How To Get Free Upgrades On Hotels

I’ve been able to score countless upgrades in hotels using this trick. It’s totally legal, amazingly easy to do and doesn’t throw off my moral compass. Even those who are timid about asking for upgrades can make this trick work for them. I’m not saying it’ll work 100% of the time but when it does, it’s nice to feel like you’re getting more than you paid for.

Of course, the easiest way to get a hassle-free upgrade is to have a high level of status with a company’s loyalty program. Now, I don’t travel enough to earn status and have no intention of chasing status and locking myself into one specific brand. I get some perks by strategically choosing certain credit cards, such as the American Express Platinum card, which give me certain perks or mid-level status. Hotels will often proactively upgrade members with status to a higher level or “executive” room before checking in.  

I’ve also read plenty of articles on how to “convince” hotels to upgrade you. Search Google for “Free Hotel Upgrade” and you’ll find promising articles like this one:

The email that will get you a free hotel upgrade 100% of the time

If it was that easy, why isn’t everyone doing it?  I guess it’s because these articles want you to contact the hotel and say you are celebrating a birthday or anniversary so would it be possible for them to upgrade your room for this special event. It might work and the hotel may give you a better room or suite or a special amenity like a plate of chocolate or bottle of Prosecco. I don’t have a problem with it, but it really should be a celebratory trip. If not, it’s not something I’m going to do. That “moral compass” thing always keeps me from using tricks like this.

What’s my trick to scoring these upgrades without lying having status or credit cards?

If the hotel offers you a paid upgrade when you’re checking in, turn it down. 

Pretty easy, right? Most travelers are just like you. They’ll book the cheapest room they can find. If a larger room or better view was important, they could’ve paid more money and just reserved that room type instead. That means there are usually more people booked into the cheaper rooms than the hotel actually has. Hotels don’t want to lose bookings by only offering expensive rooms once the cheaper ones are sold out, so they’ll oversell the base rooms. They’ll then provide upgrades to all the people with status. However, they still might have 20 more guests arriving who’ve booked the base room and only 5 of that room type left.

The hotel can decide to give the better rooms to whoever they want. This is where it pays to be nice to the front desk agent who checks you in – smile, use their name, be super sweet, etc.; that might be enough to tip the scale in your favor. However, turning on the charm isn’t always a ticket to a better room. Sometimes you’ll get the pitch, “We do have some upgraded rooms available. They’re on a higher level and have a great view. I can put you in one of those rooms for $20 more a night.”

Just politely refuse the offer. I mean, you booked a room for a quoted price and that’s all you wanted to pay for staying the night. If you’re nice about it, you’ll often hear some clicking on a keyboard and get a smile and, “You know, we had some of those rooms available so I just went ahead and put in the upgraded room anyway.” This isn’t a one-off thing. I’d say we’re at about a 50% success of getting upgraded for free after we turned down the paid upgrade.

If the offer for the paid upgrade is worth it, there’s nothing wrong with taking it. Free upgrades are getting scarce because hotels are aggressively marketing upgrade offers by email. The prices in the emails are usually lower than what you’ll be offered at the hotel because if you accept it they’ve locked you into that more expensive room.

While I love free upgrades, I was happy to lock in a $30 upgrade to a junior suite at the Park Hyatt Washington D.C. The bathroom was bigger than the room I originally booked. 🙂

Park Hyatt Bathroom

There you have it. My trick to getting free upgrades at hotels. Sorry it wasn’t anything like a fancy hack or magical system. It’s just something I observed from staying at hotels, being nice to the front desk staff and being cheap about buying spontaneous upgrades when offered. You might as well take advantage of the hotels overbooking the cheap rooms to get a little more than you paid for.

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