A Cautionary Tale Of Booking Accommodation Through TripAdvisor

Filed Under: Advice, Travel

I’m getting towards the end my four month trip, and have had a great time. Now a trip this long has obviously involved a lot of planning and booking, especially in regards to accommodation.

I’m traveling with my partner, with various friends coming along to travel with us for certain parts along the way, and each night we have been staying in either hotels or Airbnbs. It’s been about a 40/60 split between these two types of properties.

So far we have had more than 100 nights of accommodation.

Moving around every few days has meant making lots and lots of accommodation bookings. We’ve split the work booking each location between the two of us. Where there’s been a gap in the master trip spreadsheet, one of us will book accommodation at least a few weeks in advance of arriving at that destination, and complete the spreadsheet.

Some nights/destinations have been easy because they are cheap and have plenty of good value accommodation. Where it’s only been for one night, I’m not really fussed where we stay, and we’ve had some perfectly fine, but utterly forgettable, one-night hotel stays.


But other destinations haven’t been so straightforward. We stayed for four nights in Miami a few weeks ago during Thanksgiving weekend.

We knew it was not a particularly cheap city for accommodation and that Thanksgiving weekend was likely to be a very high demand period.

We also wanted something decent, so my partner spent a good amount of time searching various platforms (Airbnb, Hotels.com, etc.) and then said he found a suitable apartment on TripAdvisor.

He showed me the photos, location and price and it all looked great.

An example of the TripAdvisor accommodation search engine (not the property we booked!)

So he went ahead and booked it, and updated the spreadsheet.

I didn’t think much of him using TripAdvisor to book accommodation at the time — I thought he had found the property there as it was rated well, and that it was some sort of hotel/accommodation aggregation platform like Trivago, which then sent him to a separate, legitimate booking platform.

I don’t really use TripAdvisor much anymore, as I rely more on Google Maps reviews instead. I didn’t even know they had an accommodation search function.

I now realise TripAdvisor can show normal hotels and resorts, as well as these private apartments and Airbnb type properties. Some can be booked and paid for through the TripAdvisor website or app, while others link to well-known booking platforms like Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Agoda, etc.

Ours was booked and paid for directly through the TripAdvisor website.

Anyway, we flew from Cairo to Munich to Miami the day before Thanksgiving. In Munich I asked my partner how we were checking in to the accommodation and he said the accommodation provider was going to email him the check-in details 24 hours in advance of check-in, but he had not yet received them.

TripAdvisor does have a messaging function, and when booking (and paying for) the accommodation in advance we had received the following details (some personal info I’ve removed):

He had contacted the accommodation provider twice via this inbox over the previous two weeks regarding check-in instructions, but had not received a reply.

When we landed in Miami he checked his phone and email again, and there were still no check-in details. Before we went through immigration I asked him for the address in case I was asked to produce it. He told me he had not received an actual street address.

He was given a number to call in the booking confirmation, which he tried calling both before and after immigration — it was a Canadian number which at first was answered, then hung up on, and then went to voicemail after the next several calls.

And still no emails.

So we left the airport around 7:30pm local time with no physical location of where we were to stay, the night before Thanksgiving.

Needless to say I was a little stressed.

We called TripAdvisor and they said they would also try and contact the accommodation provider.

Rather than spend the night hoping we would receive an address of where to stay, we jumped on Hotels.com to find one night’s accommodation and we’d then sort out the TripAdvisor booking the next day.

Fortunately at this point the Black Friday deals had kicked in and we were able to find a suitable hotel in the area we were going to stay anyway, that we booked 15 minutes before checking in.

The next morning there was still no answer from the accommodation provider, who we did look up separately, and who was rated very well by numerous people.

To TripAdvisor’s credit, when we did call them the following morning they were helpful though they didn’t seem particularly phased or surprised the host hadn’t provided any check in instructions. They refunded us the first night’s accommodation (that we couldn’t use as we didn’t even have an address), and offered to either find us an alternative apartment at no extra cost, or provide us with a full refund.

The options they sent through were not as nice as what we had booked, so we took the full refund, and booked another hotel right on Ocean Drive for a similar price. We booked this through Hotels.com, which immediately provided the full address and check-in instructions.

Bottom line

The whole experience was bizarre. The fact that the TripAdvisor platform allows you to book and pay for accommodation without even giving an address made little sense to me. As a former Airbnb host I know they require a lot more information from you before they will list your property.

While I appreciate you may not need check-in instructions months before the check-in date, to rely on this information hopefully coming through 24 hours in advance was risky in hindsight.

Would Tripadvisor not have some failsafe where they would provide guests with the info if the host failed to?

To their credit, TripAdvisor was professional when handling the situation. However, I still can’t work out if we were scammed, or if the accommodation provider just closed for the holiday period, or if there was some sort of mix-up.

For actual hotels where you know the name and address of the property I would still book with them. But for seemingly private accomodations I’m not so sure.

I am surprised Tripadvisor would list a property without knowing the address or check in instructions for times where a host does not respond properly.

We would hesitate to use TripAdvisor to book accommodation again — we may have just been very unlucky, but I hope this serves as caution for anyone in a similar situation to insist on address and check-in details well in advance!

Have you ever booked accommodation through TripAdvisor directly?

  1. So you had a poor experience with TripAdvisor and a good experience with Hotels.com. At the end of the day it didn’t matter as both sites are owned by Expedia

  2. I’ve booked a house in a remote location via TA, and the process was extremely smooth, as good or better than AirBnb. I like searching both, because while there is some overlap in listings, there are also some properties unique to each site.

  3. Firstly, people need to realize that accommodation in Miami is junk and massively expensive. You’d rather stay in much nicer places in other parts of the world for the same or lower price.
    Additionally there are so many scams going on in the US – we seem to have found them mainly here. They happen everywhere, but it got to the point that even being very experienced travelers who have visited 35+ countries, after traveling in the US, we were left traumatized and put of traveling. After later booking an Airbnb in Germany and actually paying the price it said as well as having an apartment as described, we breathed a sigh of relief and got the travel bug back!

    Bottom line is, if you are traveling to the US – especially Miami – you have to come with the expectation that you will be scammed and then you won’t be disappointed.

  4. Since you received a full refund, you can’t say that you were scammed. It sounds like the owner of the property decided not to rent after all (a snowbird who came south early?) and then put his head in the sand instead of dealing with it properly.

    It sounds like tripadviser treated you right at least.

  5. Am I reading that right? You were going to pay over 800 British Pounds per night for a place to stay in Miami. That is probably $1,000 a night. That is pretty stupid IMO.

  6. I don’t think Expedia owns TripAdvisor any longer, it was spun off years ago. I may be wrong but…

  7. Yep, booked a ski chalet via them last year – was a lovely property and everything went smoothly. My parents have booked a couple of holiday rentals via them too. They’ve never used Airbnb but used to do private rentals and compared to having to send money to foreign bank accounts they’re quite happy with the TripAdvisor system!

  8. I’m not sure I agree with your conclusion. The warning signs (no address or check in instructions) were all there. It was up to you and your partner to catch those and be more aware, given that you are seasoned travelers.

    I’ve never booked through Trip Advisor but it sounds like they treated you right. There are always going to be some dodgy accommodation providers on all booking sites.

  9. @james your conclusion is quite unfair and makes you sound like an unexperienced traveller (ie. I will never fly this airline again because I had a bad experience in 1985). This is what the sharing economy is like, you put your faith in the owner and sometimes, rarely, you’re let down. It’s not TripAdvisor’s fault and they did make it good. So what’s your beef? So you won’t rent with them but you will with Airbnb now? I rent a property on TripAdvisor and renters get the address and arrival instructions as soon as they’ve paid in full, which is 2 months before arrival. You, as an experienced traveller should have smelled a rat when they told you you’d have to wait until 24 hours before arrival. You are letting your readers down with a post like this.

  10. I’m actually very interested in your “master spreadsheet”!!! Have a template you’d be willing to share?

  11. @ Georges – I’ll update the post to reflect this but TA had no failsafe for accomodation providers not responding.

    They couldn’t even tell us the address of the property they listed.

    Airbnb require more details before listing a property on their platform.

    This was a ‘cautionary tale’ for anyone else using TA to insist on more certainty.

  12. Caption seems very misleading by its overbreadth. Article is a cautionary tale about booking a private apartment through tripadvisor. It speaks nothing of booking reputable hotels through them.

  13. I’m sure millions of people use trip advisor / airbnb etc with no problems but the no address would be a red flag with me not to book. And as to their phone only being available Monday to Friday that would be another flag too.

    I’m in NYC next week and saw what looked to be a lovely place for a good price on Expedia.

    But when I looked for an address there was none and it was ‘call this number when you get there’ followed by ‘check-in only between 3pm and 9pm’ which is no from me as my flight dosen’t arrive in JFK until 8.30!

    Ditto one in Amsterdam where it was ‘you will be allocated one of our properties on the day of your arrival’ again a big no no for me.

    It is quite clear you are an experience traveller but a less experienced one would be in a very difficult position in working out what they needed to do to find somewhere to say.

    Shame on the people who basically refused to deal with you even if trip advisor sorted a refund etc.

  14. i’ve always felt a bit leery of booking through TA – it just seems like an additional link in the chain to go wrong !

    very useful to have your concrete experience to back up my wariness !!

  15. A good example of a reason to stick with hotels. Why didn’t you just call a travel expert like Ford?

  16. TripAdvisor is an independent public company, with no affiliation with Expedia. Next time use HomeAway, VRBO, or Airbnb!

  17. I had a bait-and-switch the one time I booked with TA. I booked for a very specific location in Manhattan so I’d be walking distance to Javits for Comic Con. The day before we arrived, I was told they were full and I would be at a place all the way across town (about 2 miles). I was incredibly unhappy and left a negative review. TA did refund my money, so I’m not upset with them. However, I am not feeling compelled to book through them again either. That one cost a ton of money for a late booking for two rooms at a hotel walking distance to Javits. Easier to just book direct with a hotel.

  18. I don’t think you should have expected TA to provide you with the property address if the renter had specifically withheld this from you. That could have had all sorts of repercussions “on the ground”. Wasn’t the way TA dealt with this the most appropriate and safest way?

    I’m presuming you were told about the mechanics of checking in only after you had paid the full amount? That would really have ****** me off and I would have considered contacting TA to try and cancel at that point. If TA doesn’t permit this then I’d hesitate to use them too.

  19. Did I misunderstand in that this is the general way TA deals with bookings? If that’s the case I’d never use them.

  20. @james I see your point although I’m not sure Airbnb would have been any more helpful had it been booked through them. @evan I agree with you totally. Besides even if they had given you the address, it wouldn’t have been much use without the keys. If nobody can reach the owner, there’s not much anyone can do. I’ve been renting out my property since 2011 through HomeAway (Expedia) and Holiday Lettings.co.uk which is now owned and operated by TA. Their checks are very thorough but again, if I went AWOL, there’s not much they can do. And let’s face it, when you’re dealing with individuals, lots can go wrong, not to mention the owner falling ill or having an accident.

  21. TripAdvisor is good for checking reviews and listings. I am very active in TripAdvisor, but I would never recommend booking through TripAdvisor. Another lesson for you.

  22. Without an address, you cannot have checked this property on the blogsphere. What does it say about the arrogance of a travel blogger if he books properties without first reading what other bloggers have to say about it?

    If Lucky wants to move outside the security of chain hotels he asks here first – most recently for Cape Town – and, I get the impression, that before doing so he has already done a lot of research. Lucky travels more than you, yet he finds time to do that research and respect the views of other travellers.

    Once again the contrast between your approach to travel blogging and Lucky’s is very readily apparent.

  23. Friends of ours were hotel and apartment managers here in Australia. Told us always book direct with hotel yourself as most booking sites add a premium to their rates. If site says full, note that hotels usually have rooms they did not release to booking sites. Booking websites also have strict rules and often don’t allow the hotel to offer special deals. Booking.com and Wotif were notorious for stuffing up bookings, often giving guests wrong information on facilities and room types! Managers left to sort out mess. We have gotten numerous great deals by ringing or emailing hotel direct and asking what they could do, like a top hotel in Sydney for $170 per night including buffet breakfast for two. Rgular rate was over $250 just for room.

  24. TA is good for hotel reviews, activities, things to do and their forum. It is not the place to book your qccomodations. Sorry but this is what happens when you bet on a donkey to win a derby.

  25. I’ve always had good experiences using TripAdvisor and just the opposite with Expedia so I suppose it really is just the luck of the draw. And after a very bad experience booking a condo with Booking.com in Corsica (L’Ecrin) who refused to refund my “refundable” deposit I am now a loyal customer of theirs since they proactively stepped in and fixed everything. Bravo Booking.com.

  26. It’s not just TripAdvisor that is doing this. Very often, I’m finding private accommodation (including rooms in houses) available through booking.com and Expedia as well. It’s sometimes hard to differentiate between a licensed hotel/motel versus private accommodations.

    For my part, I travel Seat 31B style–whatever is cheapest is probably what I’m booking. However, I have also ended up in some truly awful places (like the dirty flophouse full of transients we stayed at overnight in Juneau last year, which we found out had been kicked off Airbnb).

  27. I would say to beware of the arrogance and lies from Travelocity. Travelocity, not TripAdvisor, is owner by Expedia. Not that surprising given that Expedia is a travel conglomerate consisting of Expedia, Travelocity, Hotels.com, Priceline.com, Hotwire.com, and Orbitz.

    Everything that they guaranteed is not actually guaranteed as they try to lie and mislead you. They are either arrogant or they have a “I don’t care” attitude. They are completely helpless to help you except when they try to make you pay for things that you do not really need to pay for at all.

    Example 1: the airline (CI) confirmed with me with a written document that I do not need to pay any fees for my reservation update. Travelocity kept lying and saying that it is the airline. Travelocity would never make us pay for these guaranteed “no fee”’updates. After numerous conversations, they escalated the matter to Expedia. At least, this time around, he was willing to allow me to email him the document as proof although he still tried to use the company line of blaming everything on the airline. Travelocity kept saying there wasn’t anyway they can receive an email to show the valid proof.

    Example 2: They separated the roundtrip itinerary into two separate one way tickets although they clearly sold it as a roundtrip. They once again blamed the airline saying that is how they sold these fares. When I told them that they were not true as I confirmed with the airline, they tried to say that it is on the checkout page. Nothing was on any of the screens to indicate that it would be sold as two one way tickets. I knew they were lying from the beginning as always. Never want to use them or their affiliates ever again. It is much better to book directly with the airlines or hotels. I had better service with Trip.com.

  28. I agree with @Dylan that Booking.com is also better than Expedia and it’s terrible affiliates like Travelocity.

  29. One reason I book direct rather than go through a middle man like TripAdvisor or Expedia. When there is a problem there is always finger pointing that its the other company’s fault.

  30. I love Trip Advisor but use it SOLELY for reviews and photos. I ALWAYS book direct with the hotel or airline. Always. I dont understand why people fall for the “cheaper through this-or that” unnoficial websites scam….

  31. I refuse to book anything through these consolidators since you’re not getting status credit or hotel points for the stay. Had an employer book a couple of stays through them for me last year, and it cost me requalifying for diamond.

  32. @ Emily – I never use Trip Adviser to check hotel reviews, many are fabricated . I use Booking.com reviews, a person can only post a review if they stayed in the hotel and booked it through Booking.com

  33. I understand that the online travel agent ZUJI, closed in Singapore and rumours are that ZUJI Hong Kong may close also .
    Also, Hong Kong Airlines ( low cost ) is reported to be in financial difficulty

  34. Had a similar experience with this type of accommodation on booking.com. This “we will send automatic check in instructions” stuff is not for me. Found a last minute Hotwire deal which was infinitely better in price and quality. Ended up getting refunded in whole but booking.com had to eat some nonsense $80 fee charged by the provider. What a joke.

  35. A lessons learned story for the masses. TA is in the business of making money off data from your personal profile/roaming history that is sold to advertisers and from selling ads. They have no interest WHATSOEVER in being a travel agent or “trip advisor”.

    In my experience, I have never found lower rates these types of sites…..especially after all the fine print and hidden fees.

  36. Maybe I am overly cautious but I will not book anything that cannot, upon providing payment information, provide me an address and direct contact details.

  37. Regardless if it’s hotels.com, TripAdvisor or any third party booker. Trust me: it is a mistake. Hotels hate when you book through a third party. The vast majority of hotels will guarantee you the lowest price or as a low price as anything you can find if you book directly through their website. Especially in Europe: these hotels resent giving away revenue. They typically will not care about giving you the room you prefer because you are stuck: you contracted with hotels.com or TripAdvisor and you gave yo deal with them if you don’t like any of the treatment or the arrangements the hotel sticks you with. In fact, you have no guarantee…even if you walk in with your paid confirmation in hand. Often the hotel will claim that your third party booker never made the booking and no rooms are available. The hotels claim you paid the third party booker and not the hotel (true). And the very best, you will have to go through the ordeal of calling the company you booked with and pray they will be able to get somewhere with the hotel you’re standing in which claims they have no booking for you or – you may think you booked a deluxe room with a view and a balcony but the hotel insists that your booker only reserved a standard room, below ground or facing the trash cans and alleyway. In any event you can’t switch because there are never any other free rooms. And since you prepaid you have to take what you get or leave and lose the money (even if it’s just a deposit and not the entire stay that’s been prepaid)
    Sometimes the hotel will put you up at an allegedly similar hotel. Invariably it’s miles away from your well-chosen location and a completely inferior establishment.
    Conversely if you book directly (especially if you pick up the phone and talk directly to a manager) you will be much more appreciated and have much more leverage. I’ve seen this happen all the time. You can read (on TripAdvisor) how often a horrible experience at check in or room assignment is linked to booking through Hotels.com. or any of these sites. I never do and the hotels appreciate it, I get the same deal, better cancellation policy and perks the hotel throws in because you booked directly.

  38. @ExperiencedTraveler

    Booking.com has a well-documented history of not publishing negative reviews or removing them, claiming that negative reviews violate community guidelines.

    Some years ago I booked a room through Priceline that turned out to be awful and they edited my review to remove my negative comments.

    I still use TA reviews, but I check the reviewer’s history and other local reviews to determine whether they’re legit. It’s not that hard to tell.

  39. I agree with everybody who advocates booking directly with the property over a consolidator.

    But it’s just not always that simple, is it? Unless you know the specific hotel/whatever that you want. If you’re a member of a chain or two that you’re loyal to, that’s fine, you head for them. Otherwise, how do you even find where you want to stay? Guidebooks? Yes, I still like them and prefer them over the online stuff but still, not too likely in this day and age. Most people who don’t wear the blinders towards a specific hotel chain use the online hotel consolidators as a guide. And once you find a hotel/whatever you like in a specific location for a specific price it’s a bit difficult to then go online and find that place’s own site and get the same price you’ve found on the consolidator. Not impossible, but sometimes complicated and impractical.

    I don’t advocate one hotel consolidator over another. And yes, I’ll always book directly with the property *If I Can.* It’s just not as simple as that, quite often, for those of us who are not faithful to a chain or two. And by the way, you guys and gals who refuse to stay anywhere but where you can amass your points are missing out on a world of unique little Mom and Pop places. But that is your choice. We all have our own way of traveling.

    No doubt I’m posting this on the wrong site, this place where most readers are vying for Platinum status with Hyatt or Marriott or Hilton. To those folks, I apologize for wasting your time.

  40. I booked a hotel in Hampton Beach, NH once on TripAdvisor that was one of their advertised deals. We showed up at check in time, and were told that our room wasn’t ready. An hour or so later, we came back…still not ready. Once we finally got a room, we discovered black mold in the shower, blood on the lampshade and just overall dirtiness. They gave us another room, which also had black mold in the shower and it didn’t look like the carpets had been vacuumed at all. I called TripAdvisor at that point, but they said that the hotel would have to issue the refund. The hotel (of course) said that TripAdvisor would refund it. We left and decided to just head toward Boston. I booked a DoubleTree by Hilton outside the city for about the same price. (That hotel was also a fiasco…a foreign tourist hit a fire alarm in error at 5am, thinking it was the automatic handicap door opener.) It took a few weeks to get the refund on the Hampton Beach hotel…I finally disputed it through Amex and let them battle it out.

  41. I just tried to book a room on AirBnB and the host replied that their ‘contract with AirBnB had expired’ and requested I contact them through WhatsApp to book through TripAdvisor. Whole thing sounded sketchy and that’s what brought me to this article.

  42. Booked thru trip advisor..NEVER AGAIN
    10 weeks out owner cancels reservation
    I’m $2000 I’n airfare and no where to stay

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