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When in doubt, barter

  • Story Highlights
  • Some travelers trade professional services for accommodations
  • In some cases, goods may also be traded for travel services and products
  • A housepainter painted a room in a B&B in exchange for a stay at the property
By Bunny Wong
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Budget Travel

(Budget Travel) -- Short on cash, people are offering to paint houses and balance books in exchange for a free room or flight. Here's how three creative travelers pulled it off.

Barterer No. 1

Jesse Larson, 22, housepainter in Rohnert Park, California

What he offered: To paint one room at a bed-and-breakfast -- a job that usually brings in $200 to $300.

What he got: A weekend in the best room at the inn, which normally runs $300 per night.

How he did it: Last summer, Larson was hired by the owners of a three-room bed and breakfast in Napa, California, to paint the exterior of the building. Once the job was finished, they asked if he would paint the inside, too. Larson saw an opportunity and leapt: He offered to paint all but one of the rooms at his standard rate; for the last room he asked for payment in the form of a free two-night stay so he could take his new girlfriend away for a weekend.

The owners were happy to trade (though they didn't want us to name them for tax reasons). "Nowadays, people will do anything not to have to pay you cash," Larson says. They were so pleased with his work, they gave him the largest room, too. "My girlfriend totally loved it!" he says.

What he learned: Independently owned hotels are more game for making a deal than the major chains. "You can get the actual owners on the phone -- they're the ones who are going to be able to agree to a trade," says Larson.

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Barterer No. 2

Miriam Brown, 56, accountant in Gretna, Louisiana

What she offered: Her work as a bookkeeper and her husband's construction skills -- about 48 hours of total labor, worth $2,700.

What she got: A week at a Cape Cod, Mass., vacation home, which the owner normally rents out for $5,500 per week in the summer.

How she did it: After researching hotels on Cape Cod last summer and finding nothing under $200 per night, Brown posted an ad on, looking to barter instead.

The owner of a three-bedroom house on Nantucket Sound wrote back, and the two of them struck a deal: Brown would do the owner's bookkeeping for the year, and her husband, Andres, who owns a home-renovation business, would tackle odd jobs around the house, such as touching up the trim paint. In return, the couple would get a week's stay for free. Forced to postpone their trip by a year because of Hurricane Gustav, they are planning to take to the Cape this August.

What she learned: When looking to swap, be specific. "I was very clear about where I wanted to go -- Cape Cod -- instead of just saying the Northeast," says Brown. "And I proposed doing accounting work, rather than something vague. I think that's why I got such a quick response."

Barterer No. 3

James Cocose, 44, consultant in Las Vegas, Nevada

What he offered: His BlackBerry Curve, valued at roughly $150.

What he got: 38,000 United Airlines frequent-flier miles.

How he did it: In February, Cocose found a Craigslist ad from a woman selling her airline miles to the highest bidder. He got in touch and proposed trading his used BlackBerry instead of paying cash -- and she accepted.

What he learned: Each airline sets its own limit on how many miles a traveler can transfer to another person annually. United, for instance, allows customers to hand over 15,000 miles each year. Since the woman's offer was over the limit, she agreed to buy a ticket in Cocose's name.

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Copyright © 2009 Newsweek Budget Travel, Inc., all rights reserved.

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