Booking Strategy

6 Warning Signs Your Hotel Is Not What It Seems

It’s probably happened to you: That charming B&B turns out to be not quite as advertised when you see it in person. To avoid that kind of disappointment in the future, watch for these six warning signs that your hotel isn’t quite what it seems.

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It has probably happened to everyone at least once: That charming vacation rental or upscale hotel turns out to be not quite as advertised when you see it in person. To avoid that kind of disappointment in the future, watch for these six warning signs that your hotel isn’t quite what it seems.

The Pictures Are Heavily Photoshopped

screenshot of

Sure, the photos on the hotel’s website look nice, but don’t we all try to post only the most flattering pictures of ourselves? Filters, creative cropping, and Photoshop can make almost any place look like the Ritz. If the official pictures look too good to be true, that may be a warning sign that they are. Look for real images of your potential hotel on Oyster (SmarterTravel’s sister site), and see TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent site) for photos posted by past guests.

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The Website Is Seriously Outdated

man typing on laptop with a coffee in hand

The internet is an essential tool for travelers nowadays. If a hotel can’t be bothered to update its website, what are the chances it has bothered to update its furnishings, fixtures, and technology? We’re not saying that the tiny B&B you found has to have a flashy website, exactly—just that you might want to independently verify what the property is really like with a few other trusty sources.

The Reviews on TripAdvisor Aren’t Good

tripadvisor screenshot

Look, TripAdvisor isn’t just our parent company—it’s also the number-one place on the internet to learn about potential accommodations from people who’ve actually stayed there. Read the reviews (as many as you can possibly manage) before you book. You’re looking for reviews from travelers with similar needs to yours, and you’re also paying attention to how the property’s managers respond to complaints. Are they belligerent or helpful? Honest or dishonest? Chances are, if they’re rude on the internet, then they’re probably not Miss Manners in person, either.

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It’s Hard to Reach a Real Person

two hotel employees standing at reception desk

If you can’t get hotel management or reception to respond to your email or phone inquiries in a friendly, timely manner when they’re trying to win your business, what makes you think they’ll be helpful once you’re actually staying there?

Google Maps Street View Tells a Different Story

google maps streetview on cell phone

If your hotel claims to be located right in the middle of all the best attractions, don’t just take its word for it. Verify the property’s central location by plugging the address into Google Maps. Better still, scope out the exterior on Google Street View (iOS | Android). If it looks dated, poorly maintained, or not exactly as front and center as it claims, then run—don’t walk—back to your browser and find a new hotel.

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It’s Listed on Bedbug Reports

hotel bed

We’re sorry we even have to mention this, but have you ever checked out You’d be surprised at just how many otherwise nice hotels wind up with these little critters running around between their sheets. That’s why it’s a good idea to check out your hotel on the site before you check in. One or two isolated complaints shouldn’t cause too much concern, especially if they’re a year or two in the past, but a number of recent listings ought to raise a red flag.

What do you look out for before you book a hotel? Tell us in the comments.

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Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2014. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.

By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo,, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

The Handy Item I Always Pack: "Earplugs. A good pair has saved my sleep and sanity many times!"

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Travel Motto: "Don't be boring."

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