Cracking the Tripadvisor code: 10 tips to make the most of your hotel budget

I think Tripadvisor was the best invention for travelers to date. Gone were the days that you’re surprised that the great pictures you saw on the hotel’s website did not reflect reality. Now you can make an informed decision through other travelers’ experiences! But people are still disappointed why some hotels are ranked highly but they didn’t like them. Here are some ways to make the most of Tripadvisor and your hotel budget, based on my personal experience with it.

I didn’t post any hotel names, just the places and details on my experience. This is not meant to be an endorsement post – hence I took the names out 🙂

1. If you’re on a tight budget, filter according to the price range first before doing your search.

Case in point. Paris.

Everyone knows that Paris is one of the most expensive cities. To make things worse, there is a lack of good budget-friendly hotels and B&Bs in the city. If you have a tight budget, it does not help that Tripadvisor ranks based on wow factors, which means you will sift through pages and pages of fantastic hotels in the EUR 200 to 500 range. Doesn’t help, does it?

At the left side panel there is a price filter. It removes everything beyond your budget. Does that mean you’ll end up with bad ones? Not necessarily.

In my case, I ended up with a gem. Okay, the lobby area, or lack of it, does not entice you, but my room was clean and quiet and the location was convenient, 2 minutes from the Metro. All for EUR 50 per night. Of course you have to adjust your expectations accordingly but I was very happy with my choice and the savings I got.

It just happens that of course all those getting whopping 5 points go on top. But given you are on a budget, and you are willing to compromise in some areas, filtering according to price helps.

2. Read through average ratings to know what the pros and cons are. They’re the most unbiased.

Case in point. Siem Reap.

One thing you need to note in Tripadvisor reviews, or any hotel review for that matter, is that they’re biased and subjective. There is an emotional part (eg. When someone is wowed) and an objective part (eg. When someone describes the room in detail). You want to sift through emotions and judgement ( eg. The room blew me away) and learn the facts (eg. The decor is a good blend of Modern and Khmer design. They have a rainshower and water pressure is good). Where do you find a lot of these? In the Average section.

My personal observation is that people making an average review tend to layout the pros and cons nicely which are pertinent info you need in choosing your place to stay. Since they weren’t wowed, or too upset because the “manager was a liar”, they will give you an honest to goodness list of highs and lows of their stay.

A hotel I was choosing for Siem Reap is a landslide winner for years. Everyone seems to be blown away. When you read through the overwhelming 5 ratings, it is clear the guests were blown away by the service. The price – reasonable at USD 100 per night. However, if you are looking for a spic and span new, 5 star quality resort, you will be disappointed. The Average raters will tell you that the room is showing a bit of wear and tear. It is a small establishment with a personal touch. So knowing this ahead will set the right expectations accordingly. And these pros and cons are written by those who rated the hotel average.

3. It does not mean just because it was rated high that you’ll like it.

Case in point. Bintan.

There are two examples I can cite actually. One resort is a high end USD 300 resort that’s always full. Reviews are glowing. But that doesn’t mean the resort will work for you. Indeed, when you look at the negative reviews, there is no air conditioning and the amenities are scarce, all under the reason “We are eco-friendly.” If you like to rough it you will like it. But if you’re like me, I need air conditioning and if I pay USD 300 I expect more than rustic.

Another resort in the top 3 is an all-rave. It also does not have air conditioning, but its highlight are the activities they organize for families. You need to dig through the details to see whether those fit you. It doesn’t fit me, and I am grateful I found that out before planning anything.

4. It does not mean just because it’s not that great that it won’t work for you.

Case in point. Bangkok
Before I stayed in this B&B, I saw a lot of Average ratings, because what was marketed as an “artistic boutique hotel” apparently wasn’t so. People complained about the wear and tear, the staff who did not speak much English, or the lean breakfast menu. Rooms were THB 1,500-2,500 per night (or around USD 50-90). However, for me, I was willing to compromise on a few finishing touches, to have a good budget option right in the center of town (Silom). That was more important to me. It is unrealistic to expect the hotel to glow in all aspects and pay such a small amount for it. I am going back in March!

5. Don’t rely on room availability from the “Show prices” link

Case in point: Hua Hin

Tripadvisor links major travel portals to make it easier for readers to book their chosen hotel. However, the availabilities are not up to date. So if it says there are no availabilities, or the range of rooms available are limited, reach out to the hotel directly. In fairness, this is perhaps a limitation of the travel portals than Tripadvisor itself, but you have to bear this in mind when searching availability. I stumbled upon this B&B which I wanted to try out for my trip to Hua Hin in March. I searched through the portal to no avail. However, when I contacted the owner, there were lots of options!

 6. Read through management responses for lackluster reviews.

Case in point. Bandung

Reading through management responses is the best way to sniff test a hotel’s ability to manage a crisis. I was checking out a hotel I will be staying at in May in Bandung, a resort town in Indonesia. For reviews with Average ratings or below, the GM would be all defensive, and wrote in all caps. He even accused a contributor that he works for the competition!

I’ll put some direct quotes below, just for entertainment…

One quote from the GM when someone complained about the hotel being expensive and its slow service.

“rate during the weekend is much higher than weekdays in bandung for all hotels, by paying 518,000 during weekend you are staying in one of the cheapest hotel in bandung…you may check before to say “expeensive”

Service not superb? we are a low profile [x] star hotel and provide [x]star service. [Hotel] propose breakfast from 4am till 11am during weekend….is it poor service? maybe you can review your position after reading my answer.”

Another hilarious quote(I didnt correct the typo errors…) as a response to someone who complained about waiting too long for breakfast.

“Man thanks for your comments, I could show you the CCTV where you can see daily especially durung lebaran time, all managers in Lobby, but it doesnt matter. Be fair in your report please…and I have some doubt on your capacity to criticise the hotel as it is your very first comment on triop advisor…are you working for competition? Could be as we are the leading hotel.

Just to inform you, lebaran is the PEAK season of the year, we keep quite low rates to be sure all guest will be happy. I disagree with your comments, NO guest was waiting for brekfast more than 5mn…never….and we informed everyone on our internal TV channels that the breakfast is from 4am till 12am with peak hour between 8am and 9.30am to be sure you have time to plan you breakfast time. CCTV is also available to show you there is NO waiting at breakfast…we serve daily 1200 to 1300 breakfast and don’t get any complain…except your strange one.

Again during lebaran time, we put some additional staff in lift to insure the guest can come down quickly and in case of emergency. Alkso we put some additional staff on security to show you the way to park in safe conditions (maybe you could also talk about positive things….).

Seriously why you don’t talk about the traffic in town, the queue in all restaurant in town as well, why you focus on [hotel] who is one of the best [x] star hotel in town? Any idea? I got complains from our guest who had lost their bag in town, I got a guest who had an accident in town and we bring them to hospital…you want more? please call me. What kind of comment are you writing? serisouly? Lebaran is NOT a normal time, just understand. We never make checkin morning, we asked to all guest to come after 2pm….to be sure we can deliver rooms immedialtey between 2 and 6pm.

Did you try to park a car in one of the hotel in Bali during lebaran? you’ll understand what I mean.

I suggest you to discover Bandung during the normal time out of lebaran.
We just try to be fair with all customers, and we do.

I am defensive as we try to do our best with our existing hardware….just try to understand again, lebaran is one week a year…

Sorry, 09am, I have to see my guest in lobby now…with my back shirt, as every day.”

Enough said 😛

7. Take culture / traveling style of the contributor into context

Case in point. Koh Samui

I booked a B&B which had great raves. The price was expensive for Thailand (SGD 200) but it was cheap at Koh Samui standards. What I failed to do is look at the type of reviewers. All the reviewers were Europeans, who generally do not care as much about air conditioning. If they turn it on, they would put the temperature at 25 degrees. Southeast Asians sleep at 20 degrees or lower. That is a big difference.

Our aircon never went below 25 – and suffice to say, it was boiling for us. If I searched through the comments rated average and below, I would have picked up on the aircon problem. And conincidentally, these comments did not come from European reviewers.

8. Want to know if the rooms are decent? Look at bathroom photos.

Case in point.Hong Kong

When I first booked my now well-loved B&B, that was my first test. Rooms in Hong Kong are small, no doubt. And given my budget I can’t expect the room to be much. But what concerned me is the cleanliness. I saw reviewer photos of the bathroom, and it was spic and span clean! I was right – and that’s my go-to place during my HK visits now.

9. Make sure you’re searching the right scope of geography

Case in point. Oman

When I was booking my family trip to Oman, I was searching through hotels in Muscat. I was surprised I only found a few! Yes hotels are quite limited in Oman, but not this limited! When I searched through “Oman” and not “Muscat”, what I realized is that most good hotels are categorized in “Muscat Governate” and not “Muscat”. And when I researched further, they are quite near to each other, barely 30 minutes apart. I would have missed out on a very beautiful hotel if I didn’t venture out of the limited category.

10. Sanity check those with few reviews with reviews from online travel sites. Eg. Agoda or Booking.com.

Case in point. Hanoi

I am always in the lookout for newer properties which are not yet that popular, few reviews, but are fantastic. However, the challenge is there are far too few reviews – and you may be skeptical those are fake reviews from the hotel or the owners’ friends. One way to check is look at reviews in Agoda or Booking.com and countercheck. You can only leave a review in Agoda or Booking.com if you have a valid stay at the hotel, so there is less room for fake reviews. Furthermore, they add to your data points. I stayed in this B&B with fantastic service, and decided on it and booked it several months in advance. The service is fantastic! And guess what – they just earned Tripadvisor’s Traveler’s Choice Awards for Best Service for 2013. And I am glad I supported them early on.

I want to end this post with a request – contribute quality reviews when you come back from your vacation.

The only way to make the community grow is to write quality reviews. And I do that. Not sure if all I write are in good quality, but I do my best to give facts to support my case. To date I have 120 contributions, and continue to write after each hotel stay. It’s the only way to keep our consumer power going!

Hope this helps you choose your next hotel. ‘Til the next!

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7 Comments on “Cracking the Tripadvisor code: 10 tips to make the most of your hotel budget”

  1. Chester Says:

    Love your posts.

    You are spot on with Tripadvisor. I always used it before my travels to search for the best place to stay as well as the must-see places and things to do. I also read through the dangers and things to be careful about. Of course everybody will tell you to blend in with the locals but if you are a chinese looking person traveling in the middle east or africa, you already stand out. But there are still ways to blend in. I want to also point out a couple of sites that I used when researching for my trips; these are virtualtourist.com and hotels.com for the reviews.

    I agree that some B&Bs offer a much better travel experience than luxury chain hotels. They are cozier and usually run by a family so the breakfasts are usually home-cooked style and the owners would be there to chat with you. They’ll give you tips that travel sites don’t talk about. Let you in on hidden gems.

    I also want to add to your point #9. I used Google Maps a lot. I would zoom in on the place I like to stay at and used Google Maps’ “Search Nearby” option and look for hotels in the vicinity. Many times, the list of hotels that come up are not even in any of the booking sites. I then used Google streetview to actually see photos of the location and find my way around virtually especially if I am renting a car and driving to the hotel from the airport.

  2. Chan, Maisie Says:

    So daph… Where did u stay in HK ?

    Best regards,

    Maisie

  3. Pavan Says:

    100 USD in Siem Reap is reasonable? I stayed there for 72 USD per night and I thought I paid a lot. The place was really good though. Well worth it.


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