In late June, we’re headed to Ensenada, Mexico for a four-day, three-night work-cation.
We’ll be staying at an Airbnb house just off the beach… for free.
How? Airbnb referral credits.
Airbnb, like many crowdsourced sites and apps, encourages referrals as low-cost form of marketing.
The system works well for Airbnb and for many other sites. But, the referral system can also work for you.
Most sites use the same offer: Invite a friend using a custom URL or sign up code. When your friend uses the service, he saves $X on his first booking, and you get $X in credits for your next booking.
You both win.
Ready to become a referral machine and start racking up free travel credits?
Read more about how referral credits work below or skip ahead to your favorite service:
How Referral Credits Work
The sites and apps below each offer referral codes or links. Your friend either clicks your link then signs up or enters your code during the sign up process.
The link he used is unique to you. The site knows that you, and not anyone else, referred him. After your friend pays for his first booking, you receive your credits for referring him.
You don’t get anything until he pays.
All of the referral programs below are only valid for new users. If you refer someone who is already signed up for that site, neither of you will receive credits.
Travel sites use referral programs for marketing. They want to get new customers, not give away free money to existing customers.
How to Share Your Referral Code
Most sites have tools to help you refer your friends. The page listing your referral code will have buttons to share your code via Facebook, Twitter, or email. Start there. Your friends and followers will be happy to help you while they’re saving money.
You can also be proactive about sharing your code. If you’re a frequent traveler, your friends and family probably ask you for advice when they travel. When recommending a site with a referral program, suggest that they sign up using your code.
If you’re traveling with friends or as a group, start a referral chain where each person refers the next person. Then you can take turns using each person’s credits as you travel.
Finally, post your link online. Include your link on your website or blog and in your email signature. This is the strategy that I’ve used.
Uber has the most detailed referral policy, probably because they were almost burned for $50,000 in credits. Here is what Uber does and does not allow:
[Y]ou can share your invite link with your personal connections via email, Twitter feeds, Facebook pages, personal blogs, etc. where you are the primary content owner. However public distribution on sites where you are a contributor but not the primary content owner (e.g., Wikipedia, coupon websites) is not allowed. Promoting your referral code via Search Engine Marketing (e.g., AdWords/Yahoo/Bing) is also not allowed.
I recommend abiding by these rules for any referral programs that you use.
Have any other good ideas for sharing your referral links? Tell us in the comments (if you’re willing to share).
Next, we’ll discuss the specific sites and apps that offer the best referral programs.
Airbnb Referral Credits
I have been the most successful with Airbnb. The site is social by nature and growing fast, so word of mouth referrals work well.
Join Airbnb with this link to save $25 on your first booking.
If you’re already a member, go to the Invite page to find your referral code.
The link is in a box above the text “Or share this link with your friends.” Your link will look like this:
The headline on that page says that you can earn up to $100 for each person you refer.
You get $25 when a friend travels and $75 when a friend hosts. To date, I’ve only had one referral host. Most have only used Airbnb to travel.
If you refer 2-3 travelers, you’ve already earned a free night in most cities.
For reference, here are Airbnb’s referral FAQs and terms and conditions.
Disclaimer: I consulted for Airbnb in 2010. I’m recommending the service because it’s awesome, not because of our previous working relationship.
HotelTonight Referral Credits
Most travel apps have referral programs because marketing an app is extremely hard. Trust me, I used to do marketing for WeHostels.
If you prefer hotels to Airbnb, you can still save on accommodations.
HotelTonight is a app for booking hotels at the last-minute. They offer deeply discounted rooms for same-day bookings.
HotelTonight uses referral codes, not links.
Download the HotelTonight app and use my invite code (fperrotta) for $25 off your first booking.
If you’re already a HotelTonight user, follow these instructions to find your invite code.
Open the app, tap the profile icon in the top left corner, then tap ‘Invite a friend.’ There you’ll find instructions and your invite code.
Like Airbnb, HotelTonight offers $25 in credits for each new referral.
Uber Referral Credits
Uber is my favorite transportation app.
Regardless of where I’m at, if a city has Uber, I’ll use it to get around.
Uber is a great way to guarantee that you’ll be picked up and to prevent getting ripped off by cabbies.
Set your exact pick up location, track your car while you wait, and, most importantly for me, pay with your credit card, not with cash. Paying through the app streamlines your ride and means that you can earn more credit card points.
Join Uber with this link to save $10 on your first ride.
If you’re already an Uber user, you can get your referral code in the Uber app by tapping the profile icon in the top left corner then tapping “Share.”
You can also find your referral code on the Uber website by clicking “Get FREE Rides” in the top right corner.
On Uber’s site, you can customize your invite code to something more memorable, like your name.
Uber’s referral program gives you $10 for each friend you refer up to $500 in total credits.
You can read more about Uber’s referral terms and conditions here.
Lyft, the community-oriented car sharing service with the pink mustaches, offers a similar referral program to Uber’s. However, Lyft tries to obfuscate your referral link and code by not showing it directly on the website or app.
Instead, you must chose specific friends to invite.
In the Lyft app, tap the “hamburger” icon (three horizontal lines) in the top left corner. Then tap “Invite friends.” From here, you can select friends from your contact list to invite. Each person you invite will receive a text message with a sign up link.
For each friend you refer to Lyft, you will get one free ride (up to $25).
The screenshots in Lyft’s Help Center article about referrals show that you can earn up to 50 free rides. The app doesn’t mention this limit, so I’m not sure if it still exists.
Zipcar Referral Credits
Uber and Lyft may be getting all the hype, but Zipcar is the original car sharing service in the US.
I primarily use Zipcar at home in San Francisco because I don’t have a car. If you have a Zipcar membership at home, you could definitely use the service for day trips when traveling.
Join Zipcar with this link for $25 in driving credits.
If you’re already a Zipcar member, you can invite friends from the Zipcar website’s refer-a-friend page. Like Lyft, Zipcar tries to hide your referral URL.
Click the Twitter button (even if you don’t use Twitter), then copy the short URL in that tweet. It will look like this:
Zipcar’s referral program is unique in that you decide how to split the referral bonus. You can either give your friend $25 and keep $25 for yourself or give all $50 away.
Earn credits for your favorite traveler-friendly websites and apps through referrals.
Dropbox Referral Credits
Dropbox is our favorite tool for backing up your files and photos. Jeremy and I both use it for personal and work files.
Rather than earning credits in dollars, Dropbox offers free storage space for referrals.
Join Dropbox with this link for 500 MB of bonus space.
If you’re already using Dropbox (and you should be), you can find your link on the Referrals page. You can copy your link directly, share it via Gmail, share it on Facebook, or tweet it on Twitter.
For each friend who installs Dropbox, you get 500 MB of storage space, up to a limit of 16 GB.
The Referrals page in Dropbox’s Help Center has more information.
Evernote Referral Credits
Along with Dropbox, Evernote is one of our favorite web apps. Evernote is like a digital notebook on steroids.
Evernote is a key part of our Cloud Computing System for Travelers and a great way to save notes and memories from your travels.
Join Evernote with this link for a free month of Evernote Premium.
If you’re already an Evernote user, go to the Invite Your Friends page by clicking the “Get Evernote Points” link in the top left corner of the website. Click the gray chain link icon to see your referral URL.
Evernote’s referral program is a bit complicated. By referring friends, you earn points which can be used towards Premium subscriptions, monthly upload limit increases and more.
Your first 3 referrals earn you 10 points each – enough for 3 months of Premium or 3 GB of additional monthly uploads.
AwardWallet Referral Credits
Use AwardWallet to track your airline, hotel, and credit card points all in one place. I’ve been able to redeem points that I had forgotten about because AwardWallet was still tracking them.
Join AwardWallet at this link.
If you’re already a user, you can find your referral link in the left-side navigation bar. Find the red “Invite to AwardWallet” header then copy your referral link. It will look like this:
AwardWallet’s best features are free. Upgrading to AwardWallet Plus will earn you improved tracking so that you know when your points expire, not just how many points you have.
You can earn a free 6-month upgrade to AwardWallet Plus for every 5 friends you refer to the site. You don’t get any money, but it is a nice bonus. Plus, AwardWallet is immensely helpful for any frequent traveler or travel hacker.
We should be spreading the word about it even if we aren’t getting any rewards for it.
You can refer your friends to your favorite travel sites to earn credits toward accommodations and transportation for both of you.
If you know of any other good referral programs, please share them in the comments.
Two quick disclaimers:
- Everything outlined in this post is legal and legit. Some people have abused these systems, like the guy who racked up $50,000 in Uber credits using Reddit. You don’t have to break any rules to get free travel credits.
- We have included our referral links in this post. If you think that’s self-serving, don’t use them. We’re simply practicing what we preach. Using these codes in the past has taught us how to succeed with referral programs so that we could pass on that knowledge to you.