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Trip-advice sites: Beware the kindness
of strangers

The Web offers countless comments from “experts” who may lack expertise, particularly when it comes to vacation planning. More than a dozen sites—including TripAdvisor, Epinions, IgoUgo, MyTravelGuide, and TravelHunters—offer advice from fellow travelers. Much is useful, but it’s not always right. Entries might be from travel suppliers or travel agents who don’t always disclose whether their reviews gain them incentives. Then, too, anyone with an ax to grind can skew a review. And a lot of information is just plain wrong.

The busiest trip-advice site is TripAdvisor, a sister company to Expedia.com, though they have separate opinions. TripAdvisor boasts “more than 3 million unbiased reviews and opinions,” including this iffy one: “It’s almost always OK to drink the water locally.” Others we found:

• One user suggests booking hotel rooms early and often: “You can usually cancel without a penalty if done a few days in advance.” The truth: Hotels.com says that cancellations usually are allowed 24 to 72 hours in advance, but fees are involved; many Web-only deals are nonrefundable.

• For seasickness, several users suggest ginger root, with no warning of side effects. The truth: Ginger has blood-thinning effects that could be dangerous for some people.

• A posting says it will cost “about” $25 to get from New York’s JFK Airport to midtown Manhattan. The truth: The flat fare is $45, plus tolls and tip. The posting also notes it should take less than 50 minutes. Try that at rush hour.

TripAdvisor hasn’t cornered the market on dicey advice. On Epinions, a reviewer said “it’s easy” for a baby to sit on a parent’s lap for short flights. But the Federal Aviation Administration “strongly recommends” child safety seats for all passengers under 40 pounds.

Travel-advice sites do provide lots of information and a chance to receive fast answers to obscure questions (“How big are the bathrooms at the Grand Wailea Resort in Maui?”). In fact, you may find more honest reviews than from travel publications that let reporters take free trips. But be careful.

What you can do

• Read several reviews. Many reviewers are either very happy or very unhappy. The truth is probably in the middle.

• Check the entry date. Some comments are years old.

• On matters pertaining to safety, health, or saving money, back up suggestions with advice from real online or offline experts.

• If you’re wary about a piece of advice, query the author.

• Know a site’s focus. TripAdvisor and Epinions provide the widest array of topics. IgoUgo focuses on destinations and activities, TravelHunters on cruises, MyTravelGuide on hotels.

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