4 Red Flags to Booking a Hotel Online


NEW YORK (MainStreet) — You’ve no doubt heard  – or worse yet, lived – a hotel horror story. Tales of dirt, bedbugs, pests or other miscellaneous health hazards are, of course, unpleasant, but they can also be downright demoralizing. 

“Americans take so little time off.  It’s important that their vacations go right for both financial and emotional reasons,” Brooke Ferencsik, director of communications for travel review site TripAdvisor, said. “Nothing can ruin a vacation like staying in the wrong place.”

How can you protect yourself from ending up at one of the dirtiest or most unsafe hotels in America?

The first step, of course, is to do your research. Hotel websites can often be misleading, and though it may be extreme to say that they shouldn’t be trusted – Ferencsik points out that many great hotel websites belong to equally great hotels – you should seek out reviews from the people who have actually stayed there.

TripAdvisor, of course, is a good go to place when scouting establishments, but you can also readily find reviews on travel search engines, such as Hotels.com, Travelocity and Expedia. Most of the time, you’ll find the reviews fairly telling. You probably wouldn’t book a room at a hotel where consumers complained and we trust you would stay away from a place where reviewers said you were better off sleeping on the bathroom floor than in the bed.

However, if you find many reviewers on the fence about a particular establishment, Anne Banas, executive editor of SmarterTravel.com suggests digging a little deeper.

“You need to look at who is writing the review,” she says, advising you click on a reviewer’s profile. “Ask yourself ‘is this someone like me?”

Banas points out that an outdoor enthusiast, for example, might enjoy staying in rustic accommodations that have lizards crawling around in the room. However, “If you’re used to having fresh linens every day, you might not be so into it,” she says.

She also suggests scrolling through some negative or lower-rated reviews you stumble upon to see if a hotel’s customer service representatives has responded directly to a comment or complaint. Whether the review was posted its own website, a search engine or a travel review site, Banas says, “it’s always a good sign if they are entering into a dialogue, whether positive or negative.”

Of course, there are many other ways to vet a destination, and Banas and Ferenscik suggested some warning signs to look out for the next time you book a trip.

Fisheye Lens Photos

Beware the hotel that took all of its photos using a fisheye lens, which takes in an extremely wide, hemispherical image. “It usually means the room is small,” Banas says.

Destination Pictures

Consumers should also be suspicious if they stumble upon a website that advertises its locale over the actual facilities. Ferenscik pointed to some of the establishments that made TripAdvisor’s list of the dirtiest hotels in America as examples. The Carter Hotel in New York ranked as the fourth dirtiest this year, though it has made TripAdvisor’s list more than once. It has two photos on its homepage: an aerial shot of the top half of the building and a larger landscape of the New York City skyline. 

Similarly, the Desert Inn Resort in Florida, which ranked one spot dirtier than The Carter this year, sports many pictures of Daytona Beach, but only one shot of an actual room.

Odd Phrasing

Another one of TripAdvisor’s dirtiest hotels, the Jack London Inn in Oakland, Calif., advertises quite prominently on its website that is located “at the waterfront” – as opposed to “on the waterfront” – of San Francisco Bay. Ferenscik points to the careful word choice and the fact that there are no actual pictures of the waterfront on the website

“Hotels have very slick marketing vehicles that will come up with ways to disguise their shortcomings,” he says.


Part of such a marketing campaign is buzzwords that have a hidden meaning. If you see the words “cozy,” “basic” or “rustic” the room may be small, accommodations may be sparse and extra reconnaissance may be in order. You should be similarly suspicious if a hotel you’re booking by a beach advertises a “garden view.”

“You probably won’t be on the water,” Banas cautions, before adding that when it comes to online advertisements, real estate listing rules apply.

Check out MainStreet’s guide to real estate listings to see more buzzwords you should be wary of!

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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