VIP Access and Perks: Travel Like a Celebrity on a Backpacker’s Budget
By Travel Writing Student, Martin Fumarola
I just returned from Venezuela where I enjoyed the VARIG VIP Lounge in the Sao Paulo International Airport at no charge, landed a complimentary stay in a 3-star hotel in Caracas, and got a free pass to the “Teleferico,” the longest cable car service in the world.
Here’s how I did it, and how you, too, can arrange similar perks:
Tip #1: PLAN AHEAD AND AVOID PEAK TRAVEL SEASONS.
For me, arranging for free perks was more difficult in December because that’s our peak travel season and hotels and airlines are working at full capacity. Next time, I’ll plan ahead and be sure to send my requests at least one month in advance.
Tip #2: USE YOUR CREDENTIALS TO IDENTIFY YOURSELF AS A “JOURNALIST” RATHER THAN AS A “WRITER.”
In Brazil — and elsewhere, too, I imagine — it is very prestigious to be a “journalist.” (A word, I should note, understood in many languages.) The VARIG VIP Lounge in Guarulhos Airport quickly offered me complimentary entrance when I showed my press pass to the personnel at the desk. (If you don’t have such a pass, you could try showing your business card if you’re identified on it as a “Travel Journalist,” though I do think the actual “credentials” carry a bit more clout.)
[EDITOR’S NOTE: The easiest and fastest way to get writer credentials if you don’t already have them is to join a professional organization of writers and journalists. See www.itwpa.com for more details.]
Tip #3: CONTACT MORE THAN ONE ESTABLISHMENT WHEN TROLLING FOR A “PRESS RATE” OR COMPLIMENTARY STAY SOMEWHERE.
Submit requests for a complimentary room to several hotels in the same city, offering them promotion in exchange for your stay (now I have the excuse to write an article for a local newspaper and will, of course, mention the hotel that put me up).
Before departing, I discovered an excellent online directory of hotels in Caracas, which lists many 3-star and almost all the 4-star, 5-start, and luxury hotels: http://www.worldtourismdirectory.com/
Around 50% of the hotels I contacted responded to me — several with offers of complimentary rooms. Unfortunately, given the peak season there, very few had rooms vacant when I needed them. A couple did, however, and offered me immediate availability for a free, 5-night stay. (I wrote all my requests in Spanish, but several of the hotels could clearly have processed my request in English without any trouble.)
The Gran Melia Caracas hotel offered me a 50% discount on published fares, however, I finally opted for a 3-star hotel near downtown, which offered me a completely free stay.
Tip #4: DON’T BE SHY ABOUT ASKING FOR FREE ADMISSION.
In many places, it’s simply “company policy” to offer travel writers free admission. You have to ask, though. You can’t be shy about it.
On this Brazil trip, I flashed my writer credentials at the ticket counter for the “Telesferico” in Caracas ( http://www.jahnweb.com/ajj/telesg.html ). (It’s a cable car service that takes visitors directly to the Monte Avila hill, said to be the largest cable car run in the world.) The clerk handed me a free pass, and I saved nearly U$20.
On a trip to Mexico City in January 2003, I had a similar experience when I got the U$35 fee waived for my visit to the Teotihuacan Pyramids on the outskirts of the city (http://archaeology.la.asu.edu/teo/ ). Again, it was just a matter of asking.
[Martin Fumarola is a freelance travel writer based in Argentina. He gets his credentials from the International Travel Writers & Publishers Alliance: www.itwpa.com ]
[Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.]