How to score ‘free’ hotel stays through your blog

Intercon DFC lobby

So, you’re a (travel) blogger planning to go somewhere nice and want to save up on accommodation costs. You would be writing about your travel – the destination, interesting spots you find and maybe, about your accommodation. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could cut the cost by setting a little sweet arrangement with a local hotel – a complimentary stay in exchange for a blog post or features on social media? I mean, you would be writing about it anyway.

In this post, I’m sharing a few strategies on how to score free hotel stays but first,

Who am I to write this kind of post?

For a while now, this little blog of mine has enabled me to enjoy sponsored/complimentary accommodation in and out of the UAE sponsored by the hotels since 2014. It’s a great travel perk since I do budget travel most of the time, if I can.

Deluxe Beach Villa With Pool-1

One of the first successful pitches I had was scoring a private villa with pool accommodation in the Maldives in 2014. It was a great stroke of LUCK!

Pitching for a sponsored accommodation won’t work for you if:

  • You prefer not to plan ahead. You travel spontaneously, wanting to take your own sweet time and change your itinerary on spur of the moment decisions.
  • You don’t want to feel the pressure and obligation to write about the accommodation (feel that it’s not worth your time and effort)
  • The accommodation options where you are travelling isn’t expensive anyway.
  • Writing about accommodation reviews do not suit well with the topics on your blog.

GUIDE TO APPROACHING SPONSORS FOR ACCOMMODATION

intercon prague

Staying for two nights at the Intercontinental Prague, central location, very near to the Old Town

1. List what you can offer

But first off, it is important to note that I only started sending pitches and proposals for accommodation sponsorships 4 years ago – SEVEN years after I started this blog and have built a decent base of readership and traffic.

However, the emphasis here is NOT the number of years. You don’t have to wait for seven years before you send your first proposal but personally, I think that your attempts would be more fruitful if you have at least one or two thousand unique monthly readers (unique visitors, not page views!), so you’re sure you have something to offer.

(It is also important to note that I started to send pitches only in 2014 because when I started blogging in 2007, blogging wasn’t really about collaborating with brands and I’ve not heard of “sponsorships” back then.)

2. Know the right person to send the email to

A lot of times you’ll email the general contact address which you’ll find on the hotel’s website, which is fine. But if you can find the marketing manager’s direct email, that’s even better.

balcony view

Our room in Bohol, Philippines with balcony overlooking the sea

TIP: I receive a lot of press releases from different hotels and whenever I am interested in contacting that specific hotel, I reply back and ask for the contact person of the hotel at my destination. For example, if I get a press release from Intercontinental Dubai and I plan to get in touch with the marketing person at any Intercontinental Hotel Group in Prague or Manila, I ask the person from Intercontinental Dubai (who sent me the press release) for the contact details of their constituents in Prague/Manila.

3. Timing is a big factor for your proposals to get noticed

When is the best time to email hotels? The answer would always be, the earlier, the better. I always send my proposal email at least 2 months ahead. If your stay is going to happen sooner, just give it a shot but accept that they may not be able to arrange something for you.

Which day should you send your email?

The day of the week is a big factor when sending your well written proposal. If you’re sending it to someone who has Monday-Fridays as their work week, do not send your proposal on Saturday and Sunday, even if you only have the weekend as time to send important emails like this. I prefer to send my proposals on Tuesdays when their work load are lessened. I don’t know, I think if I put myself in their shoes, I would set aside emails asking for favors on Mondays for later…and would dig through other important stuff on the first work day of the week. Do not send the proposal email on a Friday too, since the person at the other end could go home early and won’t see your email till Monday.

Same rule when sending to areas where the work week is Sunday-Thursday. Do not send on Sunday or Thursday, nor the weekend days of Friday and Saturday.

4. Prepare to put in work

movenpick tala bay

I mentioned in the title, “free” hotel stays but in reality, nothing is really free because though you would not shell out cash, you’re shelling out your time.

Time to talk to the hotel duty manager during your stay, to take photos of the property, to update on social media. Time to observe the little details to include in your blog post and lastly, to write that blog post (after you’ve gone through the hundreds of photos from your travel and editing them).

WHEW.

The reality is that if  hotels agree to host your stay it is because they are expecting something in return. You are in a partnership in which you trade something that you can provide (publicity through coverage on your blog) for something the sponsor can provide (a room for a night or two with no charge).

It’s always a trade off between the benefit of staying in a lovely hotel that you might not otherwise afford and the work you have to put in afterwards to pay back for your stay.

It is a lot of work to get hosted accommodations, tours, restaurant visits, etc and a whole lot of work writing about all the experiences. If you’re already feeling exhausted at the thought of all this work just to get a free night in a nice hotel, then you may be better to stick to paying for your own accommodation which I mostly do – because sometimes a free night stay (or maybe even a few hours) isn’t worth it if after that I have to be away from the kids to face the PC after my day job for hours on end to write a review blog post.

However, if you’re still up to the challenge, it’s time to compose that proposal email to send to potential sponsors.

HOW TO WRITE YOUR EMAIL PROPOSAL

Your email should be concise but complete with answers the hotel might be asking. These are the basic things to include in your pitch.

1. Who are you?

Keep it short. Mention your name, the name of your blog and what your blog is about.

2. Why are you emailing?

Here, I mention briefly that I am visiting a city on a certain date and inquire if they work with bloggers and willing to consider a collaboration.

3. What is your blog about and its vital statistics

Mention your blog and its analytics (current monthly page views, unique visitors). It also helps to add a note why you think X hotel is a good fit for your blog audience.

4. What are you asking for?

Be clear if you are asking for a media rate (discounted rate) or a free stay. For how many nights? And how many rooms?

5. What can you offer in return?

Don’t over promise. Tell them if they are getting 1 or more blog post review with links to their website or how many Instagram posts.

Under promise, over deliver. Always.

BONUS: Include links to hotel reviews you have done in the past. Word of caution: Send only ONE link or two, max. Sending many links in an email and that email could land in the spam folder of the recipient!

I would recommend that you initially send a tailored email to your 5 top choices for accommodation and if you have not had any positive responses within a week, target another 5, and keep going.

All the photos that I’ve featured in this article are some of the places where I’ve stayed either on a sponsored basis (clicking on the photos will take you to the hotel review blog post).

bed-2

Because of my blog, I’ve been able to stay in some fantastic accommodation (5 nights in the Maldives!) that I couldn’t otherwise afford but I ALWAYS put the work in to ‘pay’ for my stay, even if the payment wasn’t in the form of cash.

Subsequently, I get invites to stay complimentary at hotels with my family in exchange for a blog post or social media coverage because the hotels looking for online exposure has seen my previous work.

The thought of staying at hotels at every destination you travel without paying in cash (or any other monetary form) is wonderful but most of the time, I choose sponsorships carefully and not ask for it as often as I would love to (who doesn’t like stuff you didn’t have to pay with money?) because of reasons like,

  • I would want to be in the moment and enjoy the hotel stay rather than be busy taking photos or updating social media
  • My blog schedule is full and I can’t commit time to write a review post after my trip
  • I feel that overdoing “free” stays could compromise my personal voice which in blogging, is pretty much all I have.
I know I’ve called it ‘free’ in the title of this blog post because, like a good blogger, I’ve done my keyword research and found that’s what people are searching for so I used that word instead of ‘sponsored’ or ‘complimentary’. But I’ll say it again before I close this post: bloggers get complimentary stay as payment for the work they put in which involves time, skill and effort – and these don’t come for free.

I hope you get something out of the tips I mentioned above and good luck on scoring your first “free” hotel stay! If you have any questions, fire away!

4 thoughts on “How to score ‘free’ hotel stays through your blog

  1. Happy New Year Grace! My thoughts here – if you are doing work in exchange of a hosted accommodation at any place, please don’t call that ‘free stay’. It can be termed ‘free’ only if there isn’t any obligation for you to do anything. So, in effect, you are working for your stay or if you look at the other way – you are being paid in kind. I think this is confusing for bloggers. The thought behind pitching shouldn’t be for a free meal or a free stay but offering a skill that you may have for a brand collaboration where there is a synergy between the brand’s USP and your blog’s USP.

    Like

    • Well, the word “free” in the title is just to make it catchy – it makes a reader, blogger or not, curious.

      But if they read through the whole article, I have clearly mentioned that, “I mentioned in the title, “free” hotel stays but in reality, nothing is really free because though you would not shell out cash, you’re shelling out your time.”

      And that there is WORK involved.

      Like

  2. Hi! Thanks for sharing about this topic. I’ve read several blogposts about keep sending more emails in case all were turned down. But how about sending 5 proposals, let’s say, and then you receive 2 or 3 positive responses? Then it’s your turn to say no to some offers? I’m quite curious about that.

    Like

    • Hi, you can reply with a sincere thank you and say your travel plans have changed and you’re not going to stay with them anymore but would like to get in touch again when you’re headed to that destination. 🙂

      Like

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