We choose our recommended hotels the same way we find a place to stay when traveling on a personal vacation, looking for a place that lots of other people think is good and where we expect to get a good value for the money we spend.
Lacking a staff of thousands, we can't evaluate every hotel in person. Luckily, thousands of visitors post their reviews at tripadvisor.com and we use them to reveal places that are clean, offer good value and take good care of their visitors.
Choosing CandidatesThis the bottom line for us: If a hotel has more than 20 tripadvisor ratings and averages 3.5 or higher (out of 5), it's likely to be acceptable. 4 out of 5 is better. We use this same cutoff in all price ranges. It's not as simple as just looking at the averages, though. These are a few things to keep in mind:
- Stars are not the same as quality ratings. Stars are based on what the hotel offers - the more stars, the more things you'll find, such as swimming pools and other services. However, they don't reveal that the swimming pool is poorly maintained, the carpets worn or the beds lumpy.
- Ratings can't be trusted if there are fewer than 20 reviews. Competitors, employees and disgruntled former employees can post reviews, positive or negative, but there aren't armies of them and eventually they get lost in the general opinion. Even worse, a few unscrupulous individuals engage in a form of extortion, posting bad reviews of properties and asking for money to remove them. It's also worth noting that people are more likely to take time to complain than they are to praise and that almost any place to stay and/or any traveler can have a bad day. This article from NPR has more tips for spotting a fake review.
- Reading negative reviews can give you an idea of pitfalls. Low-rated individual reviews can reveal problems with the reservation system, specific wings or floors that have problems (too close to the trash dumpster, not yet renovated) in a hotel that otherwise is fine. It can also reveal that the 90% of visitors who give high ratings like to party all night, while the other 5% complain about the noise. Knowing what to look for (and avoid) can be helpful.
- A rating of "5" means different things, depending on the cost. If someone paid very little and got a clean room with comfortable beds and a hot shower, they may give a high rating. Conversely, if they paid a lot, they probably got more amenities, nicer rooms, a jacuzzi tub and more staff attention, but if even the smallest thing went wrong, they'll knock off a little on the rating.
Making the Cut: Choosing Recommended HotelsFirst, we sort the hotels into price ranges, using $-sign groups to account for the fact that rates vary. The range of prices a group represents may vary by city. After all, it's more expensive in general to stay in Los Angeles than Los Banos. Often, the list of contenders is still large. This is where extra criteria come in:
- Value for Money: Among hotels with the same rating, lower average cost is better.
- Cleanliness: When all other criteria fail, cleanliness ratings can break the tie.
About Hotel ReviewsWe try to restrict our reviews to individually-owned or boutique hotels. You know what to expect from the larger chains and our review won't tell you anything you don't already know. We also look for newly-renovated, newly-opened places that you may have heard about but which are too new to have gathered many reviews yet. We apply the guidelines above before we go. If a hotel doesn't meet the minimum ratings requirement and there's no reason to think something has recently changed, we just won't stay there. This makes our ratings skewed toward higher numbers because we're less likely to find a stinker.
When we review a hotel, we stay in it one or two nights. A quick walk-through can't reveal noise leaking through the walls in the middle of the night, lumpy mattresses, rude desk clerks or the two-hour wait for room service.
Hotels often give us a complimentary stay, which is common in the travel industry and allowed within About.com's ethics policy. Otherwise, we couldn't afford to stay in them all.
However, we make it clear from the beginning that every property has to earn its rating and we always keep our obligation to you first and foremost. We pay extra attention to interactions between staff and other guests. We read all the negative reviews to find out what to look for. We look in all the corners, under the beds and anywhere else that might be important. And this is most important: We tell you exactly what we found. If the breakfast at that otherwise cute little B&B was inedible, you'll know about it. If any staff member was rude to a guest, we'll say it. You get the idea. You come first, no matter what.