Last summer when we were confined to our home state because of COVID travel restrictions, we decided to visit Martha’s Vineyard. Before booking a few nights in a hotel, I checked the most recent one-star reviews on Tripadvisor. I quickly surmised that people were unhappy with the high prices, room categories, and COVID restrictions. I narrowed down my search to one hotel, and then contacted the hotel manager to learn more about people’s concerns. He helped me understand the room categories, explained the COVID restrictions that were in place at the time, and offered me a modest discount. Our stay ended up exceeding my expectations because I prevented possible issues and understood that the high prices are for the location, not the room.
So how can you use negative travel reviews to have a great vacation? Travel experts share some ways to analyze the feedback so that you can use those negative responses to your advantage. Often the one-star or two-star reviews provide more honest information than the positive ones that may be written by people who were comped.
Pay attention to red flags
When reading negative reviews, look for issues that might conflict with your personality or travel needs.
“Bad travel reviews can provide good insight on experiences that might make the traveler unhappy,” said Kristin Braswell, founder of CrushGlobal Travel. She explained that if you read a review that stated that the property is on a noisy street and you are a light sleeper, then this place would probably not be the best fit for your stay.
Safety concerns are an issue to pay attention to when reading reviews. Angela Arbab, 32, a fashion content creator living in Bali, said, “As a solo woman traveler, my biggest concerns are always how other solo women experienced the place they visited — do they feel safe, comfortable, and welcomed?”
Cleanliness or possible crime in the area are other problems to be on the lookout for when gathering intel. “If I read the reviews and see that there are several comments about cars getting broken into or rooms being dirty, I will move on to another hotel and not even consider that one. There are too many choices out there to be tied to one specific hotel,” said Michelle Phillips, a blogger at Everywhere They Roam.
Jennifer Billock, 37, a journalist, author, and writing coach in Chicago, said, “For hotels specifically, I look for anything that might have ‘bugs’ or ‘mold’ listed in it. Nobody wants to stay somewhere with bedbugs and a moldy shower.”
Another area to search for in the reviews is the amount of personal information you need to provide to stay there. Quia Bethea, 35, a freelance writer living in Spain, recommended that you look at the reviews to see what the requirements are to stay at the destination. “For example, Airbnbs in Europe require you to fill out a form with your passport and contact information. Do you feel comfortable leaving this information with strangers?”
You should also consider the source when reading the review. “If you see a bad review that is especially troublesome about a vacation you truly had your heart set on, reach out to the reviewer for more details. If you don’t hear back, there could be a bot involved,” said Ruksana Hussain, 39, a journalist and publisher in Los Angeles.
Notice trends or patterns
Read the most recent reviews, because those will give you a sense of what is currently happening in the hotel. “When I read travel reviews, I check for consistency. For example, the dates reviews were posted, what the reviews have in common, and how long the listing or attraction has been open to the public,” said Bethea.
Phillips said that sometimes reviews will mention that the pool is closed, but the hotel website didn’t include this information. Since her kids like to swim, she would avoid booking a hotel with a closed pool.
“Social media is a great source too — Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — so use the hashtag symbol and the name of that product or service for the most recent experiences possibly happening in real time,” said Hussain.
Contact the hotel prior to booking
The best way to truly understand the room categories, location, and other details is to speak with someone who works at the hotel (not the customer service line that might be located off site), preferably the manager who is familiar with everything about the hotel. You can ask questions, mention concerns you have about the negative reviews, and figure out if the hotel is a good fit for your travel needs. Most managers want to prevent problems as much as you do and are willing to take the time to speak to you before you visit.
“If I am looking for something specific and the website doesn’t spell it out, that’s when I reach out to the hotel directly, by phone or e-mail, and find out exactly what I am getting,” said Phillips.
Contacting someone prior to booking a place can also help with figuring out whether the location is a good fit. Before booking an Airbnb, Bethea sent a message asking for clarification about a broken lock on the door. “I wanted to know if it had been fixed because the apartment was absolutely gorgeous. The person who responded was rude and aggressive, so I went with another listing.”
Ask for perks or a discount
After the hotel manager has answered your questions, ask for a discount, to have fees waived, or for a free upgrade. Just by asking, I’ve often received both a discount and a free room upgrade. You can also ask them to waive fees, such as the facility or resort fee.
Prior to booking a hotel room, Bethea contacted the manager. “The double rooms had twin beds for a lower rate than a queen or king sized bed on a third party app. I mentioned it to the hotel manager and he gave me the better room for the same fee and a small discount for a couple of nights additional stay.”
Adjust your expectations
Most of the negative reviews are related to people spending a lot of money and then being disappointed with what they received. The best way to adjust your expectations is to understand what is included with the price of the hotel and whether the price is based on the luxury, location, or both.
“Expectations can factor in a lot. If you think something is going to be five-star, white-glove service, and you get there and it’s a self-propelled luggage cart, you’ll obviously be disappointed,” said Billock. She explained that if you are disappointed on your vacation, try to adjust your response. “Consider it an adventure, where everything is a surprise. Praise yourself for doing something outside your comfort zone.”
Cheryl Maguire can be reached at. Follow her on Twitter @CherylMaguire05.