My hotel offered me a reward in exchange for a positive review. Is that the right thing to do?

Full disclosure — for a decade I owned a bed and breakfast. So when I was asked to write a story about a hotel that offered a reward to a guest in exchange for a positive review, I could sympathize. But that doesn’t necessarily make it right.

In this case, a Comfort Suites franchise holder offered one of our readers an incentive to give their hotel a positive review if they received a survey from the parent company, Choice Hotels.

“As a special thank you for taking the time to review our hotel and providing us with a 10/10 score on your survey, we will reward you with an additional 2,000 Choice Privileges Points to your account,” the letter read.

After hearing from our reader, one of our advocates reached out to the hotel and asked if this was corporate policy.

“It is not a requirement by Choice,” they replied, “but it is urged through our management company to send out these emails to encourage guests to give us a 10 out of 10, or to contact the hotel to resolve any issues prior to filling out these surveys.”

The hotel also asked our reader to share their experience on TripAdvisor, but avoided suggestions about what to post there or specifically offering an incentive. A good thing, since TripAdvisor’s guidelines have specific language about that: Reviews that are being offered “in exchange for personal gain, such as gifts, services, or money,” will be removed.

The hotel also asked for the opportunity to “make it right” if the guest had any complaints, prior to taking the survey. Sounds pretty customer-centric, even if the hotel’s incentive was to make sure they got a good score. But again I can sympathize.

Related story:   Can I get loyalty points retroactively?

The internet and social media have dramatically changed the accommodations industry. Bad reviews can ruin a business, especially small businesses, like B&Bs. And as anyone with a Facebook account knows, folks on social media often don’t feel the need to restrain themselves as they would in a face-to-face conversation.

Fortunately, our B&B received mostly very positive reviews, but as the adage goes, “You can’t please everybody.” Our 150-year-old Creole cottage had a lot of historic charm, but a house that old perched over New Orleans’ archaic sewage system is going to have the occasional plumbing problem, no matter how vigilant you are. So we were disheartened when one guest posted a problem with their toilet, after the fact, to TripAdvisor, rather than telling us during their stay, so that we could fix it immediately. Their review specifically noted that they “didn’t feel comfortable” telling us directly. What ya gonna do?

Now that I’ve gone from lodging provider to lodging consumer, that earlier experience has taught me how to read reviews on TripAdvisor and other such sites with a critical eye. Do the complaints (or accolades) pertain to my particular needs? A complaint about the lack of luxury bedding doesn’t matter if I don’t care about high thread-count sheets. Does the review seem mean-spirited rather than objective? Just as elsewhere on the web, there are traveler “trolls” who delight in just being mean.

Recognizing this, TripAdvisor guidelines set standards for civility in its reviews.

Keep your reviews relevant and helpful to travelers — keep in mind they are reading your review to understand what an experience with the business might be like. For this reason, please don’t include personally insulting language, smear campaigns, or any personal opinions about politics, ethics, religion or wider social issues. TripAdvisor does not allow reviews that promote intolerance for individuals or groups of people based on their race, gender, religion, sexual preference, or nationality.

Some travelers may be more motivated to post reviews on sites like TripAdvisor when they’ve had a bad experience. So it’s understandable that a hotel would want to “get out the vote” from those guests who’ve had a great experience.

Related story:   TripAdvisor's Kaufer: We "catch the vast majority of suspicious reviews"

But is actually offering a reward, in this case with loyalty points, crossing a line? Does it produce an artificially positive impression of a lodging?

Should hotels offer incentives to guests to post positive reviews?

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Dale Irvin

Dale Irvin is a semi-retired writer and editor, now living in south Florida after three years roaming around North America in an RV. You can read about those adventures at

  • deemery

    This is a tough question. Morally, I think the answer is “no.” But practically, there’s no way to stop this.

    What’s important is teaching people how to make best use of the reviews. A zillion “10 out of 10” reviews with no comments should be treated with great suspicion.

    When using review sites, I read the negative reviews first, looking both for things that are important to me and for patterns. One bad review might well just be an anomaly or an overly-critical customer. A couple of old bad reviews could represent something that got fixed. But 3 or 4 recent reviews that mention the same problem are usually ‘disqualifying’ for me (if that’s something I care about.)

    The other issue I have with reviews is differentiating between “met all expectations” and “was truly exceptional.” If you spend one night at a hotel to ‘crash’ during a road trip, the place was clean, quiet and comfortable, does that deserve a perfect score, when compared to the place where you spent multiple nights, the staff did something special for you, and the experience was was truly exceptional?

    (I still remember the hotel that got high consumer scores, was mentioned favorably in several guidebooks, and my wife -hated the place-….)

  • sirwired

    Points for “a” review is borderline, but I’d say it is acceptable. But only offering points for 10/10? Over the line.

  • AJPeabody

    I voted “no” because I am against bribes. If the reward was for any review, positive or negative, I would vote “yes.” Just a note, 2,000 choice points is much less than a free night.

  • cscasi

    I voted no. However, if the hotel wanted to give customers something (like additional points for a 10/10 review) it might review the customer reviews posted and for those who wrote a 10/10 review, reward them after the fact. That way it does not make it seem like it is trolling for excellent reviews.
    Still, offering a reward up front for a 10/10 review is not a real good things to do.

  • Blamona

    On the plus side, if eager for a good review, they probably work harder to please you to make sure it’s good. Now on TA businesses can pay $70 monthly to feature best reviews first, allow previews, etc. So is TA really any different themselves?

  • John McDonald

    online reviews are dodgier the U.S. politicians, if that’s at all possible.
    Trip advisor are the worst. You can buy +ve reviews, from many people with a computer somewhere in India. This can never EVER be stopped.

  • Carchar

    I never give a 10 out of 10 rating, because nobody’s perfect. When deserved, I will give a 9.

  • James Moninger

    I get irritated when a company I do business with suggests that I should answer their survey with ten out of ten and asks that they be given “a chance to make everything right.” I have had fully satisfactory hotel stays that were not ten out of ten, and there was really nothing to be made right.

    When I receive surveys under these circumstances, I answer honestly, and also include text to explain that I was asked in advance to give the company all tens.

  • MB

    agreed. i was going to say that I might give a ten out of ten to a perfect stay at a Four Seasons or Aman property but no way in the world would a Choice Hotel or anything in the mid to budget category get a perfect score. But maybe our standards are too high. I mean, if they delivered on what they promised (a comfortable stay at a low price or whatever), maybe they do deserve highest marks (9’s and 10’s), since outside of totally changing their property, they could never score better. I really don’t know.

  • Carol Molloy

    A comprehensive study of Amazon ‘s product ratings revealed that reviews in which to consumer was given an incentive to use and rate the product (typically they received the product for free) were higher than non-incented reviews, to a statistically significant degree. I think it’s unrealistic to expect all people will be as objective in their review when compensated, than if they had not.

    If an establishment wants a chance to “make things right”, the time to do that is while the guest is on premises.

  • DCMarketeer

    My dentist raffled out a sweet gas grill over Memorial Day weekend with the entry being a positive review on a website. I like my dentist but am not crazy about some of the office staff (it seems like good medical professionals are often let down by their support staff), so my review would be definitely be measured. Paying for good reviews made me uncomfortable.

  • DCMarketeer

    I don’t know. I’ve given five-star reviews to a budget hotel in New York because it’s clearly doing its best to be the best budget hotel it can and because bad budget hotels are usually really, really awful.

  • Annie M

    And this is why everyone needs to truly read review sites such as Trip Advisor and read between the lines. If you see the same complaint over and over – believe it. But some people aren’t going to be happy regardless of anything and now you know that some are paid in points.

  • joycexyz

    An “incentive” is a payment, pure and simple. I’d like to see full disclosure. But the reader has to look at any review with a critical eye. Nothing is totally perfect or totally terrible, and over the top language is always suspicious. Look for specifics. If something was unsatisfactory, what steps were taken to correct the situation? If you had a good experience, why? And so on… It’s part of being a smart consumer.

  • joycexyz

    I’m not sure they’d work harder for a good review. It’s more like they’d rather “pay” for one.

  • Lindabator

    not true – franchise locations have to meet a minimum number of reviews, and corporate ONLY accepts 10/10 – so this is probably why the offer, as, sadly, even good reviews with less are a fail, and moist folks still post only their bad reviews

  • Lindabator

    but a lot of people do not speak up while there – not the smartest thing, I agree, but it happens

  • BubbaJoe123

    Grading on a curve is appropriate, though, when it comes to hotels. If you aren’t paying Aman rates, then it’s not reasonable to demand Aman performance.

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