Can a bad review from a host come back to bite you?

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Guest reviews go both ways in a sharing economy, and that’s especially true in travel. If you hail an Uber, your driver can rate you. If you stay in an Airbnb, your host can review you. 

But what you might not know is that more guests are trying to game the system to ensure they’re five-star customers. The reasons are complex, ranging from concern for their image to the hope that it will give them an edge when they’re booking through a sharing company. 

A host is less likely to say no to a highly rated customer in some circumstances. But a negative rating can affect your ability to hire a car or rent a home, as I reported back in 2018.

Getting positive reviews for your ride or stay isn’t easy. You can ask for a rating or even suggest you’ll leave a positive review for them if they do likewise. It may not even work, but that isn’t stopping people from trying.

What to do about your negative ride-share reviews

Earlier this year, Uber announced it would allow passengers to see their online grades. “We’re showing you the good (and the bad) ratings you received,” Uber wrote in a blog post.

Finding your rating is anything but easy. You have to access the Privacy Center on your Uber app and then find the “would you like to see a summary of how you use Uber” tile. Under “browse your data,” you can see it by clicking “View my ratings.” 

And even then, the ratings are anonymized, so you don’t know who left a good review – or a bad review.

After Uber’s announcement, I asked a driver in Cape Town, South Africa, if he’d noticed any changes in his customers’ behavior. Yes, he said. Some riders are far more concerned about how he’ll view them. He said your reviews don’t affect your chances of getting a pickup. However, Uber has said low ratings can affect your ability to use the service. In other words, if you’re a substandard passenger, your account could get disabled.

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“I’ve had multiple guests ask for positive reviews,” says Harry Campbell, an Uber driver who publishes the site The Rideshare Guy. “They always have different reasons for doing so. In most cases, they just wanted to have some nice words said about them on their profile.”

In fact, Uber drivers don’t see your ratings until after they’ve accepted your ride request. They can still cancel your pickup, but they can’t do that too often without consequences to their own profile. So, for example, if you request a pickup and the driver sees that you have only a 4.6 rating (out of 5) and doesn’t want to risk being in the car with a troublesome passenger, canceling the ride might affect that driver and lead to deactivation of the driver’s Uber account. 

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I heard Uber drivers often reject passengers rated below a 4.6, so I asked most recent driver how I could improve my reviews. “Just be nice,” he said – and then he announced he’d given me a five-star review. 

As a frequent Uber rider, I’ve been concerned about my rating lately. I’ve never reviewed a driver, but I have a 4.74 rating, which is so-so. I received almost all the poor reviews while traveling abroad recently, even though I’m always unfailingly polite to my drivers. I think I know the reason for those negative reviews; I’ll tell you why later.

Vacation rental reviews can be weaponized

Reviews for vacation rentals aren’t the same as ride-share reviews. Once you check out, you can review your host – and vice versa. In the past, I’ve seen hosts weaponize their guest reviews to punish guests they didn’t like and limit their ability to book on the platform. But it goes both ways.

Positive guest reviews can make or break a host’s vacation rental. Karen Kinnane, an antiques dealer from Pompton Plains, New Jersey, says her host in Belgium asked her to leave a review because she was her first guest. She agreed to post a “glowing” write-up. The host almost immediately received more bookings because of her endorsement.

“Her business became a roaring success,” she says.

But guests like Kinnane aren’t necessarily asking for the favor to be returned. She hasn’t solicited a positive review from a host yet. But that could change for travelers if they suspect hosts decline their reservations because of their ratings. And in a tight vacation rental market, it’s a real possibility.

“I commonly ask for reviews or comments from Airbnb hosts,” says Jeremy Hulls, a senior editor at Family Destinations Guide, a family travel website. “They sometimes don’t want to give comments, because for them it is usually the visitor who gives reviews about their stay with them.”

But Hulls likes the feedback, and as a fellow journalist, he finds the comments helpful. The reviews help him become a better guest, he says.

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I’ve started telling hosts that I plan to leave a positive review. I don’t ask them to reciprocate, but I’m always happy if they do. I booked an apartment for a few weeks on Vrbo in Cape Town and told my host she had done a terrific job and gave her a positive review. She reciprocated a few hours later with a five-star review of my stay.

On Vrbo, I have an almost-perfect rating. Only one property in Lisbon gave me a four-star review after I complained that the internet service was slow. That’s the problem with guest reviews: They can be used to get back at guests who don’t shut up and accept the rental as-is. So I’m OK with my lone four-star review. The internet connection was slow, and I hope my comments prompted my host to fix the problem.

Should you ask for a positive review?

So should you start soliciting positive reviews? Dan Driscoll, a veteran vacation rental owner and co-founder of Boutiq, a site for upscale vacation homes, says it’s probably a bad idea. Instead, be the best guest or passenger that you can be and let the reviews fall where they may.

“Don’t game the reviews,” he advises. “Just treat people better than they expect and as you would hope to be treated in their position.”

I agree. Checking my host reviews has made me take a hard look at what kind of guest I am (and I think I’m fine). But it’s not much of a vacation when you’re constantly thinking about how other people might view you. In the end, the only reviews that matter are the guest reviews of hosts and drivers. 

In fact, at this point, I’d rather do away with the entire rating system. I suspect some of the worst reviews I’ve received as a guest are acts of revenge. And I’d rather not say anything about a host or driver unless I have something nice to say.

How to improve your guest reviews the right way

Treat the ride-share or property rental as if it’s your own. If you eat in a stranger’s car or leave dirty pots and pans in the sink when you check out of a property, you’re just asking for a bad review. Keep it clean.

Mind your manners. Use your “pleases” and “thank yous” when you rent an apartment and always say hello to your driver, and identify yourself. If you’re abroad and your driver doesn’t speak English, learn a few common phrases so you can communicate.

Insider tip: If you’re a rider, never check your Uber app while in the passenger seat. If a driver sees you dismissing the screen prompting you to leave a tip – and you swipe left – you could be on the receiving end of a one-star review. I suspect that explains the handful of bad reviews I’ve received as a passenger, but you never know. (I refuse to consider a tip until I’m at my destination, and how much I tip is nobody’s business.)

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