Increasing your digital know-how is the key to upgrading your next vacation. To help you reap the benefits, here are seven social media tips for travel.

By Nikki Ekstein and Amy Chen
June 06, 2014
Credit: Courtesy of Virgin America

Score Free Perks

What’s even more valuable than a loyal customer? One who’s eager to spread the word. That’s why travel brands are recognizing social sharers with a little extra VIP treatment. Virgin Atlantic has dispatched flight attendants in taxis to bring travelers to the airport when they couldn’t hail a cab; Kimpton has gone viral on Twitter for delivering soup to sick-in-bed guests. But it’s up to you to start the conversation. A Fairmont guest who raved about the brand’s Le Labo toiletries was rewarded with samples sent to her home. At Singapore’s Changi Airport, lucky passengers who tweeted to @FansofChangi with the hashtag #ChangiHello were surprised with gate-side goody bags.

T+L Tip: Want the freebies to come to you? Leverage your Klout score, a marker of social influence (available at Last year, American Airlines offered free admission to its Admirals Clubs for anyone with a score of 55 or higher.

Get Faster Customer Service

Whether you’re unsure about a flight status or stuck in a noisy hotel room, social media managers are trained to resolve your concerns or funnel them to someone who can. (Witness the response of @DeltaAssist, which rebooked passengers who were stranded after storms swept the Northeast last winter.) Below, a by-the-numbers look at the average response times for the most attentive travel companies on Twitter—according to industry news site Skift.*

*Based on 60-day averages of activity on Twitter, according to data. All figures accurate at press time.

T+L Tip: Don’t go overboard. “Reaching out through more than one channel will multiply our efforts to assist that customer, and can inadvertently slow things down,” says Rob Hahn, Southwest Airlines’ team leader for Customer Advocacy and Social Media.

Shape the Next Great Travel Innovation

Guests have long wielded power over travel companies with the impact of their online reviews (look no further than Yelp and TripAdvisor’s combined 200 million user-generated assessments). These days, the feedback loop is evolving, as hotels, airlines, and developers canvass for input before debuting new products and services—allowing travelers to sculpt new experiences. Real estate company Prodigy Network took the most direct approach this spring, crowdsourcing design concepts and technological innovations in a generously funded competition that will inform a hotel in New York City’s Financial District. Similarly, Marriott asked the public to suggest innovative hotel services as part of its Travel Brilliantly campaign; the winner, a healthy-food-on-demand concept, will soon be piloted at one of the brand’s properties. Guests weigh in on smaller decisions, too: Omni Hotels & Resorts has polled its Facebook fans to create the most appealing package deals, while National Car Rental and JetBlue have developed mobile apps with help from their online communities.

$50,000: The total prize earnings in Prodigy Network’s crowdsourced hotel competition.

Unlock Exclusive Deals

Hotels are using social media channels to foster loyalty and generate direct bookings—offering as much as 50 percent off via Twitter and Facebook. Not to be outdone, booking engines such as Orbitz and Expedia are responding with deals of their own. Travelocity has offered $150 off package deals on Facebook, for instance, and this past Mother’s Day, Priceline gave an extra 10 percent off any Name Your Own Price deal with a special code shared on Facebook and Twitter. The bottom line: always check a company’s social network pages before finalizing your reservation.

T+L Tip: Checking in on Foursquare can unlock even deeper discounts. Hertz regularly uses the platform to offer 20 percent off rental-car bookings.

Gain Early Access to the Concierge

Three ways to get personalized service without the face-to-face request.

On Pinterest: With the new Pin.Pack.Go program from Four Seasons, guests can create inspiration boards on the Pinterest site or app before their trip and invite their hotel’s concierge to collaborate. Within 48 hours, they’ll receive “pinned” restaurant recommendations, shopping suggestions, and more—all based on the items they’ve selected.

On Twitter: Not sure where to look for last-minute theater tickets? Try tweeting @HyattConcierge. A round-the-clock team of nearly three dozen employees monitors the handle and sends requests to staffers on site, keeping guests updated while they wait. The average response time? 42 minutes.

On Facebook: Kimpton guests who are looking for gluten-free restaurant options or noteworthy local concerts can take their questions to Facebook, where an online concierge team awaits. For the best result, send a private message rather than a public wall post—staffers typically respond within 24 hours.

Get Your 15 Minutes of Fame—Or a Free Vacation

Call it the Warhol effect: When Marriott’s new millennial-focused Moxy brand debuts in Milan this September, a flagship feature will be its Instagram wall, a floor-to-ceiling installation of guests’ best snapshots. Virgin America has beamed Instagram pics tagged with #myVXexperience onto billboards in Times Square; W Hotels created a pop-up art gallery dedicated to their guests’ best mobile images. Even better: at Sydney’s 1888 Hotel, users with 10,000-plus followers can score a free night’s stay (in addition to having their photos featured in the lobby), while Australia’s Hamilton Island actively scouts digital “influencers,” sending them to the destination on paid trips in exchange for a handful of potentially viral shots.

T+L Tip: Your photos can’t go viral unless they’re good. Here, a few pointers from SMITTY juror, photographer, and prolific Instagrammer, Cole Rise.

Take advantage of third-party photo-editing apps. They allow you to fine-tune your photographs as a professional would.

Accessorize your phone. Waterproof cases, mounted lenses, and extra battery packs help you get the most from your device.

Shoot videos in Instagram directly. The app offers excellent built-in stabilization.

Stay on Top of Breaking News

If you’re worried about a big storm, transportation strike, or even political turmoil, you’re likely to get the first scoop through social media—along with advice on what to do. For weather updates, follow @WeatherChannel and your airline. @CNNbrk and @BBCBreaking have excellent coverage of developing news stories; should uprisings or protests become a concern, the U.S. State Department’s @TravelGov can keep travelers abreast of alerts and warnings worldwide.

T+L Tip: Follow trending hashtags, which aggregate relevant tweets and surface the latest details. To confirm the legitimacy of Twitter sources, look for blue check marks next to the source’s name (they’re proof of a verified identity).