How To Spot Deceptive Hotel Websites And Fraudulent Trip Advisor Reviews

I was seduced by a lovely brunette lounging in what looked like a gorgeous pool. But I was looking for a hotel in Naxos, not a date, and should have known better. The website of the Aeolis Hotel looked superb, the price was right, and when I read a review of the place on Trip Advisor, which claimed the hotel offered “5 stars rooms,” I was sold.

But when I showed up at this hotel with my family a couple weeks ago and saw the pool (see photo above), I immediately knew we were in for some surprises. It was a tiny little affair, completely surrounded by the building on three sides, with just a couple feet of walking space. Clearly the hotel had a very clever photographer who was able to mask how humble this little pool was.

Our “junior suite” was advertised on the website as a “spacious suite” with a Simmons mattress but was, in fact, cramped and featured a bizarre, broken bed canopy that was hanging by a thread, drooping into our faces (see photo below) and an old mattress about as comfortable as a bed of nails. Shortly after checking in, I logged back into Trip Advisor to read the “5 stars” review that had stuck in my head. The review, allegedly written by one David Lockett from Liverpool, England, is pasted here in its entirety:

“Excellent holidays in this hotel”
Reviewed March 20, 2010
it is an excellent hotel with comfortable 5 stars rooms and bathrooms. The breakfast was very good, and so was the service.The owener was very friendly and cooperative. My family and I are looking forward visiting again the hotel this summer!
Why hadn’t I noticed that this was the only review “David Lockett from Liverpool” had written on Trip Advisor? How had I not noticed the broken English? Clearly someone affiliated with the hotel wrote this review but I hadn’t caught the deception on first glance. After suffering through this hotel’s appalling breakfast for four mornings, I was 100 percent certain the review was false because no one in the their right mind would make a point of commending the Aeolis’s breakfast.

Trip Advisor claims that it monitors reviews and attempts to weed out bogus ones but they obviously miss some, including this one. Additionally, they refused to publish my review of this hotel because I referred to the bogus review from “Liverpool.” On the other end of the spectrum, they also cave in to business owners in removing negative reviews without justification.

Two years ago, I left a negative review for a truly awful Mexican restaurant in Big Fork, Montana. Trip Advisor published the review but days later it, and 3-4 other awful reviews from other diners were mysteriously all gone. If you look at this restaurant’s reviews on Trip Advisor now, they’re all 4 and 5 stars, apparently because the owner somehow intimidated TA into deleting the negative ones.

I complained at the Aeolis hotel in Naxos and was offered a 5-euro per night discount and, in fairness to this hotel, the place was adequate for the price we paid. It just wasn’t nearly as nice as the website and the bogus review I’d stumbled across suggested. I’ve been burned by deceptive websites and bogus reviews on many occasions. Here are a few tips to try to avoid a similar fate.

Don’t assume the hotel will be as nice as it looks on the website. Photographers know how to use wide-angle lenses to make things appear more spacious than they are. Be suspicious of hotels that show photos of just a fraction of their pool. Several years ago, my wife and I stayed at a place called Enchanted Waters on the island of Tobago, and were sucked in by a photo of a seemingly luxurious pool with a waterfall next to it.

The reality turned out to be a very small little pool with a non-functional waterfall that was situated right next to be a very busy road. Take website photos with a massive grain of salt and also be very suspicious of hotels that show photos of everything but their actual guest rooms.

Look at the traveler photos on Trip Advisor for an unvarnished look at the hotel. Clicking through the traveler photos on TA can be tedious, as some people put up extraneous photos of themselves posing with iguanas and other nonsense that does nothing to inform one’s hotel selection decision. But you can also see the reality of what you’re getting into, unedited by hotel management. If we had looked at the traveler photos of Enchanted Waters on TA, we never would have booked there.

Ask if there are specific photos of the room you’ll be staying in. If you’re staying in a big chain hotel, chances are there isn’t much variation in rooms, but if you’re staying at a smaller, independent place, the differences between rooms can be very significant. Many hotels will just vaguely say, “Look at our website,” but try to pin them down more if you can.

Last week, I booked a “family room” at the Halepa Hotel in Hania, Crete, and was enticed by the photo you see on the right. But when we checked in, we were given two rather small, very ordinary looking connecting rooms that were nothing like the photos we saw that were labeled “family room.”

“We have lots of different family rooms,” the manager said.

When I pointed to the photo of the family room I saw on they said, “Oh, that’s a mistake, that is our executive VIP suite.” False advertising to be sure, but if I had to do it over again, I would have asked them if the photo I was looking at was indeed the suite I’d be getting.

Use Google Maps and Google Earth to pinpoint the location, not the hotel website. Almost every hotel claims to have a central location but in some cases, a place will claim they’re a ten minute walk from the center, when in fact, Usain Bolt couldn’t sprint there in ten minutes. Also, use Google Earth and user reviews of the place to determine if the area is pedestrian friendly and if the walk might be uphill or unpleasant in some other way.

Read the 1 and 2 star reviews of the place on Trip Advisor and disregard 5 star reviews from users with only 1 review. Let’s face it, some people are never satisfied and they trash nice hotels online for bizarre reasons. Read through the bad reviews and determine if their complaints are pertinent to you. If reviewers note that the place is not how it appears on the website, be very leery. Likewise, it’s probably safe to disregard glowing 5 star reviews from reviewers that haven’t reviewed anything else on Trip Advisor.