As millennials ourselves, we should have known from the start that Airbnb reviews would be inflated. After all, we were the special snowflake generation invited to attend the middle-school award ceremony for simply participating in the geography bee. In this era of sometimes excessive goodwill, grades are boosted, performance reviews are inflated, and we clamor to “Like” as many posts as we can—because when it comes down to it, we all really want to be liked too. Inflated Airbnb star ratings come down to this most basic human instinct. Everyone wants to fit in and feel valued. As guests, we want to be compassionate and recognize all the time and effort and scrutiny our host has sunk into their beloved space. Here are the three reasons why most Airbnb ratings out there are inflated and how we circumvent exaggerated reviews to book destinations truly deserving of 5 stars.
Reason 1: Airbnb Hosts Aren’t Faceless Hotel Chains
Large hotel chains draw out a different side of travelers than the local Mom-and-Pop Airbnb. The cookie-cutter structure of these hotels often eliminates any meaningful human connection and their massive size leaves guests without any significant influence on the company’s day-to-day business. A displeased customer might be willing to speak their mind, but the impact feels negligible. Or the guest’s anonymity leads to an unhelpful tirade instead of an honest critique.
Somehow four stars on cleanliness feels like a commentary about the host’s contribution as a fellow human instead of a side-note about the sticky floors.
But Airbnb is a distinctively human experience. We show up to a new place and meet an incredible host from another part of the globe. And here they are, blemishes and all, opening up their home to us, sharing their three kids, two dogs, and mess of chickens with a couple of strangers from Kansas. Somehow four stars on cleanliness feels like a commentary about the host’s contribution as a fellow human instead of a side-note about the sticky floors. We want to be kind. And that impulse runs deep enough to convince our collective, mouse-wielding finger to click a star or two further to the right than we actually should.
Reason 2: Uncomfortable Guests Don’t Say Anything
After this systemic bloat, abstinence gets to have its silent say about the star averages. There are many lovely people in this world who go to extreme measures to avoid any sense of confrontation, and some of these folks are Airbnb guests. Instead of an honest review, these guests opt for a generic review or no review at all. The unique information they have to offer the hosts or future guests isn’t worth the lingering internal discord triggered by a potential digital confrontation, however subtle it might be.
As the guest’s anxiety goes down, the listing’s star average hovers between four and five stars, and the written reviews get cluttered with comments like “fine stay, good water pressure.”
As the guest’s anxiety goes down, the listing’s star average hovers between four and five stars, and the written reviews get cluttered with comments like “fine stay, good water pressure.” Plus, don’t forget that guests are striving for excellent reviews too. Even though hosts and guests can’t see each other’s reviews until after they’re both written, a potential imbalance can be enough to stunt honesty. It’s less stressful to smudge the truth and say all was fine when in reality every item in the kitchen needed a good scrub upon arrival and the walls were paper thin.
Reason 3: Awful Experiences Are Never Reviewed
And then there are the extreme examples of which we have just one personal experience. The night before our week-long stay at a beautiful suite in the Rocky Mountains, we were looking through the listing for check-in instructions. Scrolling through the post, our adrenaline increased as we saw a string of comments left by recent guests frustrated by a poor internet connection. These comments had all shown up during the two months since we booked this Business Travel Ready studio. For nine hours we worried as we drove from Salt Lake City through Utah, Wyoming, and northern Colorado. We checked into the ski lodge’s front desk, got the key to the suite, and immediately attempted to connect our laptops to the internet.
The only solution was to work from the ski lodge lobby and hold video conferences with the audible rummage of other tourists and the visual stimulus of the stuffed grizzly bear in the background.
The room was spotless, the decor was adorable, and the view from the second-story balcony was as peaceful as it gets. But the internet signal—one of only two filters that we apply when we’re searching for an Airbnb—was nowhere to be found. The only solution was to work from the ski lodge lobby and hold video conferences with the audible rummage of other tourists and the visual stimulus of the stuffed grizzly bear in the background.
One hour and an $80 pet fee later, we’re sitting in a nearby Holiday Inn Express on the phone with the Airbnb resolution hotline talking to a guy named Ian. He did a fantastic job and before we hit the hotel hay, we had a full refund for the inaccurate description of a internet-less suite as Business Travel Ready.
One hour and an $80 pet fee later, we’re sitting in a nearby Holiday Inn Express on the phone with the Airbnb resolution hotline talking to a guy named Ian.
But here’s the catch. We never had the opportunity to leave a review. And while we were definitely relieved to receive a full reimbursement for our week-long reservation, the opportunity to review the Airbnb immediately vanished from our Airbnb profile and the relentless review reminders never came. We were eager to share our experience with other folks. We had planned to highlight the beautiful suite’s modern renovations and cleanliness, but also to warn other folks looking for a remote-working oasis that this place was not for them. A few months later, the Business Travel Ready badge had disappeared, but the wireless internet and laptop-friendly workspace amenities were still listed and the accuracy rating was still five stars strong.
So Here’s What We Do
So with all these factors floating around our noggins, our approach to choosing Airbnbs changed, and changed fast. Our exact strategy is outlined in this post: How to Book the Perfect Airbnb. But the moral of the story is we don’t trust the stars anymore. There’s just too much missing information that’s sitting in between that 4th and 5th star.
Now when we book an Airbnb, we meticulously comb through each picture, read each caption, research the neighborhood, examine the host’s other listings for any red flags, and reach out to the host about their internet speeds.
And most importantly, the written reviews must be glorious. As in hyperbolic, drawn-out, adjective-laden odes to the space we’re thumbing through.
And most importantly, the written reviews must be glorious. As in hyperbolic, drawn-out, adjective-laden odes to the space we’re thumbing through. This-host-is-freakin’-amazing, the-pictures-don’t-do-it-justice, you’ll-never-stay-at-another-place-in-Albuquerque type of reviews. This exuberance is usually the best indicator that you’ve stumbled across an Airbnb gem.
Thanks so much for reading. We’d love to hear from you! What are the tips and tricks you use to decipher Airbnb reviews? Let us know in the comments below and until next time, happy travels!