So Many Options, So Little Time: Best Hotel Review Websites

The Good Hotel. Looks nice, no?

The Good Hotel. Looks nice, no?

You’re booking a hotel for your cherished once-a-year, two-week vacation. The room looks magnificent on the website, stuffed full of plump pillows, fluffy towels and artwork that’s a notch above “bleh.” But you’re skeptical. We’ve all had that terrible moment when we open the door to discover the bed is lumpy, the sheets are riddled with mysterious stains and “close to city center” actually means five blocks out in the boondocks. How can you avoid misleading marketing to ensure you get your money’s worth?

A good start is to peruse hotel reviews left by previous patrons. The obvious resources are sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor. However, the most prominent sites aren’t always the most insightful or revealing. NerdWallet brings you a few lesser-known hotel review websites that tell the real story. Check them out before making your next reservation!

Oyster

Oyster is like the KGB of review sites. It deploys agents to check out hotels and give you all the dirty details. Knowledgeable, experienced Oyster employees provide in-depth reviews that cover everything from service to neighborhood. Oyster also provides its own pictures so you don’t have to rely on the carefully lit and cropped photos on the hotel’s website.

In addition to opinionated reviews, Oyster provides factual information pertaining to the hotel’s amenities and specifications. There’s also a search box for hotel prices—plug in your check-in and check-out dates, number of adults and which hotel pricing websites you want to search, and Oyster lets you search all listings simultaneously to find the best price for you.

Let’s look at a specific hotel—The Good Hotel, in the SoMa district of San Francisco. Oyster gives it two and a half stars, supplying a quick summary for easy browsing: rooms are large, the hotel is dedicated to conservation and WiFi is free. Sounds great, right? Reading further, you realize the neighborhood is fairly underdeveloped, the service is nothing special and the hotel lacks fairly basic amenities (no pool!).

Well, I’m not a big swimmer, and what does “underdeveloped neighborhood” even mean? Is there somewhere to get more information from a wide variety of people?
Enter VirtualTourist.

Virtual Tourist

Virtual Tourist is a provides a space for original reviews, ensuring a broad range of opinions, and displays reviews from TripAdvisor. This gives the broadest range of reviews and ratings so you can see what all the different perspectives are. Virtual Tourist ranks hotels by popularity, allowing you to get quick recommendations. You can also search hotel prices from a large number of booking sites.

On Virtual Tourist, The Good Hotel has nearly 200 reviews. A few are hosted on the site itself, but most are from TripAdvisor. Reviews and users are rated based on helpfulness, allowing you to easily analyze the value of each opinion. Using Virtual Tourist in conjunction with Oyster, we can get a fuller picture of the establishment. Oyster’s “undeveloped neighborhood” translates to “shady neighborhood” on Virtual Tourist. Multiple reviews mention panhandlers, drunks and a general feeling of danger when walking outside at night. Reviewers also discuss thin walls that let you hear EVERYTHING.

It’s a good thing we checked to see what other reviewers were discussing—I don’t want to stay somewhere surrounded by drunks and hobos. But are those really the common perceptions of the average patron? I don’t want to read ALL 200 reviews to get a full perspective. If only there were a more digestible aggregator…

Raveable

Raveable is an aggregator that keeps it simple. It takes data from major hotel review sites—including TripAdvisor, Expedia and Yahoo!Travel—to calculate an overall hotel rating and summary. It recommends other establishments through quick comparison—a similar hotel, cheaper hotel, better quality hotel, etc.—based on this rating to find you the best bang for your buck. Raveable summarizes the pros and cons with digestible charts and creates rankings by city, so you can see how your hotel compares to others in the area. You can also get hotel maps with nearby attractions and public transport. Unfortunately, you can’t read the reviews on Raveable, but there are links to the other sites.

In the example of The Good Hotel, Raveable aggregated 173 reviews from 9 sites to get an overall rating of four stars—much higher than either Oyster or Visual Tourist. On Raveable, it ranks 77 out of 206 hotels in San Francisco and is noted as “good bang for your buck.” However, in the summary, you’ll find many more cons than pros—the rooms are noisy, and the hotel is far from most attractions. When you look at suggested similar hotels, The Mosser is recommended as a cheaper, higher quality alternative within a mile of The Good Hotel.

Phew. It’s a good thing we checked the reviews before booking. While The Good Hotel seemed passable on Oyster, many people on Virtual Tourist were concerned with the safety of the neighborhood. And Raveable really helped open up options by ranking and suggesting better hotels nearby. Maybe The Good Hotel would have been great somewhere else, but it clearly doesn’t cut it in San Francisco!