Understanding the tricks of online hotel ratings

A getaway to Miami in the winter sounds great. Could the famous Fontainebleau Hotel be a perfect place to stay? Travelocity gives the Fontainebleau five stars, but Forbes gives it a mere three and if you check Frommer's, it only gives the Fontainebleau one star out of three.

Who's right? Consumer Reports' Tod Marks says it's important to know how hotel stars are assigned.

"Travelocity sometimes conducts on site inspections, but that's not always the case. Now, Expedia, when they do an inspection, they alert the hotel to let them know they're coming. And Fodor's actually allows its freelance reviewers to accept free rooms and discounts, with the caveat that they have to inform the hotel that it won't affect their ranking," he said.

The Michelin Guide, in contrast, does all its hotel visits anonymously and pays for the reviewer's rooms. So Consumer Reports advises, before you book a room, check a hotel's website to see what the rooms look like, the services being offered and hotel policies.

"You should also take advantage of user-review sites. And best are those aggregator sites that actually lump together reviews from a whole group of different travel sources," Marks said.

MyTravelGuide is a good aggregator site and TripAdvisor is good too.

"Look for the most recent user comments, because they're apt to have the most up-to-date information about a property. Maybe there are renovations or construction going on," Marks said.

Look for reviews by travelers like you. Business travelers, couples and families will all have different expectations of a great hotel stay.

Consumer Reports says that when it comes to user reviews, ignore extreme comments because they may have been posted by people with a vested interest, such as someone who works for the company, or by someone who has an axe to grind.

Consumer Reports is published by Consumers Union. Both Consumer Reports and Consumers Union are not-for-profit organizations that accept no advertising. Neither has any commercial relationship with any advertiser or sponsor on this site.

(All Consumer Reports Material Copyright 2010. Consumers Union of U.S. Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.)

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