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Basing hotel choice on Web reviews may be bad move

As much as 40% of reviews could be made up or even paid for by the hotels, according to a study by a firm that helps hotels gauge service through guest surveys.

November 19, 2012|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • The study by Market Metrix argued that young people are overrepresented in online reviews. Only 20% of adults older than 50 submit such reviews, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. Above, at the Terranea resort in Rancho Palos Verdes in 2010.
The study by Market Metrix argued that young people are overrepresented… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

If you choose a hotel based on glowing online comments — "OMG, I love this place!" — you may be relying on bogus or insufficient information.

That assessment came from Market Metrix, a San Francisco Bay Area hotel market research company, in a study that found as much as 40% of reviews could be made up or even paid for by the hotels.

And even if those online comments are genuine, the study said the reviews could be skewed because hotel guests with bad experiences are three times more likely to write a review than those who had a good or neutral experience.

The study also argued that young people are overrepresented in online reviews. Only 20% of adults older than 50 submit such reviews, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center.

"There is a big segment that doesn't play in that area," said Jonathan Barsky, co-founder and chief research officer for Market Metrix.

But Market Metrix may be biased on the subject. The company is in the business of offering hotels what it says is a better way to gauge guest sentiments: guest surveys.

Last week TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel websites, defended the value of online reviews with a survey that found 98% of those questioned said TripAdvisor hotel reviews accurately reflected their experience. The study was conducted by PhoCusWright.

The survey of 2,739 visitors to the website also found that 74% said they write reviews, not to critique, but to share good experiences with other travelers.

Flying on Thanksgiving saves money, time

For years, travel experts have pointed out that flying Thanksgiving Day is cheaper than flying several days earlier.

A new study shows that flights that depart Thanksgiving Day also have a much higher on-time arrival rate than flights that take off before the holiday.

The study by the online financial advice website NerdWallet found that travelers who flew on Thanksgiving in 2011 had an on-time arrival rate of 94%, while travelers who departed Tuesday and Wednesday before the holiday arrived on time at a rate of 78% and 85%, respectively.

Thanksgiving Day flights also had a higher on-time rate in 2009 and 2010, according to NerdWallet.

You can also save a heap by flying on Thanksgiving.

Travelers who depart Thanksgiving Day and return the next day or the following Tuesday can save up to $288 on a round-trip ticket, compared with other dates near the holiday, according to a new study by the travel website Travelocity.

Airlines not alone on fee reliance

The global airline industry is expected to pocket more than $36 billion in passenger fees this year, including charges to check bags, connect to onboard Wi-Fi and purchase food and drinks. That represents about 5.4% of the industry's overall revenue.

But a company that helps maximize airlines' fees noted in a study last week that many other industries also rely heavily on so-called "ancillary revenue."

For example, Disney Parks and Resorts gets 49% of its revenue from charges other than for park admission, including food, drinks and merchandise, according to IdeaWorksCompany in Wisconsin. Norwegian Cruise Line Corp. makes about 30% of its revenue from food, drinks and spending at spas and casinos on its ships.

Parking fees, plus the sale of food, drinks and merchandise, among other charges, make up 18% of revenue for concert promoter and entertainment company Live Nation Entertainment Inc., the study found.

"Ancillary revenue has become popular with companies for good reason; it delivers billions of dollars, euros, and kopeks to industries starved for cash," said Jay Sorensen, president of IdeaWorksCompany.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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