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How to Travel, Part 5: How To Read Reviews

Updated: Oct 29, 2023

How to Read Reviews Objectively

A review is a written or personal opinion that a consumer has about a product or service based on the person's experience. A review can be subjective, meaning very emotional or objective, based on facts that the person will add. In addition to a review, there are also ratings, usually using stars from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. Many companies use both reviews and ratings.

A person's review will be based on many aspects: their expectations, their experience with traveling, experience with a particular company and, believe or not, their mood that may have nothing to do with the company. In order to help you to be a more informed traveler and to make productive decisions that will lead to a great vacation, it's important that you know how to read a review effectively.

Many travelers read reviews about airlines, lodging, attractions, vehicle rental agencies, locations and more when they prepare for a trip. But with thousands of reviews and rating online and so little time, how do you know which reviews are objective enough for you to make an informed decision?

Here are our 10 top tips that will help:

1. Look at the lowest rated reviews first. Then sort them by date. Sometimes, when a rating is negative, the company has taken steps to resolve the problem. So, a review from 2012 might not be valid in 2024.

2. Read the reviews that are the most recent and see if there is anything in common. If a particular issue with a hotel is mentioned several times, it is very possible that the issue really exists.

3. Next, read the mediocre reviews (scores of 3 stars). Many times, these reviews are the most objective. The customers will say something positive and negative and they will justify their opinions with evidence. An example is: "the hotel was crappy because the rug was ripped and the shower had mold in it." That's better than "the shower was filthy." Filthy to one person can be a speck of dust while filthy to another person can be actually dirty.

4. Look to see if the reason for a low rating is the staff. Now, that can be justification for giving a low score, especially if it affected the quality of the experience. But, it does not mean that the hotel is physically unacceptable. If the reviewer does not speak of the hotel itself but rants on about attitudes, then read another review.

5. Read other reviews by the reviewer. If the person seems to be complaining all the time and never has a positive or mediocre review, then you will know that the issue is with the reviewer and not the companies per se.

6. People have different levels of acceptability. One person will believe someone has an attitude if they don't look up right away and another person might be able to see that the person is finishing a computer transaction and be able to respect that. Also, the level of experience in travel can affect a person's perspective. That will be difficult to tell when reading the review, but your level of experience will be able to figure out the actual facts opposed someone's exaggerations to make a point.

7. Be able to determine if circumstances are beyond the company's control. For example, some areas are prone to blackouts of electricity. The company should be responsible to their response to the situation: how long did they wait before checking on guests (a reasonable time would be 1/2 hour if the area has them all the time), are there flashlights in the room (to indicate they are prepared), is there information in the room that this happens often, etc. The company should not be responsible for the the blackout itself (unless they don't have a backup generator for their computer system). Again, it's their response.

8. If you know a company fairly well, such as a hotel chain, an airline, or a restaurant group that specializes in fine dining, pay attention to a high number of negative or medium reviews. It could be that particular location has an issue. Again, read the negative and medium reviews.

9. The best reviews will be the ones that describe the experience with details. Then, you can make your own determination. For example, many cruise excursions promise a drink, transportation and a meal. Many people imagine a top shelf cocktail in a glass, a premium bus with WiFi and an endless buffet featuring steak and lobster. The reality is you will get a rum punch, with a lot of ice in a plastic cup, adequate transportation (usually a coach bus or a comfy van, but it depends on how far the destination is) and a one time plate, almost always rice and peas and chicken in the Caribbean. Lately, the excursions have included a bottle of water. Seasoned travelers will say that the excursion was good if the purpose of the trip was fulfilled: they snorkeled, they got their historical tour, they shopped until they dropped, etc. Complainers will say that they got a cheap drink and a bus with no bathroom (which is really a good thing, by the way). It's all about perspective.

Another example is European travel by those from outside that region. Rooms are smaller, there might not be air conditioning and there might not be an elevator (the lift). The room is also likely to have less furniture, no carpeting and spotty WiFi. Someone who is not experienced will be likely to give a low rating regardless of the hospitality of the staff, the location of the hotel and the cleanliness and security of the property.

10. As your travel become more varied, you will be able decide more effectively which reviews and ratings actually will help to plan your trip better.

Good luck and Happy Travels!


Copyright Disclaimer under section 107 if the copyright act of 1976, allowance is made for "fair use" for purposes such as criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. Fair use is a use permitted by copyright statute that might otherwise be infringing. Non-profit, educational or personal use tips the balance in favor of fair use.

This article is my personal opinion. I am a travel agent. I am an Amazon Associate.

All text and photos copyright Marcia Crayton All Rights Reserved 2023

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