TripAdvisor is the largest travel website in Portugal (and in the world). Before booking a hotel, restaurant, or tourist attraction most of us look to see what TripAdvisor has to say first. TripAdvisor Portugal is not perfect, but no website – Portuguese or international – comes close to offering the same wealth of information that TripAdvisor offers.
The following are just a few tips for getting the most out of TripAdvisor when booking accommodation and restaurants in Portugal.
Booking Accommodation in Portugal with TripAdvisor
Tip #1: Look at B&Bs, Inns, and Speciality Lodging as well
TripAdvisor separates out accommodation types into different lists. If you search for accommodation in the Algarve, for example, TripAdvisor will only show you all of the hotels in the Algarve. B&Bs and Inns, and speciality lodging (including villas) are in their own separate lists and won’t be included.
Most people don’t realise this and end up booking a hotel, but maybe would have gotten a better deal or a better type of accommodation if they’d looked at other types of accommodation available.
B&Bs, for example, often include breakfast in the price whereas many hotels charge extra for breakfast. Similarly, villas are also often cheaper for large groups, particularly families. Booking a hotel for a family holiday often means having to book several expensive rooms or everyone having to sleep in the same room.
Tip#2: Search the reviews for the things that matter
There are a few things that will put me off any hotel regardless of its rating. Noise is one of these.
With TripAdvisor, you can search a hotel’s reviews for a specific keyword (for example: noise). TripAdvisor will then return all of the reviews that used the keyword noise, or similar words like noisy, sounds, etc.
It’s also useful if you want to find specific information that’s not including on the hotel’s website. Parking is a good example. While many hotels say they have parking, most rarely say whether it’s paid for or free, and whether it’s on-site or in a car park nearby. Sometimes a reviewer will mention what you’re looking for in a review, saving you the hassle of contacting the hotel yourself.
Tip #3: Choose only the filters that matter
TripAdvisor has a lot of different filters that you can use to narrow down your accommodation options. For example, you can select the style of hotel that you want (e.g. romantic, quaint, and business) or the amenities (e.g. Wi-Fi, swimming pool, or restaurant).
Filters like these are both a blessing and a curse when it comes to finding the perfect hotel. Being able to select the amenities you want is definitely useful. There’s no point in viewing hotels that don’t have a swimming pool if having a swimming pool is important to you. Only click the filters that are important to you, however. If having a swimming pool isn’t important, don’t both selecting it otherwise you’ll limit the hotels in your results.
Tip #4: Forget the stars
On TripAdvisor, there’s an option to search hotels by the Hotel Class e.g. 1-star, 4-star, 5-star etc. In general, these stars refer to facilities and services rather than quality.
Stars don’t just mean exciting things like Jacuzzis and swimming pools. They can also refer to requirements like whether or not there’s a phone in the room. When was the last time you used the phone in your hotel room? Probably not in a very long time, which is why the star rating system is very out-dated and best ignored.
A 1-star hotel with little to no facilities might be fantastic, while a 5-star hotel with a pool, Jacuzzi, and plenty of other facilities while have a very low review score. What’s much more important is the Traveller Rating. This score, which goes from one to five, is an average based on what other travellers who have stayed at that hotel have said.
I usually look at the hotels that score 4/5 and 5/5, although sometimes I’ll have a look at a 3/5 if I’m stuck. Next I always look at the bad reviews.
Tip #5: Weigh up the bad reviews
Just because a hotel has a few bad reviews, it doesn’t mean that it’s a bad hotel. Most hotels have one or two guests that left unsatisfied: sometimes it’s apparent that the problem was with the guest, and sometimes it’s the hotel’s fault. Usually you can read between the lines.
Either way, I always bring up the hotel’s bad reviews to decide for myself. You can do this by clicking on the link: “Terrible”, “Poor”, and “Average” and filtering to only see reviews that received that score.
Tip #6: Spot the sponsored listings
Just like Google’s search results, there are two ways to get to the top of TripAdvisor’s results. The first way is to be the best. The second is to pay to be at the top.
Hotels that have paid to be at the top of the listings are marked with the word ‘sponsored’ but, although this word is clearly marked, many people miss it and assume it’s the top listing.
Having look at TripAdvisor’s hotel listings for the Algarve, Lisbon, and Porto, the sponsored listing was never the best hotel on TripAdvisor. However, it definitely wasn’t the worst hotel either. Sponsored listings still have show the hotel’s rating, and so you can easily see whether a hotel is worth staying at or not.
Researching restaurants in Portugal with TripAdvisor
Tip #1: Some restaurants can be booked online
Yes, it’s now possible to make restaurant reservations online with TripAdvisor. This is a relatively new feature, and not all restaurants use it. In fact, most restaurants in Portugal don’t. It’s used by modern, tech-savvy restaurants, particularly those that want to attract tourists. If you’re looking for hole-in-the-wall type restaurants in Portugal, you can pretty much guarantee they won’t be taking online reservations via TripAdvisor.
Tip #2: Use the cuisine filter sparingly
Filtering by cuisine (for example Vegan, Italian, etc.) can be useful, but it has its limitations. TripAdvisor won’t necessarily just show you Vegan or Italian restaurants, but instead will show you places that have vegan or Italian options.
If you’re specifically looking for vegan or vegetarian food, for example, you may turn up to find that there is one vegan option on the menu.
Tip #3: Restaurant deals are great for keeping costs down
Some restaurants offer discounted rates (typically between 30 and 50%) off the price of their normal menu if you book online through TripAdvisor. You can find these deals by clicking ‘Restaurant Deals’ under ‘Reservations’ on the left-hand side.
Tip #4: Just because a restaurant isn’t the top listing, that doesn’t mean it’s a bad restaurant
TripAdvisor ranks restaurants based on the restaurant’s average review, but also on the number of reviews a restaurant gets. The more reviews that it gets – and in particular, positive reviews –the higher up it will rank.
This is a good system, but it unfortunately mean that restaurants (and hotels) that get excellent reviews but have fewer customers are less likely to appear at the top. Restaurants that aren’t in the touristiest parts of a city, for example, will get fewer customers than those in the touristiest parts.
Restaurants that encourage their clientele to leave a review are also likely to get more reviews and to appear higher. This benefits restaurants that are marketing-savvy, and makes it difficult for those that aren’t
Of these two restaurants, which would you rather visit?
A restaurant in a super-touristy location, with a higher concentration of tourists than Portuguese customers (esp. British tourists), and where the restaurant actively encourages people to leave reviews.
A traditional Portuguese restaurant that’s frequented by Portuguese customers, and where the owner has no idea of the value of a TripAdvisor review.
Most people pick the second option, but that restaurant is much less likely to appear at the top of TripAdvisor’s restaurant listings.
Do you use TripAdvisor when you travel? Have you used it in Portugal? Let us know about your experiences in the comments below.