Their online review is clear about that. It’s a laundry list of complaints about equipment, appliances and even the appearance of a house they felt didn’t meet the expectations of a $3,500 price tag for five nights.
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7 lessons consumers learned in 2011

2011 was quite a year, wasn’t it?

As the economy struggled to recover from the Great Recession, consumers felt as if they had great big targets painted on their backs whenever they went to the store. That frustration led to the “Occupy” protests that took root in many American cities this fall.

What did we learn from 2011 and what does it mean for this year?
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Hotels connect the dots between guests and online reviews

Hotels want to know who you are. Especially if you’re reviewing them anonymously.

An increasing number of image-conscious properties have begun connecting the dots between unbylined write-ups that appear on such popular travel sites as TripAdvisor or Yelp, and your personal information, such as your loyalty program preferences.

If you write a positive review, you might expect a reward from the hotel — a gift basket or a discount on your next stay. Pan a property, and you could get a concerned e-mail from the general manager asking you to reconsider your review. Or even a black mark against you in the chain’s guest database.
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What hotels will resort to for a good review

Oh, the things hotels will do for a good review.

It’s not enough to ask guests for a write-up on a popular site such as TripAdvisor or Yelp after they’ve checked out. Lately, some innkeepers have been pressuring their customers to say positive things online — in extreme cases, even before they’ve checked in.

Take what happened to Pam Stucky when she recently made a reservation at a small hotel in Scotland. Before she arrived, the owner sent her an e-mail soliciting a recommendation on TripAdvisor, even though she’d never been to the hotel.

“Two or four guests staying together can send two to four independent reviews,” the innkeeper wrote. “Different pseudonyms should be used.”

Stucky, a Seattle-based writer, was uncomfortable with the come-on.
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Did yet another fake review slip past TripAdvisor?

showerSara Jensen had such an awful stay at the Hotel Toshi in New York that she decided to write about it on TripAdvisor. Little did she know that a hotel representative pretending to be a satisfied guest would promptly post a positive review to counter her comments. Or that TripAdvisor would allow it.

This is just the latest in a series of developments that have called into question the reliability of user-generated reviews on TripAdvisor. (Since my latest post about the company, it has stopped responding to my requests for comments. I have, however, asked for its side of the story.)
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Should I delete my TripAdvisor review of the Grand Hotel Minneapolis?

walletMary Yostos needs your advice.

She had a horrible experience at the Grand Hotel in Minneapolis last September. While at a wedding party, her wallet was stolen. Her complaints to the hotel were for nothing. “They said the restaurant on the second floor was technically not part of the hotel,” she says.

So she wrote a negative review about the property on

i was at this hotel for a pre-wedding party and we went to the restaurant upstairs…my wallet was stolen here from some guy off the street who walked into the hotel and randomly went to this restaurant. as i was in pursuit of the criminal in the street, my friends reported this to the front desk and they were not willing to call the police and said it wasnt their issue…the valet parking people ran after the criminal and called 911…i wouldnt feel safe to stay here.

That’s when the fun started.
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