Tips for Using Foursquare When You Travel

by Chris on May 24, 2011

Do you have a Foursquare account? Some tips for using social media geolocating service when you travel

Using Foursquare

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When foursquare ( — a GPS-based mobile app that pinpoints and shares your location — first hit the social media scene, Marla Cimini wasn’t a fan. “I didn’t want people to know where I was,” said the Philadelphia-area travel writer.

Her feelings changed during a recent stay at the Eventi Hotel in New York City. When she “checked in” — the foursquare equivalent of posting a Facebook status update — Cimini noticed that the hotel’s restaurant FoodParc was offering free blood orange drinks just for foursquare users. Now she uses the app regularly in search of specials and deals that are advertised only through the service.

“The coupons encourage me to check in,” she said. “I wouldn’t normally announce to the world that I’m at a Dunkin Donuts in New Jersey, but if I’m going to get a free coffee, I will.”

Originally touted as a way to meet up with friends and earn playful badges, foursquare has evolved into a way for travelers to save money — and for hotels, restaurants and retailers to curry loyalty.

“Deals are one of three points to which we’ve emphasized focus recently,” said Meghan Cross, spokesperson for foursquare. More than 250,000 businesses use foursquare in some way, and the service has 9 million users worldwide, she said.

These businesses include some big names in the travel industry. Starwood Hotels ( has teamed up with foursquare to offer extra bonuses to members of its Preferred Guest program ( From May through July, travelers who sync their Starwood account with foursquare will earn 250 Starpoints when they check into a confirmed reservation at participating hotels around the world. The virtual check-in will also enter you into contests for resort getaways and free nights.

On the busy restaurant corner in Minneapolis, foursquare users can choose from a variety of app-specific specials. There’s a free dessert and after-dinner drink at Uptown Cafeteria and Support Group, a free appetizer or limoncello drink at Il Gatto, or a free late-night dining T-shirt at Chino Latino. Each special is available only for those who have checked in at least five times.

In the nine months that they’ve been offered, foursquare promotions have paid off, especially by bringing in men ages 24 to 34 drawn to the application’s gaming aspect, said Tom Schoenberger, general manager of Chino Latino. “What’s a T-shirt cost when you can seat four people at $30 a head?”

Here are a few things to know about foursquare before your first check in:

Loyalty is rewarded. If you check in at your local coffee shop more times than other foursquare users, you’ll become that establishment’s “mayor”and often eligible for extra discounts or privileges. For some people, being a mayor comes with bragging rights, and they’ll keep returning so their status remains intact. “We see the mayor in here about once a week,” Schoenberger said. “He’ll get a drink, check in and leave.”

Don’t forget the tips. Besides offering specials, foursquare has a section for tips, where you can read recommendations from other users — handy for making on-the-spot decisions.

It’s a game as well as guide. As the number of check-ins accumulates, frequent foursquare users unlock badges that identify them as an Adventurer, a Gym Rat, or a Ski Bum. You also get points for each check-in, which are posted on a leaderboard that you share with your friends.

The system can be circumvented. In town for a day, yet still covet that free coffee? You don’t have to be at the location to check in; do it from home a few times and you’ll get the same benefits as a regular without paying up, said Cimini.


Foursquare is aware of the problem, Cross said, and has taken steps to minimize cheating, such as monitoring how many times a user checks in and distance from the actual phone. People who violate the rules can lose their mayorships and badges, and are banned from adding tips or locations, she said.

“Part of the reason people love foursquare is that in addition to being a social utility, it’s also a game,” Cross said. “As with any game, you have to deal with people who try to bend the rules.”

Don’t overshare. Foursquare allows users to share their check-ins with Facebook friends and Twitter followers. Avoid the temptation to dish too much about your daily routine; no one cares how many times you checked into Starbucks — no matter how many badges you have.

© 2011 by Wiley Publishing Inc

| Chris Gray Faust is a veteran journalist, travel expert, social media butterfly - and editrix of this site. Like what you read? Check out her writing, editing and social media services.

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Dave and Deb May 25, 2011 at 10:31 am

I have signed up for Foursquare but that is as far as I’ve gotten. It hasn’t appealed to me. If people can cheat, what’s the point? I could fill up my foursquare account in a second if I wanted to and what good would that do me? I’d like to see how they will fix that one. Oh well. I may start using it for the mongol rally.


Chris May 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm

@D I joined it back in 2010, just to see what it was. I wasn’t impressed and quit. Now that they are focusing more on specials, it’s worth your while. Don and I got a 2 for 1 wine tasting in Napa Valley this past weekend, which we wouldn’t have found without foursquare. So now I’m back on it. I’m glad they refocused their business plan to make it more useful.


Cailin May 25, 2011 at 10:59 am

I have yet to become a user of FourSquare because I am afraid that I will get addicted! However I am just about to go on a Cross Canada Road trip so maybe I’ll use it then just to try it out…. hmmmm 🙂


Chris May 26, 2011 at 5:34 pm

@Cailin If you join, friend me up so I can track your progress 🙂


Saraiya May 25, 2011 at 12:06 pm

Great tips! I’ve been a member of foursquare for a while and it’s come in handy a couple of times. I love how they give extra points for some really cool things like ‘last check in 300 miles away’. Thankfully, the friends I have on there have the sense not to share every check-in so that’s not been a problem until now. It’s fun and beneficial with the discounts it offers!


Chris May 26, 2011 at 5:35 pm

@Saraiya I’m using it more now too. I don’t share my check ins with Facebook and Twitter though, unless it’s some hot new place I want to brag about 🙂


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