13 Red Flags of a Bad Hotel, According to Travel Experts

Businesswoman opening her hotel room door with a keycard after checking inGiselleflissak/Getty Images

A bad hotel can ruin your vacation

Years ago, when I first started traveling extensively for my job, I learned an important lesson: The place you stay can make or break your entire trip and color your memories of a destination in a positive or negative way. Case in point? My first trip to Edinburgh was spent in a frozen youth hostel, where we piled our clothes on top of us to keep us warm at night. It wasn’t until I visited again years later and didn’t stay at a bad hotel that I started to warm up to that city!

Accommodations don’t have to be five-star in order to be enjoyable and welcoming—the most modest hotels and motels (and yes, even youth hostels if you’re traveling on a tight budget) can provide great service and comfortable rooms. But, oh, the bad ones. Whether it’s run-down rooms and absent amenities, snitty staff or some of the gross things hotels do to save money, a bad hotel will leave a bad taste in your mouth for years to come.

But just like the warning signs of bad restaurants, bad hotels often sound alarm bells in advance. To help you avoid, or at least prepare for, a less-than-pleasant hotel stay, we asked travel experts to weigh in on the top red flags that you’re about to stay at a bad hotel. It may be too late to cancel your reservation, but at least you can check your expectations at the door. Of course, once you’re there, remember to be a good guest by refraining from these things you shouldn’t do in a hotel room.

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Modern Offices lobby interior area with elevators and stairs and with a long reception desktulcarion/Getty Images

The photos look fake or generic

You may not realize a hotel is iffy until you arrive, but you can minimize the chances of that happening by looking before you book. Check out the photos on the hotel’s site with a discerning eye. “Hotels with a good reputation and nothing to hide will ensure that the quality of their photos is professional, accurate and not overly edited,” says Janet Semenova, co-founder of Boutique Travel Advisors. “Hotels whose photos are misleading or heavily photoshopped generally have something to hide.” You can also avoid Airbnb scams this way. Pro tip: Look for gradient lines, which indicate that colors were touched up.

And don’t stop there. Also compare the website’s images with photos from real guests on travel review sites. If you notice discrepancies, there’s a good chance it’s a sign of a bad hotel, and you shouldn’t ignore it.

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