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How To Get Free Upgrades From Hotels

by joeheg

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. 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. Personally, 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 gives me certain perks and mid-level status in some programs. 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 tell you to contact the hotel and say you’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary and 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 a bottle of Prosecco. I don’t have a problem with it, but it really should be a celebratory trip.

Like when the Orlando Airport Hyatt Regency made us a cake out of towels to celebrate our 20th anniversary trip (and I still don’t know how they knew it was our anniversary.)

If not, it’s not something I’m willing to do. That “moral compass” thing always keeps me from using tricks like this.

What’s my trick to scoring these upgrades without lying 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. That means there are usually more people booked into the cheaper rooms. Hotels don’t want to lose bookings by only offering expensive rooms once the cheaper ones are sold out, so they’ll oversell 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 better rooms to whoever they want. This is where it pays to be nice to the front desk agent – 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.”

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 put in the upgraded room.” 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 a paid upgrade.

If the offer for the paid upgrade is worth it, there’s nothing wrong with taking it. Free upgrades are scarce because hotels are aggressively marketing upgrade offers. Prices offered in 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 alone was bigger than the room I originally booked. 🙂

Park Hyatt Bathroom

There you have it. My trick to getting free upgrades at hotels. Sorry that 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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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

5 comments

Christian August 3, 2019 - 11:43 pm

Whisper “Revenue Management” to the agent.

Reply
DaninMCI April 9, 2022 - 1:46 pm

This must be after you get upgraded to first class on the flight because you show up at the airport in a suit and tie 🙂

Reply
joeheg April 9, 2022 - 3:28 pm

I know. Amazing there aren’t more sharply dressed people at the airport if that’s all it takes for an upgrade.

Reply
JohnB April 9, 2022 - 4:05 pm

If you are an airline employee flying non-rev, then definitely dressing the part will get you a better seat.

Reply
JohnB April 9, 2022 - 4:24 pm

In Las Vegas, the $20 tip at check-in still works. Although for a more expensive property, one had better offer more than $20. The birthday/anniversary trip mention also works at check-in in Vegas. For Amex FHR, which includes an upgrade if available, one can still try the tip trick. Because you see, in Vegas, there are plenty of upgraded rooms available.

Reply

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