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Choosing hotels through user-review websites

December 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Hotel ratings can be confusing. How can the same hotel get both a one-star and a five-star rating from trusted travel sites and guide books? We teamed up with Consumer Reports to see if we could decode the confusing ratings and still find a good hotel.

A getaway to Miami in the winter sounds great.

Could the famous Fontainebleau Hotel be a perfect place to stay?

Travelocity gives the Fontainebleau five stars. But Forbes gives it a mere three. And if you check Frommer's, it only gives the hotel one star out of three.

Who's right?

Consumer Reports' Tod Marks says it's important to know how hotel stars are assigned.

"Travelocity sometimes conducts onsite inspections, but that's not always the case," Marks said. "Expedia, when they do an inspection, they alert the hotel to let them know they're coming. And Fodor's actually allows its freelance reviewers to accept free rooms and discounts, with the caveat that they have to inform the hotel that it won't affect their ranking."

The Michelin Guide, in contrast, does all its hotel visits anonymously and pays for the reviewer's rooms.

Consumer Reports advises that before you book a room, check a hotel's website to see what the rooms look like, the services being offered and hotel policies.

"You should also take advantage of user-review sites," Marks said. "Best are those aggregator sites that actually lump together reviews from a whole group of different travel sources."

MyTravelGuide.com is a good aggregator site. TripAdvisor.com is good, too.

"Look for the most recent user comments because they're apt to have the most up-to-date information about a property," Marks said. "Maybe there are renovations or construction going on."

Look for reviews by travelers like you. Business travelers, couples and families will all have different expectations of a great hotel stay.

Consumer Reports says that when it comes to user reviews, ignore extreme comments, both good and bad. That's because they may have been posted by people with a vested interest, such as someone who works for the company or by someone who has an axe to grind.


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