I rarely meet travelers who don’t desire upgrades during their hotel stays. But a lot of people are not aware of all of the different ways to score an upgrade. In this article, I will break down a bunch of different ways to get an upgrade and give you some specific tips that you can try out for your next stay.
Book a room/hotel where upgrades are possible
You’d be surprised how many people book rooms at hotels where no upgrade is possible and yet they still request an upgrade (and even get upset when it doesn’t happen).
Some hotels may only offer two or three room types or have suites for every guest. In some cases you might book something that looks like a pretty standard room but it might actually be the highest room category offered at that property.
So if you really want an upgrade, make sure that it is actually a possibility at that property. An easy way to do this is to click on the room types from the hotel website. Usually, they will offer you a full breakdown of all of the room types available.
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Ask and be friendly
The most important thing to do when pursuing an upgrade is to ask in a friendly manner. Saying something like, “I know these things are based on availability but do you have any available upgrades?” can be a non-entitled way to make your request.
Ideally, you can combine your ask with a pleasant interaction with the front desk agent.
You have to remember that front desk personnel deal with dozens of guests every day who engage in the same boring small talk or treat the staff like robots whose only function is to get them into their room.
By being personable, telling jokes, and just treating them like a regular human, you can stand out from a lot of those guests and be the little spark that puts the agent in a much better mood. A better mood equals higher chances of an upgrade.
You can make your initial ask days or even weeks prior to your check in date by sending in a request via email. Just let the hotel know that you are really looking forward to your stay and that you wanted to put a notation on your reservation for an upgrade request.
The agent checking you in should see this and if you are already impressing him or her with your politeness and presentability, you probably are in a great position to nonchalantly make your ask for an upgrade.
Tip: If you will be using mobile check-in, I highly recommend sending in a request a few days prior to increase your odds of receiving an upgrade.
When you have something go wrong during your stay — especially right when you arrive in your room — you can leverage that to potentially get an upgrade.
For example, if you stepped into your room and found some type of disgusting mess, you could contact the front desk and while voicing your complaint offer an upgrade as a potential remedy.
Remember: politeness is the key here.
Book low traffic dates
Your odds of getting an upgrade go down significantly when there is limited inventory.
This happens at hotels that stay busy year-round but it gets especially bad around popular holidays like New Year’s.
If you want to maximize your odds of getting an upgrade try to avoid booking during holidays or popular local events like Mardi Gras.
Ask during down times
If you have ever checked into a hotel during peak check-in hours you know how much of a madhouse the hotel lobby and the check-in area can turn into.
This is definitely the worst time to request an upgrade because the staff is already overwhelmed just processing check-ins.
This is why it is a good idea to check in during the early afternoon — a couple of hours before the standard check-in time. In my personal experience the best time to check in is usually between 11am and 2pm.
However, sometimes you never know when a bus full of tourists can arrive with dozens of guests pouring into the lobby so you also have to be flexible with this and use your best judgment.
I would try to avoid checking in during evenings if possible because a lot of the upgrades may already be taken. At the same time, if you are checking in very late at night (after 10pm) sometimes a hotel will be more willing to give up the premium room because it is obvious that nobody is going to book it for that night.
Ask during your stay
So many people assume that the only time they can request an upgrade is at the time of check-in.
But if you are on a longer stay and really desire and upgrade you can make the request for an upgrade during the middle of your stay. We did this in New Zealand at a Hilton property and got a nice upgraded to a really cool suite, which we were able to relax in during our last two nights.
Sure it involved moving all of our belongings to a new room but we were already doing that on an around the world trip so it was not a big deal.
To do this, just let the hotel know during your initial check-in that you would like to occasionally check in with them on upgrade availability. If the hotel offers decent customer service this should not be an issue.
Some guests offer cash money to check-in agents in order to win them over and score an upgrade. Offering cash for an upgrade can sometimes backfire and it’s not always the best way to go.
Why? Because it can come off like a bribe/coercion and make hotel agents feel uneasy about honoring your request. Also, some people take offense to tips for various reasons — “Oh, I look like I’m poor or somethin’?”
In certain locations such as Las Vegas this might be more acceptable but in your every day city sliding a $20 bill under your ID could just make an agent flat out uncomfortable.
If you do want to involve cash then try to present a few bucks as a tip for the good service you are receiving. The trick is that you have to do this before the agent chooses your room which can happen pretty quickly.
Some people also bring gifts such as a box of chocolates or sweets to the hotel staff as a way to win them over. The problem with this is that a lot of people don’t like eating food offered by strangers. If the treats are completely sealed up or from a known brand it might work better, but offering food is a little risky.
Related: Should You Tip Hotel Housekeeping?
If you are serious about getting an upgrade then you should avoid booking your room through an online travel agency (OTA). These are services like Expedia, Booking.com, Hotels.com, etc.
When you book through an OTA, some hotels will give you the lowest quality rooms or simply will refuse to change your room because it could interfere with agreements they have with the OTA. Other times they just want to give priority to those who booked directly with the hotel since those bookings earned the hotel more revenue.
Note: Some OTA’s may have reward systems where you can book select hotels that will offer you upgrades.
Sign up for a loyalty program
Some hotels ask the staff to get more people to sign up for their loyalty program and may even have quotas for new sign-ups. This means that you might be able to leverage joining the loyalty program for an upgrade.
Saying something like, “If I join the loyalty program could that put me in the running for an upgrade?” could be an easy way to sway the agent.
Be a regular
The benefit of staying at the same hotel repeatedly is that you can earn preferential treatment.
If the staff ends up learning your name and greets you by it when you arrive there is a high chance you will be rewarded with an upgrade. Just don’t get too entitled. No matter how many times you visit, politeness is still going to be key for getting special treatment.
Having hotel elite status is one of the easiest ways to get upgrades.
The higher your elite status level, the better the upgrades you will get. For example, if you have a mid-level elite status you are probably only going to get bumped to a category higher than the room you booked.
So if you booked a standard room you might get booked bumped to a deluxe room which could be a room with more square feet or perhaps a better view.
If you have top level elite status then you will stand a much higher chance of getting upgraded to a hotel suite.
Usually, this means getting bumped to a standard suite or even something like a Junior Suite. But in some cases it is possible to get upgraded to a premium suite which sometimes can triple the value you are getting from your stay.
Of course, at some properties your elite status will not get you any upgrade so these things are not always guaranteed.
It really helps to know what type of upgrade your elite status offers you. That’s because you can always check the inventory available at the hotel just before you arrive and apply a little bit of pressure to the hotel agent if needed.
You need to be careful that you don’t come across as entitled and that you don’t make the hotel agent get defensive, but in some cases you could point out that the hotel website shows a room available that you are eligible for based on your elite status.
Try to communicate that as non-confrontational and as easy-going as possible and you may have some success. If you approach the request in a way that is calling out the agent for incompetence, you might be facing more of an uphill battle.
Tip: We have hotel elite status with basically all of the major hotel chains and we achieved this easily with credit cards. Your standard travel hotel credit card can land you basic elite status but some of the premium cards with higher annual fees may start you off with a top level status.
When you start to hit the upper levels of hotel elite status you might be able to earn upgrade certificates like Marriott Suite Night Awards.
These will all work a little bit differently but generally after you make a booking you can put in a request to use your upgrade certificate. Sometimes you can choose the specific type of room you would like to be upgraded to but other times it might be more generic.
Typically, you will not hear anything until a few days before your booking but some programs may offer you instant confirmation.
In order to earn the certificates you will need to spend a lot of nights in a specific hotel chain so it does require some persistent dedication.
Luxury hotel programs
If you don’t have elite status, one of the best ways to ensure that you will receive a nice upgrade is to book through a luxury hotel program.
Often, you need a credit card to get access to these programs but there are several of them including Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts (FHR), Chase Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection, Visa Signature Luxury Hotel Collection, etc.
In addition to receiving an upgrade you can also get other perks like free breakfast, early check-in, late check out, and a property credit. Sometimes they even have special promotions like the third night free so they can be extremely lucrative to use.
If you have a true special occasion coming up such as a honeymoon, anniversary, birthday, or very meaningful celebration, you should absolutely bring that up to the hotel.
I would advise you bringing it up via email a couple of weeks before your stay but sometimes you can just notify the hotel when you show up.
Hotels love to make you feel special on these events and that is especially true at destinations that cater to romantic getaways. And even if you don’t get an upgrade, you still might get some free bubbly or a cheese platter.
Note: Just be aware that some special occasions like a bachelor party may give off signals that your party might be a liability and may not be the best “special occasion” to announce.
Points + payment
Some hotels will allow you to upgrade by making a cash payment on top of your award booking. So you might be able to book a room for 50,000 points and then pay $200 for an upgrade to an awesome suite. This is how we were able to score an amazing overwater villa in the Maldives!
Avoid early check-in
I mentioned above how the ideal time to request an upgrade is usually before the peak rush. I have found that to be true but you also don’t want to check in too early. If you request early check-in and you’re trying to access your room way before the standard check in time there may only be a few rooms available which would decrease your upgrade odds.
If you really want to upgrade then you could always arrive at the hotel early and let them know that you are okay with waiting until a better room opens up.
Don’t travel with a pet
Traveling with a pet can be a lot of fun and I have a lot of tips for anyone bringing their dog to a hotel. But a lot of times your room may be restricted to a certain floor or wing of the hotel which can significantly drop your upgrade odds.
Getting an upgrade at a hotel often comes down to treating the hotel staff with respect, being a little personable, and perhaps a little bit of luck. But you can increase your odds of getting an upgrade by trying out these different tips.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founder of UponArriving.com and the credit card app, WalletFlo. He is a former attorney turned travel expert covering destinations along with TSA, airline, and hotel policies. Since 2014, his content has been featured in publications such as National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, and CNBC. Read my bio.