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 TripAdvisor still letting hotels rig their reviews?

Achim Baque/Shutterstock
Achim Baque/Shutterstock
TripAdvisor is a regrettable by-product of the information revolution whose user-generated ratings too often hurt travelers and travel companies more than they help.

As I’ve noted in the past, the company cynically monetizes the labor of its unpaid contributors while making virtually no effort to verify its reviews.

TripAdvisor doesn’t promise its readers much, but the least it can do is to live up to the few guarantees it makes.

Even so, when I heard from Ellen Garland, who charged the company with allowing a hotel in Anguilla to brazenly game its ratings, I didn’t want to go there.
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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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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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More than half of air travelers would fly with the flu to avoid a change fee

maskA disturbing new poll says 51 percent of air travelers say they’d rather fly while infected with the flu than pay a $150 airline change fee.

The survey, conducted by, asked travelers if they would fly while they’re sick in order to avoid paying a booking change fee. A total of 2,327 users responded.

Airlines have resisted calls to loosen their highly profitable change-fee requirements in the face of the H1N1 epidemic. They apparently prefer a Band-Aid solution to the problem.
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Is TripAdvisor censoring negative reviews?

occidentalTripAdvisor, which appears to have weathered a fake-review scandal thanks in no small part to a plausible explanation from its chief executive, has never been accused of pulling any punches. Until now.

Mark Leon stayed at the Occidental Grand Hotel in Cozumel, Mexico, earlier this month. He posted two reviews: An account of a “wonderful” restaurant called Capi Navegante. And a scathing write-up of the Occidental.

Guess which one got posted?
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