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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.

How do you feel?

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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10 Comments

  1. I don’t really have an issue with a blogger taking a freebie as long as their report of it is unbiased. I think the blogger has to decide if they can report a true assessment of the product without worrying about how the business will feel about the review. If the blogger skews his opinion to view the business in a more favorable light than if he/she was paying out of pocket, then the blogger loses credibility. That’s when the reader needs to decide to continue reading or not. One of the Boardingarea.com blogs just had a paid advertisement basically written by Atlantis Resort. I think that completely crosses the line and that blogger is off my radar.

    In this case it sounds like the “influencer” got beat at their own game. The hotel got a ton of press without having to pay any compensation.

    1. Yes… there’s the problem. The ‘unbiased’ reporter earns their income elsewhere… most ‘bloggers’ support their lifestyle and income at the expense of the companies they claim to promote.

      Perhaps we need to change the spelling slightly… ‘Blogger’ == ‘blaggard!’

  2. As you say it takes bloggers time and money to produce content that readers want to read about. There was no reason the hotel couldn’t have just said ‘no’. Their comment was I believe that it costs them money to provide the service. But hey, it costs a blogger money and time to provide their service.

    As you mention, if a blogger didn’t already spend time developing an understanding and knowledge of the product they were reviewing, their blog would not have the followers.

    I tend to think that the blogs I read, help me to understand a more ‘real’ marketing and fact check of when a deal is good, or a hotel is worth staying at. I look at it as fact-checked advertising.

    PS Thanks for blogging and producing content for me to read.

  3. There are some items that are what it makes your reading better than others. I’ve seen, especially in my language, that some youtubbers or bloggers only focus on their experience.

  4. Hello; I appreciate your sharing these opinions. I like what you said about watching how the other customers are treated. In 2016 I rode on Amtrak to New York City as one of their Writers In Residence. I was very impressed by their service. By the time I finished my book about the experience of traveling solo as a blind person to NYC I had also experienced Amtrak in coach as a paying passenger. I was every bit as impressed with both experiences. I am currently pitching airlines to help with my traveling to the UK, Europe, and beyond. I have a solid following, but it’s as an inspirational, motivational, example rather than as a travel blogger. So far no luck, but will keep trying. Will keep trying. Will also be working to make more book sales and attract paid speaking engagements. Am committed to doing this trip as it’s an opportunity to inspire even more people. Thanks again, Max

  5. Well I don’t see how accepting freebies from airlines and hotels is any different from getting kickbacks from credit card companies for promoting certain cards. I mean without doubt this will place a bias the cards that you recommend. Correct?

    1. I don’t receive any kickbacks or referral money from credit card companies, so I have no bias. But for others, getting those deals is about commerce. The brand is getting definitive results and so is the blogger. Whereas if someone wants to take insta photos of a hotel, the result is hardly quantified.

  6. The rising popularity of certain types of behavior on social media rarely ever brought anything good. 🙂 Many of my friends got away from social media because of too much fake lifestyle, overfiltered reality and people pretending to be something they’re not.
    Because we usually follow a few people (influencers or wannabe influencers) who share too much, in the end it makes most of us share less. It also makes us feel like our every social activity has to end with purchasing something.
    It took me a while to remember when was the last time I sincerely enjoyed a recommendation from a person I follow on social media.

    1. Exactly. How many videos have we seen of women crawling out of bed at 6:00am… spending an hour getting hit by the “make-up cannon” slinking back to bed, then creating a video of themselves “waking up…” LIARS… the lot of them!!

  7. I really agree with this post. I have an account on insta and I Have started to write a blog during lockdown. It’s mainly for family and friends who always ask about my trips, as I come from an area where people don’t really travel much, but when they do they don’t know where to start.
    No money involved, but I have had a lot of people who have booked based on me having genuine recommendations and being honest over the years. My job funds a big chunk of my travels. Others times I get to work abroad and make a trip of it after or before.

    I get really annoyed when I see pointless posts of a picture of a hotel that they most likely didn’t stay in or got for free but didn’t spend the time to properly observe or review their services.

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