Earlier today I read an amusing story regarding an “influencer” (whatever that means?!) being outed by a hotel. The blogger had asked for a free stay, and the hotel responded aggressively with a resounding no, making their highly inflammatory response public. I do get asked quite often how “freebies” go for someone in my position, so this seems like a perfect time to discuss.
Over dinner it’s always one of the first questions friends ask. Do you get lots of freebies? The truth is we are sometimes asked, but we rarely accept – and ask even more rarely. Millions of people read this site every year, and we’re proud of the impact we’re digging out. Needless to say, there is value in working with us for travel brands. But that’s just it, it’s work. It’s not free for us or the brand. They lose revenue and we must devote time and effort to covering the subject, whatever it is. Freebie or not, good coverage involves planning, fact checking and experience. You really can’t judge a five star hotel experience if you haven’t experienced others. You must invest in cameras and other assets to make your coverage valuable.
Now – that doesn’t mean things don’t happen, but we weren’t born yesterday. How did my basic room become a gigantic suite with vintage champagne? Yeah – we get it. It’s appreciated and it’s awesome and fortunately, the more you do this – the less it affects you. You appreciate the gesture, you know the anonymity game is up and you then focus on how the hotel treats other guests. That’s the mark of a pro. Don’t look at how you’re being treated. Look how everyone around you is. That will tell any smart travel blogger A LOT.
Truthfully – Airlines, hotels and travel brands are like cats. They generally only offer or agree to freebies when they need something and want coverage. Press or media trips are different than freebies, because they generally involve experiences which are not yet public and aren’t for sale. We do a handful of these events each year, and always mention this in any coverage. The bigger your (genuine) following, the more of these you are invited on. Some are cool, but most are pretty boring and just make you feel important for being there. And they’re really hard work sometimes. They command your schedule, activities and are along watching you virtually all day. Basically, the freebie game is not very important in the world of GodSaveThePoints.com. It would be a lot easier if it was, but if you want a lifelong career, you must not have brands hold leverage over you.
I don’t mind travel bloggers, influencers or whatever other tragic pop culture phrase can be coined to quantify people who “cover” travel, asking for freebies. If you don’t ask, you don’t receive. I always believe that anyone is one great piece of coverage away from starting a meaningful career. And if you drive great coverage, both the blogger and the brand WIN! I do have a personal bias against Instagrammers though. What do you actually know about travel? Eh? And how valuable is your single, disposable Instagram post, compared to one of my articles which lives on Google forever and improves like a fine wine, over time?
What I mind is “fake” bloggers asking for freebies and delivering dismal results for the brand. It’s why brands say: NO to legitimate bloggers. It’s easy to fake Instagram followings, Youtube views and things of that nature. Frankly, If I haven’t heard of an “infulencer”, and they have more followers than The Points Guy or One Mile At A Time, I’m dubious. Being a fake influencer is no different than being a two bit hustler bothering tourists in Times Square.
We only ever discuss freebies if we’re attempting to cover something we wouldn’t otherwise have any use for, or intention to do – for the benefit of our readers. This may happen five times a year, or less. For example, I have no plans of visiting Iraq any time soon, but if readers were desperate to find about Iraqi Airlines new seat (there isn’t one, as far as we know) – we may ask the airline if they’d be willing to let us try. After all, money doesn’t grow on trees. I’d rather fund travels that personally interest me – and pay full freight for them. So yeah, that’s right. If you see me in business, first or a hotel suite, I probably paid for it and or used points to upgrade to it.
Paying airlines and hotels a standard rate gives freedom and integrity. It’s a bit cheeky to accept a $5000 plane ticket and then talk endless crap about it. But if you use points, or upgrade to it -you have full autonomy. You can see the experience through a true customers eyes. At this point in our business, just about everything that’s made is spent on travel. We could maybe even have a real house if we didn’t, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. But hey – if you want to ask, go for it. The worst they can say is no, most of the time.