For a long time, luxury travel was beyond my budget.
There were a few times when I splurged for gourmet meals at top restaurants and five-star hotels. But, of course, that only whetted my appetite for more… and I had to deal with the disappointment of going back to budget hotels and so-so meals just days later.
Recently all that has changed.
Today, I dine in Michelin-starred restaurants and stay in suites that cost over $1,000 a night at luxury hotels and spa resorts for free or next to nothing.
So how did I go from budget hotels to free five-star hotels?
Seven years ago I moved to Paris and started my blog. With a focus on insider, non-touristy things to do in Paris, I write about fashion, shopping, culture, food, and history.
Though I had no previous writing experience whatsoever, I was determined to make my blog a success. I found my voice quickly, and within a few months other online publications and print magazines contacted me to write articles about Paris, and I began to write for them on a regular basis.
One of these publications, travelagentcentral.com, is geared to upscale travel agents and caters to the luxury market.
So I started contacting the top restaurants, boutiques, hotels, and spas in Paris to let them know who I was and that I was interested in possibly writing about them. I was soon invited to have free massages, facials, and spa treatments at the best hotels including George V, Royal Monceau, Le Meurice, and The Mandarin.
The publicist at the five-star Le Bristol Hotel invited me and a guest to have dinner and drinks at their new restaurant at no charge and also to take a tour of their new suites. The drinks and meals normally would have cost over $250 for the two of us.
With the confidence that came from my success writing about Paris, I decided to expand my horizons and write articles about other places… I recently traveled to Lisbon, Vienna, and Seville and most of my expenses were covered.
The tourist boards were all very accommodating and supplied me with city passes that gave me free or reduced admission to museums and attractions, free metro and bus passes that included the fare to and from the airport, and goody bags delivered to my hotel or to the airport desk with souvenirs, trinkets, and useful brochures and catalogs about things to do.
I contacted the top hotels in each city and asked if they offered special rates to journalists. Most offered me free stays for two to three nights.
Over the past few years, I’ve come up with tips and advice that you can use to score your own luxury trips.
- Travel in the off season.
You have a much better chance of getting your room for free or at a lower rate during the low season since the hotel will have empty rooms. You can also negotiate. My hotel in Lisbon first quoted me $225 a night. When I told them my budget was $125 a night, they gave it to me for $135 a night, which included a breakfast buffet.
- Be specific with your request.
When you write to tourist boards, attractions, hotels, etc. tell them your exact dates and also what you want them to provide. For example, when inquiring about a hotel, ask if they include breakfast. If you are contacting a tourist board, ask them for vouchers for tourist attractions, city passes, and transport passes. If you are inquiring about a museum or historical site, ask if they would provide a guide. Don’t be afraid to ask — the worst that can happen is that they say no.
- Be upfront about what publications you are writing for.
Whenever I write to my contacts in future destinations, I tell them that I will be writing about them on my blog and for other publications. In fact, I pitch my destination first to the different publications I write for. If they approve, I include the publications’ names in my email to the hotels, tourist boards, etc. Also include a one or two line description of the publications you are writing for, and if you write a blog, tell them how many hits you get and how many subscribers you reach monthly or daily. All of this gives you more leverage for free or reduced rates.
- Keep in touch with your contacts.
After your visit, write each contact to thank them. Also, once your article is published, send the link or copy to each contact. They will greatly appreciate it and the extra step will go a long way.
- Limit your dates for hotel stays.
When requesting a hotel stay, you should ask for no more than two or three nights, especially if you are aiming for a free stay. If you are going to a destination for more than three days, request two nights at each hotel.
[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.]