You are right to say that they add to the total package. The Ad Com is definitely not morons to believe each and every words in a carefully selected referee. Some referees are creative writer and some referee are just awful in expressing them.
So, in matured world, those standard reference letter just double confirm the claim in the application. Only in a very few cases, some school really take the pain to contact the referee to re-validate some of the points. Then again, it depends on the person calling from the school and how intelligent the person is in digging information. Unfortunately, most are just doing their job and are not probing enough.
So, overall, my impression on reference is, it's just a value add.
HOWEVER, it can break a good application if the reference is very negative. Ideally, the school should verify such negative comments as that may be a simple sabotage!! But again, school has 8 times applicant and why to bother about Miss Dot Chu? There are hundreds there to pick up.
How the hell will select a questionable referee in the first place?
If they are really serious about reference checking, the school must ask for atleast 20 references and then call them one by one, probe further, play one against another to validate ... or else, it is a "just a Lip Service"
How Important are these reccomendation letters? I know the usual "they contribute heavily to the whole package" thing..but really how important are these letters? Can they make or break a good application(high gmat,decent work experience and good ecs..)?
What if your recommender doesnt end up giving the right kind of letter..?Are there any reccomenders from hell stories any of you would like to share? LOL.