Travel

Weigh Online Travel Reviews Carefully

Compare opinions on several sites, and don’t neglect word of mouth.

Before dropping a few hundred dollars on a fancy hotel room with rave online reviews, be sure that what you’re reading is legitimate and not the work of a hired writer or the business itself.

As online review platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor become more popular, businesses have a greater incentive to game the system—drumming up buzz with planted accolades or tarnishing competitors with unfair criticism. Last year, the New York state attorney general’s office cracked down on 19 companies that solicited fake reviews to prop up local services. “Companies have to decide how they’ll manage their online reputation and figure out how they can generate good buzz about themselves without generating it themselves,” says Michael Luca, a Harvard Business School professor who studied fraudulent Yelp reviews.

The problem has not gone unnoticed by the review sites themselves. Yelp filters out 25% of submissions using algorithms. Other sites have someone inspect the reviews before publishing them. Some sites, such as Expedia and OpenTable, require the reviewer to have made a reservation for a hotel room or restaurant through the site before detailing his or her experiences; others highlight contributors with authenticated profiles or alert consumers to suspicious content. “These sites are paying better attention to the problem of fake reviews,” says Eric Goldman, a law professor at Santa Clara University.

But no site has a foolproof system, so it’s important to cross-reference write-ups for the same establishment or service on different sites. If you’re looking for a specialized service such as a moving company, take more care to scrutinize the reviewer, not just the review. A full profile, a history of contributing to the site and a “verified user” tag are good signs. (Scam artists are less likely to take the time to establish a longtime, identifiable presence on a review platform.) Look for specific and thoughtful details that suggest the writer has actually experienced and reflected on the service. And be wary of an outlier—say, a review full of compliments in a sea of complaints, or vice versa. “Look for the ‘wisdom of the crowds,’ ” says Goldman. “What does the crowd have to say about the respective players in the industry? If something is popular with a lot of people, it will probably meet my needs.”

Don’t go overboard in trying to investigate the authenticity of every opinion, however. “Do a cost-benefit analysis,” says Luca. “For low-stakes purchases, and for purchases where there are so many reviews they can’t possibly be driven by somebody trying to game the system, [fake reviews] are less of an issue.”

And don’t neglect word of mouth. “Asking people you know and trust is the first thing you should do before trusting strangers online ,” says Boston University professor Georgios Zervas, who coauthored the Yelp study with Luca.If you’re the one penning a negative assessment, be aware that thin-skinned businesses may target you with legal threats—justified or not—to preserve their reputation. Avoid an unpleasant situation by sticking to indisputable facts, toning down hyperbole and emphasizing that this is your personal experience, suggests Goldman.

Most Popular

Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021
The 12 Best Tech Stocks to Buy for 2022
tech stocks

The 12 Best Tech Stocks to Buy for 2022

The best tech-sector picks for the year to come include plays on some of the most exciting emergent technologies, as well as several old-guard mega-ca…
January 3, 2022
How to Know When You Can Retire
retirement

How to Know When You Can Retire

You’ve scrimped and saved, but are you really ready to retire? Here are some helpful calculations that could help you decide whether you can actually …
January 5, 2022

Recommended

Time to Press the Money ‘Pause Button’ after the Holidays
spending

Time to Press the Money ‘Pause Button’ after the Holidays

If you overspent on the holidays, and spoiled your kids in the process, now’s the time to make some changes.
January 20, 2022
How to Just Say No to Binge Spending
Smart Buying

How to Just Say No to Binge Spending

Don’t let emotions steer you into buying things you don’t need or can’t afford. Know the warning signs and follow these tips.
January 14, 2022
Is Budgeting Overrated?
Budgeting

Is Budgeting Overrated?

Take it from a financial planner, not everyone needs a budget. In fact, sometimes a budget can distract you from the real solutions to your financial …
January 6, 2022
Strategies for Working Remotely
Business Travel

Strategies for Working Remotely

Globe-trotters should keep in mind that every country has different rules when it comes to working within their borders.
December 22, 2021