Checked in lately? On your smart phone, that is.
If you had, you might have scored discounts on drinks, meals, shopping and other travel goodies just for letting friends and businesses know your whereabouts. Or even racked up points in a hotel's frequent-guest program without spending a dime.
The key to unlocking these rewards is the GPS function on your
, Android or other smart phone, which pinpoints your location by satellite. With the GPS enabled, you can use location-based, social-network applications such as Foursquare and Gowalla to "check in" and tap into location-based information.
Details vary, but such apps generally let you see whether friends might be near, find local restaurants and other businesses, share travel tips — and sometimes get special offers from retailers, hotels and eateries just around the corner.
Among recent deals advertised on Foursquare: a free pitcher of margaritas at the Spanish Kitchen in
, half-off happy-hour food and drinks at the Mondrian Hotel in
, and $5 off admission to the Contemporary Jewish Museum of
. Users who check in more often than anyone else at a business place and claim the virtual title of "mayor" often get stepped-up rewards.
Because the user and business base is still small, such offers can be hit or miss, said Douglas Quinby, senior director of research for PhoCusWright Inc., a company based in Sherman, Conn., that studies the travel industry. Deals skew toward young adults who patronize bars and clubs.
Quinby said a drink discount at a tapas bar once popped up on his smart phone while he was dropping off his son at a morning karate class — not the most sophisticated timing or targeting, from his perspective.
Still, he said, "There's a fun element to it. You could find something interesting, especially if you want a mojito in the morning."
You can also expect to see more varied geolocation deals soon, Quinby and other experts say.
"We're just at the dawn of all this," said Henry H. Harteveldt, travel industry analyst for
, where studies indicate that only about 4% of American consumers with smart phones participate in location-based social networks.
"As travel markets become more mobile-focused, I think you'll see, especially in 2011, a lot of attention being given to these services," Harteveldt said. "Even though it's a small percentage, it's going to grow."
Big names in the travel industry are already jumping in.
Topguest.com, whose mobile application was launched in mid-2010, rewards check-ins with hotel points, air miles and other perks. It counts
and Avis UK among its 20-odd business partners, said Geoff Lewis, co-founder and chief executive.
Virgin America, for instance, has been awarding 25 points to frequent fliers who check in at restaurants at airports it serves, Lewis said. InterContinental awards up to 50 points a day for check-ins at more than 4,000 hotels worldwide, spokeswoman Monica Smith said.
began partnering with mobile app Gowalla to award virtual "collectible stamps" to smart-phone users who check in at
and Disney World in
, said Tom Aronson, digital marketing director for Disney Parks.
So far, Disney is giving only virtual glory. But, Aronson said, "We are definitely exploring ways to provide rewards. We're thinking more along the lines of experiences more so than coupons and ticket discounts."
What do businesses get out of smart-phone check-ins?
"Travel companies see this as an opportunity for customers to go out and push their brand," Harteveldt said. "It's free marketing."
In other words, the more you tweet, the more you spread the word.
One caution about that: For privacy and security reasons, you may not want a lot of people to know your whereabouts.
"Check your privacy and publishing settings," Quinby said. "Don't automatically publish your check-ins to
unless you're sure you are comfortable with everyone in your networks knowing where you are."