California Hotel Reviews Sized Up

Pictured are hotels that lots of people like left to right: Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp outside Yosemite National Park; Hyatt Regency Beach Resort in Huntington Beach; Loews Santa Monica; and Hotel California in Palm Desert, a TripAdvisor people's choice.

 These hotels and resorts have rooms often well under $550, though at peak times some may charge that amount--and more.

Do you love staying in hotels--especially the nice ones? We have stayed at luxury hotels in the $550+/night range that had fleas in the room, air conditioning that didn't work, and beds that sank. Paying lots of money isn't necessarily your ticket to a luxury stay and a good night's sleep!

What happened to quality control?

AAA (Automobile Club) used to be the supreme source on rating hotel quality, issuing One to Five Diamonds  in a 'pay to play' model that guaranteed hotels & resorts would be listed in an annual guidebook by paying, and would be honored with a high ranking such as a Four or Five Diamond if the property deserved it (based on tests performed by AAA reviewers.) A hotel also had to be willing to pay more money to be listed in a top category and if they weren't, they didn't get that extra star or two. It was the best thing going for years...but then came the Internet and websites such as TripAdvisor and Yelp.

In less than 10 years these websites have changed the game for hotel owners. Allowing consumers to post reviews and ratings in which the public can vent, rant and praise hotels based on personal experiences, hotel owners & managers have spent the past decade trying to counter negative comments and often address issues that are reported. The strikingly similar stars and five circles TripAdvisor uses to rate your experience makes the rating system understandable to those who transitioned from AAA, which still exists.

How useful are AAA, TripAdvisor and Yelp? In our experience they are mildly useful.

  • The most common problem is that a person with a negative experience who complains on a website posting makes things sound worse than they sometimes are.
  • Like ocean water quality reports that only tell you about the past, TripAdvisor reviews similarly don't give updates when things are fixed. I hate the thought of bed bugs and nearly stayed away from a hotel because of a review mentioning them. My hotel room was perfect but because of that stupid review, I couldn't sleep all night, worrying about being bit.
  • Because of reviews, I have stayed away from saunas and swimming pools where people became ill, have avoided hotels with pet friendly policies because of flea bites and barking, and have sometimes spent more than I needed, trying to avoid cheaper hotels that can surprise you.
Problem solved! 
  • Site inspections (visit the room, check out the bed, the heater, the air conditioner) have been my best way of knowing I will be happy with a hotel room & price.  This isn't always practical, but it has provided more happy experiences than any other method of booking rooms. I get a room key, walk into the room, check out the bed firmness, try the air conditioner, etc.
  • AAA is a good tool for filtering hotels in the lowest One Diamond ranking.
  • TripAdvisor reviews written within the days and month before you go are more useful than older reviews from a year ago.

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