Side by side: a comparison of top hotel rankings

At TripExpert we take an entirely new approach to rating and ranking hotels. Our review data comes not from users, but from professionals.

by Angela Sundstrom

In an earlier article, we identified the main problem with user reviews of hotels: they are unreliable. Hotels game the system by buying fake reviews. Not everyone takes the time to review their stay, and the people that do post reviews tend to have had an extreme experience. This skews the data because of the prevalence of extremely positive or extremely negative reviews. Often, reviews are not even posted by guests: our research shows that many high-end hotels are unfairly penalized because of 1-star reviews of their ancillary facilities like nightclubs and golf courses.

This article compares TripExpert's #1 hotels with TripAdvisor's. In this article, we take a look at how the difference between user reviews and expert reviews plays out in several major cities. We compare our top hotel with the #1 ranked hotel on TripAdvisor. Although we think the results speak for themselves, in some cases we'll also spend some time examining why the outcomes are so different — explaining, in other words, how TripAdvisor got it so very wrong. 



TripAdvisor’s #1 hotel in Houston is Comfort Suites Westbelt - Beltway 8. Comfort Suites is a brand known for its cookie-cutter properties, usually situated on major roads. It appears to have risen to the top of TripAdvisor mostly because of a lack of negative reviews; the lowest score awarded by the 67 reviewers is 4 stars. 

Our #1 in Houston is Hotel ZaZa Houston 94. Reviewers praise its location in the heart of the Museum District and its decadently appointed rooms. In awarding it a critic’s pick, Fodors says, "There’s nothing else like it in the city”. And Gayot states, “From its unique themed suites to its celeb-magnet setting amid Houston’s tree-lined Museum District... Hotel Zaza is a must-stay Houston experience.”


Hotel ZaZa Houston vs. Comfort Suites Westbelt - Beltway 8

New York City

In TripExpert’s home town of New York City, we give top marks to the Crosby Street Hotel 95, a boutique in SoHo. Competition for the #1 rank in New York is fierce: this is a city with many outstanding hotels, from the old world luxury of the Carlyle to the bohemian extravagance of the Gramercy Park Hotel. According to Frommer’s, “It’s not just the clotted cream and raisiny scones that will grab you, but the fun and upbeat lobby... the whimsical striped chairs in the bar and the unique rooms.”

You’ll find none of these hotels in TripAdvisor’s top ten. Its top spot is for the Chelsea Pines Inn, a 3-star bed and breakfast. Why do so many of New York's finest hotels rank so poorly on TripAdvisor? Because a small number of guests shared their experience, and those that did wrote scathing reviews. The results are low rankings that do not correspond with most people’s experiences, simply because they chose not to write reviews on TripAdvisor. Conversely, because a great number of people with average experiences chose to review Chelsea Pines, it made it to the top of the list.

New York City

Crosby Street Hotel vs. Chelsea Pines Inn


Frommer’s says it all in giving the XV Beacon 96 its highest rating, "Nonstop pampering, high-tech appointments, and outrageously luxurious rooms make this Boston's premier boutique hotel." The chic and sleek Beaux Arts hotel is uniformly lauded by top hospitality reviewers for its decor, location and service. But what does TripAdvisor say?

We ranked Seaport Boston 16th in the city, but it’s TripAdvisor’s top choice. How did it get there? By the sheer quantity of reviews. There are 749 reviews for XV Beacon on TripAdvisor’s site, while there are 2,497 for Seaport Boston. That means when consumers look at these rankings they aren’t seeing an apples to apples comparison. The ratings are relative to the number of people reviewing-with smaller amounts of reviewers the results can skew significantly either way. The results aren’t reflective of the properties’ quality, and guests can be duped into reserving questionable and surprisingly disappointing rooms.


XV Beacon vs. Seaport Boston


Our number one is Hotel De Russie 96, an ultra- luxe yet tourist friendly establishment with an excellent location for exploring Rome’s sights. According to Michelin Guide, “This hotel is furnished in a simple and harmonious style... one of the best hotels in Rome.” At Hotel De Russie guests can dine in a secret garden and relax in a high-end spa. TripAdvisor’s highest ranked doesn’t offer these amenities, nor is it centrally located.     

TripAdvisor’s #1 in Rome is so perplexing that we’ve written about it before. The Appia Antica has only been reviewed by 231 guests, yet because those few reviews were all positive it has the highest ranking, overshadowing hotels reviewed by thousands of people. This doesn’t make sense to us... The establishment is only composed of a few apartments, and visitors must take a bus to the subway in order to reach the city center, which is at minimum 30-45 minutes away.


Hotel de Russie vs. The Appia Antica

Los Angeles

The Magic Castle Hotel is the best in L.A. according to TripAdvisor. We raise our eyebrows -- how can a mid-range, budget 3 star hotel win out over our top pick, the current “it” hotel Viceroy Santa Monica 88

The Magic Castle has an outdoor pool to offer, while at Viceroy Santa Monica, a block from the beach, they will greet you with prosecco and provide rented bikes for $21 extra per night. According to Blackbook, “Psychedelic Polo-style, handsome lobby bar always abuzz. Rooms similar style, small but fresh, with beach views and balconies. Sexy pool scene. Young staff friendly and hip.” Considered the hippest hotel in L.A. by top travel publications, why would you trust TripAdvisor’s pick instead?

Los Angeles

Viceroy Santa Monica vs. The Magic Castle Hotel


And finally there’s Florence. TripAdvisor’s number 1, Hotel David, has 3 stars, outdated, generic decor and a rather severe exterior. Our first choice, Hotel Savoy 88, is ranked at #45. Again, we are baffled as to how a hotel receiving unanimous critical praise can be so far down their list.

The answer: unreliable reviews. We don’t know how many reviews are authentic, purchased, or whether guests only posted when very pleased or very dissatisfied with their experiences. All of these variables can skew the data so we see it through a very foggy lens; it is unpredictable. We’d recommend trusting curated reviews from publications and staying at Hotel Savoy. Concierge.com says, “A stylish, upbeat hotel and one of the city's most popular, attracting both business and leisure clientele plus a fair share of celebs.”


Hotel Savoy vs. Hotel David

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