Getting the Most Bang Out of Your Buck When You Travel For Writing

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

KT and me at the beach
I like to travel--who doesn't? I enjoy it for both work and pleasure--especially if the work is a writing conference related trip; or if I combine pleasure and work and blog about some of the parenting things I learned on a trip with my daughter, for example. Earlier this year, I took a trip to the beach with some of my critique group members and their children, and we had a mini retreat while on a family vacation. In the morning, while the kids entertained each other, we wrote or worked on marketing or brainstormed with each other book ideas. So all of these examples are to show you that writers will travel--and even travel for pleasure can be used for writing material or as an inspiration/retreat!

But let's face it, traveling is expensive, even if you are frugal. You have to get to your destination. You have to stay somewhere. You have to eat and do activities. So I'm always looking for ways to get the most bang out of my buck. I thought I'd share a couple of my ideas with you, dear Muffin readers. Then I was hoping (praying, wishing...demanding?) you would share some even better ideas about saving money while traveling (any travel writers out there?) with me and the rest of the readers in the comments below.

1. Rewards Programs

Here is my new mantra:

If the rewards program for a hotel, airline, restaurant, or credit card is free, sign me up!

Please adopt this mantra, too. I'm not encouraging you to recklessly sign up for every program out in this reward-program world, but I'm suggesting you read over the information, look for any hidden fees or conditions, and then sign thyself up.

Here’s an example of how a one-time user can benefit from a rewards program. On my first stay as a Priority Club Rewards member at a Holiday Inn in Cincinnati, I received points for my stay, a check-out time of 2:00 p.m. instead of noon, free breakfast, and free drinks at happy hour. I think those are some great benefits, especially for writers—free food, free liquor, and a chance to sleep in late. WOW! Right?

Many sit-down chain restaurants have rewards programs, where you can earn free meals or special deals on food. Food and drink can be one of the biggest expenses while traveling, and most hotel rooms don't have a kitchen where you can make your own food. (Plus, what is the fun in that?) But if you join a couple national restaurant rewards programs and eat at those consistently, you could earn some nice rewards to use while traveling. For example, a few years back, I joined the rewards program at Ruby Tuesday. I received two coupons for buy one dinner, get one free through e-mail. Their entrees ran anywhere from $10 to $20. So I used one of these coupons with a fellow writer at a conference, and we each ate a great meal for half the price.

Sunset at the beach!
It’s worth it even if you start to lose the points that you earned. With Hilton Honors, I don’t stay in enough Hilton hotels in a year to keep my point total growing. However, last time I stayed at a Hilton in downtown Chicago, I received free parking for my entire stay because I signed up to be a Hilton Honors member. That saved me over $20 a day! (Plus you always get a free bottle of water as a HH member--you know, they are thinking of your health!)

Have I convinced you yet?

TRICK: Even if you have already made reservations for an upcoming conference, book signing, or trip for a travel article, look online to see if your hotel or airline has a rewards program. If it does, sign up. Then call customer service, and ask them to add your new rewards number to the reservation, so you can get credit for your stay when you go.

2. Credit Card Programs

A friend of mine has a Disney Rewards Visa card. She uses it for everything, and then she pays off the whole balance at the end of each billing cycle. Why? So, she can earn the points for a Disney vacation. You guessed it—her example made me think of how writers could use credit cards to gain points to pay for writer-type things.

For example, many credit cards allow you to use points you earn in their programs to buy gift cards to major stores or to even get cash back. Amazon has their own Chase credit card that earns you dollars to use on

I once received a $25 Visa card by using my Bank of America World Points reward points to “buy” this gift card. I could use that card in any store that accepted Visa—at Walmart to buy envelopes and paper; at Staples to buy a flash drive; at Kohl’s to buy a new skirt for my next speaking engagement; at Hertz to help pay for my rental car. Do you see where I am going with this?

You have to do two things, though, to take advantage of this type of program:

  • You have to use your card. Use your card when you travel. You know you’ll have a lot of bills to pay at your hotel, at restaurants, and for transportation. You can still pay the balance off at the end of your billing cycle, like my Disney friend does. But now you have a good start on accumulated points, and you will soon be able to reap the rewards. If you save up enough points, you might be able to purchase free hotel stays or airline tickets.

  • Research the card’s rewards that you are able to purchase with points. Find the card that offers rewards that writers can use. Ask other writer friends if they are enrolled in a credit card program like this and how they like it or use it.

3. Don’t Forget Your Taxes!

This is one of the easiest ways to get the most bang out of your buck when you go to writing conferences, research your novel, or attend writing groups. You can claim expenses you accrue (airfare, hotel stays, conference registration fees, food, mileage, etc) on your taxes, so save your receipts! Hire an accountant, at least the first year, so she can help you figure out what you can claim as expenses and what you cannot.

When I went to my first SCBWI conference in Los Angeles years ago, I saved EVERYTHING—receipts for my coffee, my hotel bill, the cost for Internet service in the hotel, and even my receipt for transportation to and from the airport in a shuttle. At tax time, I turned it all over to my accountant, and she worked her magic. I’m lucky because my accountant is my childhood friend, and she charges me very little for all she does. But even if I didn’t have her, it would be worth it to save everything you think you might be able to claim and pay an accountant to help you sort it out.

In conclusion...
Traveling is often part of a writer’s job--and not just travel writers, by the way. Marketing your books often takes travel to do so. Improving your craft at a conference, workshop, or MFA program probably will, too. It’s important to think smart and spend a little bit of time looking for deals. Talk to other writers whom you know travel and ask them for any money-saving tips. If you are staying at a certain hotel because the conference is being held there and you are getting the conference rate, you can still enroll in the rewards program! Trust me...and my mantra.

Margo L. Dill is a writer, editor, and writing coach in St. Louis, MO. She teaches three classes for WOW! Women On Writing on marketing, novel writing, and a new class coming this summer--creating author talks and school visits for children's and YA writers. The next novel writing class starts on Friday, May 3. She blogs on both her websites: and


Joanne said...

Great suggestions! Thank you!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Margo ~ That 2pm check-out time is awesome! That would be my ultimate perk.

I haven't tried any rewards programs or used any of the points on my credit cards if I had them. A couple years ago I paid off all my credit cards (I had way too many) and now I try not to use them at all. But I know Rebecca Gallo used frequent flyer miles through a rewards program and saved up enough money to travel across Europe for a year. She explains how she did it in her article Dreams of Long-Term Travel: Closer Than You Think. She shares some sites that help you earn flyer miles (like and and alternatives to hotels. But now that I'm thinking about it, I have a trip to Okinawa I want to take and flights are expensive. Maybe I need to look into flyer miles rewards. :)

That photo of the beach at sunset is gorgeous, and you and KT look like you're having so much fun! :)

Sioux Roslawski said...

Margo--Unfortunately, I don't have any suggestions except for getting AAA discounts or AARP (you're too young for those) discounts... or for packing peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to eat along the way. Somehow, I don't think that was the kind of suggestion you had in mind.

I know some writers pitch a magazine article idea to resorts or communities (for the AAA magazine, for example) and they get a free stay. You might be better at that than most.

And yes, you and your daughter look quite happy. I'm glad you two got to take that trip.

Margo Dill said...

Joanne: You are welcome!

Ang: Uri is the king of HH points and airline points. He is always getting free rooms here or there. To be honest, if something I use a lot has a rewards program (grocery store, Walgreens), I sign up for all of them. Why not? Nowadays, you usually only have to remember your phone number to get the credit given to you. So look into it.

Sioux: I take a cooler of food! We did that when we went to the beach, and it is so smart to bring your own snacks etc because you can waste away money like crazy, especially on a long driving trip. I work with a writer who is a travel writer and she is always going on grand adventures and getting paid for them or getting free tickets/hotel stays. She has even gotten to get a free car/SUV rental to write an article about how a certain automobile does well on a family trip. Like she always tells me, the worst someone can tell you is no or we don't have a free program. But a lot of the time, you will find some perks.

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