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How to Get a Free Hotel Upgrade
Industry insiders share smart tips for snagging a better room – and some extra perks – at no additional cost.
A superior room doesn't have to cost a fortune. (Getty Images)
Nothing beats receiving VIP hotel perks – especially when they're free. Complimentary Champagne, fruit bowls, welcome gifts and accommodations with impressive views are a few coveted privileges, but nowadays hotels are going above and beyond to entice guests with extra amenities and bonuses, from spa credits to gourmet breakfasts to customized pillows to late checkout times. And while it pays to collect loyalty points to enjoy cushy benefits such as room upgrades and free nights, you can still elevate your stay without becoming a big spender or holding top-tier elite status. Maximize your chances of scoring a superior room with these tips from industry experts.
Visit at an Off-Peak Time
It may seem like a no-brainer, but planning a trip during a less-popular period like the off-season or the shoulder months will boost your odds of landing a more desirable room category or suite. Understanding when a hotel is at its highest occupancy is valuable for knowing when a request for an upgrade is – or isn't – likely to be fulfilled. And the sooner you can request a higher room category, the better, says Anthony Melchiorri, host and creator of the Travel Channel's "Hotel Impossible" and "Hotel Impossible: Five-Star Secrets." By contacting the hotel well in advance, rather than, say, a week ahead of your trip when a front desk agent may be concerned with running out of inventory, you'll put yourself in an advantageous position, he explains.
If you want to up your odds for better accommodations, it's also wise to look for rooms in urban business centers during the weekends. "Business travelers with elite status are most likely to get the most premium rooms, so if you don't have top-tier status, your best bet at scoring an upgrade is to travel over the weekend – ideally on shorter one- or two-night stays," explains Zach Honig, editor-in-chief of the points-and-miles site The Points Guy.
At many properties, a clever way to secure a nicer room is by checking in during the late afternoon or early evening, Melchiorri says. If you check in around 11 a.m. and ask for an upgrade, the staff will likely be unable to determine which guests have opted to extend their stays; without a handle on inventory, they likely won't be in a position to offer an upgrade, he cautions. John "Johnny Jet" DiScala, editor-in-chief of the travel site JohnnyJet.com also recommends checking in during the late afternoon when the front desk isn't busy, as vacant rooms are less likely to be sold and room maintenance and cleaning is already completed.
Make Special Occasions Known
"If you're celebrating a special occasion, such as a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon, be sure to reach out to the hotel in advance of your stay," Honig says. Even if you don't secure a room with a view, you still may be able reap desirable benefits or receive special services. "That'll give the property time to prepare, be it an upgrade, a cake or fresh flowers in the room," Honig explains.
Calling the front desk to mention that you're looking to enhance your stay for a special occasion never hurts, Mechiorri adds, as staff in the hospitality industry aim to elevate guests' experiences and foster loyalty and engagement.
Always Ask at Check-In
"Always be very kind to people when you check in," DiScala says. Greeting the front desk agent by name, inquiring about a room on a higher floor politely and being discreet can go a long way. Honig also recommends inquiring about upgrade availability at check-in. Regardless of whether you're a loyalist with elite status, "it's worth asking if any upgrades are available when you check into a hotel," he says. If there's inventory available, typically the front desk agent will offer a higher room category or at least give you the option of a better room for a low fee.
"In some cases, such as at large Las Vegas resorts, it's even acceptable to tip the front desk representative in exchange for an upgrade, though your chances of success will depend on the tip amount, premium room availability and the particular agent you're working with," Honig cautions.
"Just like with air travel, your best chance of scoring an upgrade is to demonstrate your loyalty to a chain," Honig says. "The more often you stay with a group of hotels, the higher elite level you'll earn, and top status holders are much more likely to receive a free upgrade than occasional leisure travelers," he adds. That said, it's best to do your homework and know which privileges members are entitled to ahead of your stay, Honig explains.
Perhaps your status level affords complimentary suite upgrades (depending on room availability). In that case, you can score a better room for free. For example, Omni Select Guest offers this benefit to Platinum Level members, and the Wyndham Rewards program offers this perk to members with Diamond status. Meanwhile, Marriott offers this benefit for members who have attained Gold Elite status, and Hilton Honors offers this privilege to those who have achieved Gold status.
Carrying the right hotel-affiliated credit card can also be key to landing an upgrade without splurging, DiScala says. For example, the IHG Rewards Club Select Credit Card from Chase allows cardholders to earn Platinum Elite status and take advantage of free room upgrades. Meanwhile, the Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve card enables cardholders to achieve Gold status and earn complimentary room upgrades, based on availability.
Turn to a Trusted Adviser
Regardless of whether you're planning a trip to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, life milestone or other special occasion, working with a reputable travel adviser who can leverage extensive industry connections can help you enjoy generous perks and secure nicer accommodations. "While most travelers book hotels directly or through online travel agencies, there are advantages to booking your stay through an individual travel adviser as well – particularly one that's a member of a program like Virtuoso, which often offers competitive rates and significant perks like room upgrades, stay credits, late checkout and more," Honig says.
Luxury travel agents who specialize in high-end travel and are affiliated with larger consortiums can also help you navigate setbacks if you're in a pinch, land special accommodation rates and ensure you're treated like a favored guest, thanks to their industry contacts. Plus, advisers working with larger network alliances such as Signature Travel Network and Virtuoso can typically ensure an automatic upgrade based on availability.
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