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Fake Travel Reviews How to tell the real ones from the phonies

beware of fake online travel reviews

Fake Travel Reviews How to tell the real ones from the phonies

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Vacations cost a lot—a lot of time, money and effort just to create an itinerary you’re excited about. With countless choices as to which airline, hotel, tour and restaurant to patronize, it’s no wonder so many of us turn to user reviews for the inside scoop.

I recently started scoping out hotels and resorts for summer break and felt totally overwhelmed. Do five stars mean that one company just paid another company to jack up their ratings? Are two stars at what looks like an adorable inn simply the result of a single malicious, disgruntled guest—or sabotage from the competition down the street?

My nagging hunches have been confirmed in recent months as regulators are cracking down on deceptive reviews. New York state in September entered agreements with 19 companies investigated for paying as little as $1 per review to people in Bangladesh and Eastern Europe to write fake reviews on consumer sites like Yelp, Citysearch and Yahoo!—and the problem goes way beyond this one bust. A study by research firm Gartner in 2012 found that if the current trend continues, one in seven recommendations or social media ratings will soon be phonies.

All this evidence only supports many travelers’ suspicion of online reviews, potentially creating more stress and exhaustion before even buying the plane tickets. But rest assured. Here is expert advice on how to find reliable information to plan a dream vacation with confidence.

Be skeptical, but don’t dismiss reviews completely

Pauline Frommer, editorial director for Frommer’s travel guide books, says that fellow travelers’ advice can be helpful when reporting recent changes at a property. “Reviews can be great sources of information if they report something in that moment that a journalist [reporting in an article or book] wouldn’t catch” like a construction project at a hotel, says Frommer. “Otherwise, even if it is a legitimate review, keep in mind that you are taking advice from a novice traveler—someone who went to exactly one hotel in that destination and may not know that there is a better hotel right up the street that is 30 percent cheaper.”

Reviews on forums like Lonely Planet’s Thorntree, Frommer’s Forums or FlyerTalk tend to be more candid sources of real reviewer comments, as they are free-flowing based on a general geographic region, not a specific resort or cruise, says Christopher Elliott, consumer advocate and author of How to Be The World’s Smartest Traveler (and Save Time, Money, and Hassle).

Be your own review investigator

When approaching a big list of user reviews, it is a good idea to toss out the highest and lowest scores and focus on the middle lot, says Los Angeles Times travel editor Catharine M. Hamm. That said, “I always look at the worst reviews,” says Hamm who writes the syndicated travel consumer column On the Spot. “I get a take on whether that person is a crank or if there is a real problem with the hotel. In cases when the hotel addresses the complaint publicly, that legitimizes the issue and also tells me something positive about the responsiveness of the hotel. To me, that always reflects positively.”online travel planningExperts provide advice on how to tell if a review is real or fake.

Peter Greenberg, CBS News travel editor and host of The Travel Detective With Peter Greenberg, on PBS, says travelers should be wary of over-the-top descriptors like “luxurious,” “pampered” and “paradise,” as well as “st” words: “best,” “most,” “finest,” “greatest.” Also note whether the complaint or compliment is specific, or if it sounds as if it could be copy-and-pasted for any travel service.

Edgar Dworsky, founder of public service consumer resource guide Consumer World, urges travelers to scrutinize the post itself. “Does the reviewer describe in detail what they ate for dinner or what the hotel lobby looked like? Or is it completely lacking in specifics?” Also pay attention to when the reviews are posted. If a slew of either glowing or horrid comments were all posted within an hour of one another, the alarm bells should sound. The same thing goes if you note a single reviewer has reviewed hundreds of properties or services, that’s something a typical traveler would not do. “And if it sounds too flowery or glowing, or like an ad, then there is likely something fishy about it,” Dworsky says.

Check out the parent site’s rules

Some travel sites promote their use of software that promises to suss out fake reviews. But Greenberg says that he has tested this by writing fake reviews for hotels he did not stay at and they made it through TripAdvisor’s algorithm. “With so many reviews in their system, it’s still hard to catch each and every fake,” Greenberg says.

Increasingly, in an effort to boost their reliability, travel review sites are finding ways to increase the likelihood that reviews are legit. Expedia and a new site called HotelMe.com, for example, only allow hotel reviews from people who booked a stay through their site.

Go old-school

Vacation-goers often overlook the value of traditional, human travel agents, says consumer travel advocate Christopher Elliott. The fee for researching, recommending and booking a hotel is usually less than $60, less still for airline booking services, he says. When agents book a full travel itinerary, the fee increases. “People can be concerned about saving money, but time is valuable, too,” Elliott says. Agents can be a great investment since they consider your tastes, budget and preferences, and are often familiar with the region and properties you will visit. “And if something goes wrong during your trip, you can always go back to them for help, which can be invaluable.” He recommends finding travel agents through the American Society of Travel Agents.

Tell us, what sites do you use for travel reviews?

 

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4 responses to “Fake Travel Reviews”

  1. Andrea says:

    I didn’t realize fake reviews were such a big problem. This is interesting!

  2. zoomzoom says:

    I use Fodor’s Forums before I travel ANYWHERE! Real reviews from real people. I used Fodor’s Forums to plan out my whole trip to Germany, Switzerland and Austria. Invaluable—and always real!

    • Clendon says:

      Thanks for the heads up on Fodor’s Forums! I’ve never looked but have a trip to Belgium/Germany/Czech Republic coming up and sounds like I’ll be able to get some good info there.

  3. Clendon says:

    I think some of the best advice here is to put more stock in the reviews that are middle of the road for that particular hotel or service. The ones on either extreme are, well, extreme. If the majority are very positive and detailed, you’ve probably found yourself something good. I also really like to see responses from the business to negative reviews. Definitely makes me more likely to continue to consider the place despite the negative review.

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