How to Get a Complimentary Stay as a Travel Blogger

I thought that complimentary stays were something that only the big name, established travel bloggers received and something that us grass roots travel bloggers only dreamed about. That is not the case.

Even if you’re a relatively new travel blogger, if you have set out a travel niche and have got a bit of traffic coming your way, then there’s no reason why you shouldn’t enquire about complimentary stays. After just 6 months of blogging, I finally plucked up the courage to send out some emails. But, I didn’t do it on a whim.

Target Accommodation that Fits with Your Brand

Think about who you’re going to approach for a complimentary stay and whether they fit with your blog’s niche. A luxury travel blogger isn’t going to be asking for a stay at a budget backpacker’s hostel and if he does, he’s probably going to be turned down. Why?

What value does is there for the hostel? A review on a luxury travel blog isn’t going to reach their target clientèle of scruffy young travellers. Likewise, what value would a blog post on a backpacker’s hostel have for the luxury travel blogger? It wouldn’t be of interest to their target audience and it wouldn’t strengthen their brand (worse, it would actually confuse it).

Charlie On Travel is about simple, sustainable and socially-responsible travel. When I was researching places to approach, I was looking for places that fit with my brand. This means eco-lodges in particular, and places that are environmentally friendly, interested in socially-responsible and green tourism, and are run by people who are living an alternative, sustainable lifestyle. I was also keen to approach smaller, growing businesses because Charlie On Travel is still a relatively new and growing travel blog.

Charlie in a corn field at Isla Violin - Charlie on Travel

Think About What You Have to Offer

Once you’ve got a shortlist of places that you would like to approach for a complimentary stay, you need to think about what you have to offer. Complimentary stays aren’t really free – you need to have something of value in exchange for your stay. These might commonly include:

  • A blog post/review with photos, and maybe even video coverage of your stay
  • A mention and a link within a relevant blog post on a broader topic
  • Copies of your photographs if you’re a strong photographer
  • If you have a strong social media presence (on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest etc.) you can offer coverage throughout and after your stay
  • Contribute reviews of their accommodation to TripAdvisor, HostelWorld etc.
  • Write an article or testimonial for their own website

When inquiring about complimentary stays, I offer a combination of the above. My main strength is written content, so I will usually offer a full blog post with a link, and social media coverage on my four main social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram). In some cases, I might also offer a short video (less than 3 minutes) or 5 second video clips to upload to Instagram. My experience as a BAS Agent definitely helps me communicate with hotel professionals too.

I make no promises regarding the content of the pieces, except for word counts and video length, because if I didn’t enjoy my stay, I would say so.

Charlie on Travel twitter - social media - complimentary stay as a travel blogger

Tailor Your Proposal to Each Accommodation

When writing a proposal, there are a couple of things you need to do beforehand. Putting together a media kit with your most recent blog statistics and relevant information is an essential way to make a good first impression when asking for a complimentary stay.

Not sure how to put together a media kit? These are the articles I used when making mine:

Charlie On Travel media kit preview

Decide on some specifics. When I’m asking for complimentary stays, I will usually ask for a one or two night stay depending on the location and size of the place. I will also mention that I’m keen to include tours and activities offered by the accommodation in my blog post and video if they are able to cover those costs.

Draft an email. I prefer to approach places by email, rather than by phone, because I can link directly to my blog, attach my media kit and show them examples of my work. I have a template email that introduces me and my blog, then I change large chunks of the text to tailor my proposal to the individual accommodation. The specifics I’m requesting and offering also change depending on the accommodation.

Not sure how to write that email, or feeling daunted now you’ve got this far? This incredibly detailed guide has everything you need to know:

Once you’ve drafted your emails, make sure you double (or even triple) check for typos and spelling/grammar errors. Look over it with fresh eyes the next day and ask someone else to skim through it too. Errors in your email suggest that your writing might come with errors too, and can mean you fall at the last hurdle.

Chaz and Luke climb a tree 2

The Final Stage of Getting a Complimentary Stay

After you’ve hit the send button, it’s all about waiting. If you don’t hear back within the week, a follow-up email can be a good way to reinforce your original email and show you are serious about the proposition. If your proposals are turned down, don’t be disheartened. It’s part of the process and you should take it as an opportunity to tweak your pitch and think about what you’re putting on the table for next time.

If you get an offer of a complimentary stay, iron out the kinks with the accommodation owner and find out if they have any specifics beforehand. Make sure that you do what you promised in your original email and let the accommodation owner know a time scale for when everything will be completed.

Do you have any other tips for enquiring about a complimentary stay? I’d love to hear about them.

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  1. Great post. I find branding is key in this issue. Personally, while I didn’t start out in luxury travel, we kind of moved into it by reviewing luxury hotels which we were lucky enough to stay in. Hotel reviews were never part of our blog either until we stayed at a couple of fancy places, the first was complimentary through winning a competition, then we got married and of course honeymooned in a couple of swank resorts. I made the most of these opportunities, blogged about them and used them to convince others to give us hosted stays. Now we can stay at any luxury hotel in Asia by just emailing them (probably over exaggerating here) and we get emails from hotels offering us free stays which we tend to turn down (I prefer to chose where I stay, again part of branding). I don’t think it is necessary to differentiate with price, you can blog about both backpacker and luxury travel as long as they are unique hotel experiences and I have done both (we tend to go with boutique / design hotels) – just be sure to pitch matching hotels with the niche. In honesty I’ve only accepted a couple of hosted stays in my time, as when I travel I prefer to be relaxed and with hosted stays I’ve had itineraries put to my stay and feel obligations are hanging over my head. This goes the same for restaurants. Anything free I find harder to write about, everything feels forced and paying my own way makes the experience more real. I’ve been blogging close to two years now so it doesn’t take too long to get onto similar.
    Allan Wilson recently posted…An Introduction to Angkor (Cambodia)My Profile

    • Some interesting thoughts here, Allan. Definitely excellent that you got to make the most out of a few luxury hotel opportunities (a little envious here!) and good idea building on them. That’s amazing that you get offers coming through to you. I’ve only ever had one come through but it was for my old blog which was specifically about living/travelling Taiwan (which I no longer am, sadly). I think that the price thing depends on the blog – price is part of some bloggers niche and not part of others – but there are different kinds of backpacker/flashpacker etc.

      Do you mean itineraries for the whole of your stay somewhere? Wow. We had none at all in the three complimentary stays that we’ve had. I wonder if that’s part of higher end hotels. I know what you mean though, and certainly don’t try and get comp stays for the whole of my travels – gosh, that would be a lot of hard work and a lot of follow up work!

      Thanks so much for your thought out comment, Allan, some great thoughts!

      • Because I’m focused on SE Asia it makes things easier and to ask for hosted stays in Europe would no doubt be less fruitful… I think the most packed itinerary was a one night stay where we had an itinerary to eat (photograph and share) four meals (including high tea), a two hour local tour and a lot of photographing in the resort. The itinerary was printed for us and when we arrive an hour or two late they get all huffy… fortunately the food was great :) There must be a stage where you can start getting paid to write up these hosted stays… I’m just not sure when.

        • Wow, that’s a lot of eating and photographing! Sounds like a lot of pressure on your holiday though… I’ve never had an itinerary; having one would definitely make me more reluctant to actually stay.

  2. This is a really useful post Charlie, as we are in the middle of figuring out how to use our blog to travel better, and cheaper. Looks like a complementary stay model is a win win for both the blogger and the owner, so I think many hostels / hotels will trust it, we’ll see!
    Illia recently posted…Malaysia Travel Guide For BackpackersMy Profile

    • Glad it was helpful for you guys! It’s only something I’ve done recently but I’ve really found that using the right approach it can work out well for both sides :) Good luck to you two!

    • Yes, I completely agree. I mostly pay for accommodation but for some things which are slightly out of my price range but in my niche – eco retreats in hard to get to places, for instance) – complimentary stays can be really useful.

    • That’s what I thought too, but turns out not! I found I had more success approaching accommodation businesses who don’t have a great online presence, are new and are still growing. Thanks for reading/commenting :)

    • Oh, and off-season! Here in Costa Rica it’s currently low season, which means a lot of rooms aren’t filled, which means places are more willing to let a travel blogger stay for free.

  3. Many congratulations on scoring your first free stay Charlie.

    You’ve explained the process very well and this seems the perfect guide for anyone new to travel blogging.

    I’m going to save this post as a good reference point. Whilst I’ve not ventured into this area of seeking free hotel stays it is nice to know it is something I might consider exploring in the future.
    The Guy recently posted…How To Use Annoying Habits Of Travellers To Hack Off Everybody ElseMy Profile

    • Thank you! I was very excited about it. It’s great to hear that you think my post is a good guide, and I think it’s definitely something worth exploring if you have a particular topic you want to broach etc. :)

  4. These are really great tips, Charlie, and hopefully will get motivated bloggers moving in the right direction for them.

    One thing I wanted to point out that I think this post didn’t mention, however, that these free stays really require a lot of work on the part of the blogger and it’s really important for you to hold up your part of the bargain and deliver the services that you promised. We have only done two sponsored stays over the course of our 2 year trip, and part of that is because of the amount of work that goes into a stay: hours spent photographing the property, getting a full rundown of available amenities, talking to other guests to get an impression of their (unsponsored) stay, updating your social media feeds with pics from your stay, etc., Normally we look forward to time back at our lodging as a chance to unplug and take a break from travel blogging, but if your stay is sponsored, you’ll likely be on your toes. Given the amount of work we find creating quality lodging reviews require, we won’t stay anywhere that won’t host us at least 3 nights, because otherwise I don’t think it’s personally worth it for us, and we tend to only engage in such partnerships if we feel the lodging actually offers something special and of interest to other travelers. Others might feel different, but this is what works for us!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…For Travel’s SakeMy Profile

    • Hey Steph, great to hear from you. You’re quite right and I definitely should’ve mentioned that! It’s difficult to know when you’re first starting out quite how much work complimentary stays can be, so I might add a passage on that in :)

      We didn’t find our stays quite as pressing as yours, which I think is because 2 of the places we stayed had no other guests (very rural eco retreats, so that’s common for that kind of accommodation) and the other place we never even met the owner. We never had staff/owners on our back or asking anything at all – we were given complete freedom. We of course made sure we achieved everything we promised to a high standard, but it was nice to use our time as we chose to.

      I’ve also found that setting a date (i.e. 3-4 weeks after the stay) for the work to be completed works well. Any earlier than that and if you’re travelling/working it can really put you under a lot of pressure to come through on time.

      Great advice, thanks for sharing and for pointing out the essential I missed!
      Charlie on Travel recently posted…How Much Does It Cost to Travel Costa Rica on a Budget?My Profile

  5. Excellent post including great resources and insight Charlie! This goes into the “future resources bookmarks” as well… ;)
    I was equally surprised in the beginning when you mentioned some complimentary stays in those eco-lodges, but it seems to be a wonderful exchange on so many levels. And I once you opened the first door this may lead to another corridor with quite a few more doors and so on…
    So yes, well done and keep going!
    Oliver recently posted…Made by Hand ~ [No. 5] The Bike MakerMy Profile

    • Thanks! Glad it was helpful, Oliver :)

      Yes, I mean they were a lot of work as well. I was really lucky to be offered a stay as it enabled me to see some places I certainly wouldn’t have had access to (budget wise) which were just incredible. But, of course, I worked really hard to come through on everything I promised, as you can imagine, and spent a lot of time writing, photographing, chatting, making notes during my stays.

  6. Great article sharing your experience and thanks so much for the mention. The only thing I would be wary of is promising reviews on Tripadvisor or similar sites, since it is against their T & C to post reviews if you have a financial relationship with the hotel and there is so much paranoia about fake reviews. If I’m specifically asked to do it by smaller places, I will sometimes ask my husband to leave a review but I would not under my name. However if I have stayed at my own expense then I would definitely leave a comment on Tripadvisor, and include a link to my blog post and possibly post a few of my photos with my URL in the photo title
    Heather Cowper recently posted…Lovely Laugharne – on the Dylan Thomas trail in South WalesMy Profile

    • Thanks, Heather :) Yes, I know there is a lot of paranoia about fake reviews! But I’m never paid for my travel blogging work and certainly don’t write ‘fake reviews.’ I actually review everywhere I stay and eat whilst travelling, and so always offer to write an honest review for places. Can you leave a link to your blog post in TripAdvisor reviews? I didn’t know that you could!

  7. Loved this post – it’s something I’ve only recently started doing and it’s refreshing seeing how many positive responses I receive back with PR agencies or hotels direct interested in listening to what you have to say. I too was intimidated at the beginning and thought it was only something for the huge, established travel bloggers, but low and behold, it actually works for us not-so-big guys too!
    Lynda recently posted…Paradise Found: Marriott Aruba Resort & Stellaris Casino ReviewMy Profile

    • Thanks, Lynda :) Glad to hear that you have also been having positive responses. I would say that mostly I don’t get replies, but have had a good response from about 20%, which is really excellent, though I don’t send out too many.

      I think if we think carefully about who might be interested in working with us, it can really work out for us little guys too – you’re right! :)

  8. Really great article. We seem to be doing OK at getting comped tours but only limited success on accommodation. This tips will really help when we try again. Thanks!

    • Glad to hear that Emily! I’ve only ever had one comp tour, and actually very rarely ask for them because there generally very affordable here in Central America. Eco-lodges on the other hand can be very pricey.. Good luck, by the way! :)

    • Hi Ash – Nice to hear from you, and glad that the post was helpful. I actually ask straight out. I set out exactly what I would be able to offer them in exchange for the stay (i.e. blog post with link, social media coverage, video etc.) and am very clear about everything including being honest about my opinions.

      In most cases where I’ve had a reply, the accommodations are usually happy with my proposal and agree to that exchange. In a few cases the owners have asked for something specific (i.e. an article to focus on a certain aspect of their hotel/lodge). I always say on the original email that I would be happy to discuss opportunities to work together further.

      Hope that helps :)

  9. This is great advice! I am planning to backpack and am always looking for alternative places to stay on a low end budget. I just wrote about why airbnb is a great website for linking up with people to crash at their homes around the world! You can check it out at http://www.seeshareinspire.com and if you like it/love it then share it! Thanks for the great blog, I’m following up with a follow now!! :) -Nina Rizzo

  10. Hello Charlie, thanks for the tips. Actuallay, I want to approach an hotel for free. But, my blog is randomize blog. I write about travelling, health, parenting, and life story. What do you think? can a stay in a fab hotel for free by this type of blog?

    • Hi Liza,

      If you feel that you could really add value to your own blog and reach an audience that would benefit a particular hotel, then yes. Complimentary stays are about a mutually beneficial arrangement, not just getting a free place to stay, so you should bare that in mind. Where are you blogging from? Your blog is in a different language, but you do have a strong DA, so there is definitely potential for you to pitch to hotels in your country.

      Good luck!

  11. Great post!
    I’m just learning about the travel world and I’m going to start blogging myself. I’m centered in the Middle East and it looks like a lot of outdated information out there, so I’m going to update and explore. Thank you for the great tips!
    Dee

  12. Hi Charlie,

    I just found this blog post and I think you can really tell you are experienced here! I noticed myself you should keep changing the emails you send out to see what works better, worse and so on. Also, make it for the accommodation as simple as possible to understand what you want.
    This is always super helpful and once you do this, it will increase all your “conversion” it terms of replies at least.
    Another thing you were totally right: Choose an accommodation that fits with your brand! Very, very important to remember :)

    Thanks for that Charlie, will browse now through the other articles as well e.g. scoring free nights at Hotels!

    Matt
    Matt recently posted…Short Travel Stories from Santiago de CompostelaMy Profile

  13. It goes to show that if you write a good post that answers a question that a lot of people have then it will stay popular for a long time.
    Thank you for this information Charlie, I am now at the point you were when you first wrote this post and am about to send off my first requests. It was great to read the ideas you present and so much more useful than others I found which basically say “copy this email template and hotels will be fighting over you to get you to stay”.
    Not very likely but now I have a much better idea of how to approach them. Thanks again.

  14. Thank you Charlie! This is great! I am also just finding the nerve to approach hotels and was looking for some guides. Glad I stumbled upon your site. @globetrottingfilipina.com

  15. Thanks Charlie, I am just starting out as a spa reviewer and although it is different than hotel stays, I found this article helpful. It’s tough at the start, when you are just building up social media, but I think politeness with a sprinkle of confidence helps when approaching businesses. Nice article.