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Stop tripping over TripAdvisor reviews

Number of guest reviews, in the millions, hosted by these websites. Washington Post graphic

Number of guest reviews, in the millions, hosted by these websites. Washington Post graphic

Published Sep 8, 2015

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Washington - Searching for a hotel among millions of TripAdvisor reviews can feel like looking for a toothpick in the Sahara.

To better navigate and manage the listings, we gathered tips from veteran travellers who use the site for planning their vacations and sharing their experiences with the wider world.

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- To search for ideas on lodging, winnow down the choices with a filter, such as type of property (vacation rental, inn, etc.), neighbourhood or number of stars (two to six). For more personalised suggestions, the “Just for You” feature will select hotels based on your search history and preferences.

- Don't limit yourself to properties that occupy the top spots in the popularity index. Many hotels ranking lower still earn high reviews (four or five bubbles) and are a good value or quality. “Small differences in rankings aren't that important,” Ginny Cunningham, a longtime reviewer, said. “I will pick a lower-ranked hotel if it is more convenient to my destination or has a significant price edge.”

- When reading a hotel's collection of reviews, take a sampling from the full spectrum: high (“excellent”), middle (“average”) and low (“poor”). Look for overriding patterns, such as double-digit complaints about an overwhelming smell. One traveller from Alexandria employs an Olympic scoring system: She throws out the extreme opinions and bases her decision on the moderate comments. Also, don't take outlier reviews too seriously, especially if the consensus flows in the opposite direction.

- Flip through the photos taken by guests. That picture of the moldy tub doesn't lie.

- Focus on the most current reviews and read the replies by the hotel's management. Most users say their opinion of a business rises when the staff takes guest comments seriously.

- Similar to a music or movie critic, get to know the reviewer to see whether you are simpatico. All members have profile pages that include the individual's critique history plus personal tidbits. “I note the age, sex and country and city of origin of the person posting,” Cunningham said, “and make an educated guess about whether their needs are the same as mine.” Many travelers said they trust reviewers with numerous postings more than those with only a few. Denise Mills, author of a handful of critiques, said that if a she sees a person has one review and it has five bubbles, then she suspects the writer is “the hotel manager's sister.”

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- For more specific questions about a destination, post a query on the Travel Forum. Kristi Moriarty used the tool to organise a trip to Iran, for example, and Regina Plunkett Dowling picked up insider tips (take a free City Guides walking tour, for instance) about visiting San Francisco.

- And finally, when you get home from your trip, pay it forward with your own reviews.

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