"The owner of the B&B told me that she had gotten a bad review, so she wrote to all her former customers and asked them to post good reviews," Frommer said. "And because of that, she became the top-ranked B&B. And I couldn't believe it because I knew that not far away was a much nicer place."
If consumers aren't always getting unbiased advice on the big travel Web sites, what about a hotel's own site? Are those reviews real?
"I've had an experience, for example, where I saw a motel's Web site and thought, 'Oh, this is gonna be great,'" said Elliott. "I booked it, got there and it was just a rundown dump."
What is it about human nature that makes us trust these reviews and expect the best?
"Everyone wants to have a good vacation," said Elliott.
But why would hotels post any bad reviews they receive on their own sites? Nobody wants to emphasize the negative, especially not when it could cost them paying guests. Which is all by way of saying, maybe some of those folksy travelers' tales you read online are only as reliable as the people who wrote them.
"You have to take these reviews with a grain of salt," said Elliott. "And you really got to do your homework. Go to a lot of different sites, call a travel agent, call a friend who stayed there and ask. That's what I would do."