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

Customer 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’re staying at an Airbnb, your host can rate you.

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

A host is less likely to say no to a highly rated guest under certain circumstances. But a negative rating can affect your ability to rent a car or rent a house, as I reported in 2018.

Getting positive reviews for your ride or stay isn’t easy. You can request a rating or even suggest leaving a positive review for them if they do the same. It might not even work, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

What to do with your negative ridesharing reviews

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

Finding your note is anything but easy. You need to go to your Uber app’s privacy center, 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 on “View my notes”.

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 noticed any changes in the behavior of his customers. Yes, he said. Some runners are much more concerned with how he will see them. He said your reviews don’t affect your chances of getting a pickup. However, Uber said low ratings can affect your ability to use the service. In other words, if you are an inferior passenger, your account could be deactivated.

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“I’ve had a number of customers asking me for positive reviews,” says Harry Campbell, an Uber driver who publishes The Rideshare Guy. “They always have different reasons for doing it. In most cases, they just wanted nice words to be said about them on their profile.”

In fact, Uber drivers only see your ratings after they accept your ride request. They can always cancel your pickup, but they can’t do it too often without consequences to their own profile. So, for example, if you request a pick-up and the driver sees that you only have a 4.6 rating (out of 5) and he doesn’t want to risk being in the car with a annoying passenger, canceling the ride may affect that driver and may result in the driver’s Uber account being deactivated.

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

As a frequent Uber customer, I’ve been concerned about my rating lately. I have never rated a pilot, but I have a rating of 4.74, which is average. I’ve gotten almost all the bad reviews while traveling abroad recently, although I’m always extraordinarily polite to my drivers. I think I know the reason for these negative reviews; I’ll tell you why later.

Vacation Rental Reviews Can Be Weaponized

Vacation rental reviews are not the same as rideshare reviews. Once you’ve verified, you can review your host – and vice versa. In the past, I’ve seen hosts weaponize their guest reviews to punish guests they don’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 his first guest. She agreed to publish a “complimentary” article. The host almost immediately received more bookings thanks to her endorsement.

“His business has become a resounding success,” she says.

But guests like Kinnane don’t necessarily ask for the favor. She has not yet solicited a positive review from a host. But that could change for travelers if they suspect hosts are declining their reservations because of their ratings. And in a tight vacation rental market, that’s a real possibility.

“I often ask Airbnb hosts for reviews or comments,” says Jeremy Hulls, editor of Family Destinations Guide, a family travel website. “They sometimes don’t want to give feedback, because for them it’s usually the visitor who gives feedback on their stay at their place.”

But Hulls loves commentary and, as a fellow journalist, he finds commentary useful. Reviews help him become a better guest, he says.

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I started telling the hosts that I was planning on leaving 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 an amazing job and gave her a positive review. She returned the favor 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 about slow internet service. That’s the problem with customer reviews: they can be used to respond to customers who don’t shut up and accept the rental as is. So I agree with my only four star review. The internet connection was slow and I hope my comments prompted my host to fix the problem.

Should I ask for a positive review?

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

“Don’t play critics,” he advises. “Just treat people better than they expect and the way you expect to be treated.”

I am okay. Checking my hosts’ reviews made me take a hard look at the type of guest I am (and I think that’s okay). But it’s hardly a vacation when you’re constantly thinking about how others might see you. In the end, the only reviews that matter are the customer reviews of hosts and drivers.

In fact, at this point, I prefer to remove the whole 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 Customer Reviews the Right Way

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

Pay attention to your manners. Use your “please” and “thank you” when renting an apartment and always say hello to your driver and identify yourself. If you’re abroad and your driver doesn’t speak English, learn some common phrases so you can communicate.

Insider tip: If you are a passenger, never view your Uber app from the passenger seat. If a driver sees you closing the screen prompting you to tip — and you swipe left — you could be the recipient of a one-star review. I suspect this explains the handful of bad reviews I received as a passenger, but you never know. (I refuse to consider tipping until I get to my destination, and how much I tip is nobody’s business.)

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Lance B. Holton