I base my choices at least partly on reviews. Yes, you get a few from people who will complain about anything (equally, you get some from people who aren’t well travelled and will rave about everything), but you also get a lot of balanced and informative reviews. The way I use reviews is as follows:
What is the average rating (I stay away from places with less than 4/5 unless it’s a cheap, short getaway and I’m fine with basic accommodation)? What is the average rating from reviews in the last 6-12 months? (eg a place might have had awful reviews 2 years ago because it was in desperate need of a refurb, and have since undergone extensive work and now be getting really good reviews; but the older reviews will still be taken into account in TA’s average rating)
What are the reviews like for the time of year I’m travelling? Eg we go in June, which for the Caribbean is mid-season, so if I want an idea of how busy the pools/beach/restaurants are, I look for reviews from this time of year; not much point in looking at ones from low season or high season.
What factors are common between all reviews? If 80% of reviews state that the buffet food was cold/cool, then chances are it will be.
Do the common negatives bother me personally? Eg I sometimes see people complaining that the beach is crowded/red flagged, but I don’t mind as we’re not beach people; but if lots of people are saying the pools are poorly maintained, this would bother me.
Finally: what is the reviewer like? Do they have similar tastes/travel experience to you? Eg if someone is used to staying in 3-4* hotels, then they might be blown away by a 5*, whereas someone who has been to many 5* resorts might not be as impressed.
I also look for detail: I’m not at all interested in generic, 4 line reviews, and I like to see statements backed up with examples. Eg if someone says ‘the food was terrible’, and leaves it at that, I tend to ignore it. Whereas if someone says ‘the food was terrible; they never cooked our steak how we ordered it, we had chicken that was raw in the middle, the buffet food was cold’ etc, then I’ll pay more attention.
One thing I have learnt is not to write off bad reviews just because I have my heart set on somewhere. I’ve done this in the past, and written certain reviewers off as overly fussy, only to find we’ve encountered the same problems. So now I take bad reviews on board and accept that I might encounter those things. Eg we’ve booked a ‘5*’ in the DR for next year, and reading between the lines, I think we’ll have a few issues (limited range of drinks; possibly some service issues; the food will likely be 3-4* standard; etc) because I’ve read the reviews and know what we like and what things will bother us. But we’ve got a good deal and I’m prepared to go and have a good time, knowing to expect 4* rather than 5* accommodation/food/etc.