Should You Assume Your Hotel Upgrade is Free?

A lifetime Platinum member of Starwood Preferred Guest walked into the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and at check-in asked about an upgrade. There wasn’t one available for their full stay, they were told, but the front desk agreed to upgrade them for two nights.

  • To be entitled to an upgrade, the upgraded room must be available for the full stay.

  • And they’re only entitled to a standard suite. In this case they were given the hotel’s 1900 square foot Windsor Suite with “panoramic city and bay views.”

Westin St. Francis Windsor Suite, credit: Starwood

On checkout the guest had a $300 per night ‘upgrade charge’ added to their folio for a total of $600. The front desk agent handling the checkout said “that they never upgrade to the Windsor suite” and only the manager who handled the upgrade could resolve this but he was not on property.

The guest says that they weren’t told about the upgrade fee, didn’t sign anything with a different rate (signing “only the signature box on the credit card machine upon check-in) and that their key card holder had their original rate on it and nothing else.

They followed up through Starwood and were told that the hotel determined no refund would be allowed “because [they] requested the upgrade.”

It seems to me that if no price for the upgrade was ever mentioned, then no rate was agreed to, and the customer cannot be charged.

As long as the guest’s story is true they will prevail here as long as they don’t simply acquiesce (and really they should even be compensated for having to go through this trouble but that’s another matter).

When you’re given an upgrade, with no money discussed, do you assume it’s free? Should you proactively have to ask, or is it the hotel’s responsibility to mention a price if they do want to charge more for an upgrade — as in this case they were offering something they weren’t required to by the program?

(HT: Jason H.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »



  1. I usually say “Are there any upgrades for Diamonds/Golds/etc”. But as you said, if no rate was discussed, you have to assume it’s free if you’re talking with an elite member.

    I wouldn’t have signed the receipt at checkout and dispute it with the credit card company. As you say, they’ll win that dispute for sure.

  2. If I’m going to ask (I’m also Starwood Platinum), I always ask (nicely) for a “complementary upgrade .”

  3. They should have you sign for the new upgraded price. Anything less is unacceptable and not binding.

  4. “There is no such thing as a free lunch” saying applies here. We are all big boys and girls. It is the customers’ fault for assuming there would be no charge, however it would have been nice if the person at the reception desk confirmed the rate. When I ask about an upgrade, I always predicate it with something like “for SPG Platinum members”, that way the receptionist knows exactly what I want. Case in point, when in Paris, my wife & I stopped in at the wonderful Dorchester “Le Maurice” for some cocktails. The hotel is totally over the top. I knew it would be pricey, and when I was handed a $125 tab it hurt a bit, but….I asked for it, I got it, and I paid for it. Be prepared to pay for what you ask for.

  5. “[S]igning the signature box on the credit card machine upon check-in” without having seen a specific amount on the machine (as distinguished from signing an agreement authorizing a charge for expenses to be incurred) amounts to issuing a blank check to the hotel. Do major chains ask you to do this?

  6. #tommyleo Oh please don’t ask #Chris Jensen to try again. He/she is totally off-base.

    Corporations are increasingly treacherous and deceitful without regard for individual customers. Hotels especially promise the world and add a “resort fee” in the dead of winter when 95% of the resort is unusable. Just because we have seen and heard of some fee — deceitful, customary in Albania, whatever — does not make it acceptable. It is usually a “what the traffic will bear” fee.

    My take is that such a procedure robs the pleasure from an experience in the presumption/hope that 1. some naive fool or 2. another giant corporation will fall for it.

  7. On one had I am not surprised that the Westin St Francis would try to get away with charging you without notifying you ahead of time. On the other hand I think $300 to upgrade to the Windsor Suite is a great price and something I would have happily paid if this offer was made to me.
    Of course I would not want to get the nasty surprise of being charged for something I thought was free.

  8. “‘There is no such thing as a free lunch’ saying applies here. We are all big boys and girls. It is the customers’ fault for assuming there would be no charge…”

    No, this adage does not apply here, and even saying this is preposterous. The member should’ve been warned it was a paid upgrade. Since he wasn’t, he should file the claim with his credit card, and he will get his money back 100%. In addition, I would leave a negative review about the property wherever possible and file a complaint with the California Attorney General office. In short, I, personally, would give them as much hell as I possibly could.

    That’s presuming the guest is telling the whole truth — and that’s a big presumption in itself ’cause, honestly, this story sounds a little fishy to me.

    Before my stay at Dallas Sheraton a few months ago, I contacted SPG (only Gold) and tried to upgrade to a Club room for 2K points a night. They said they didn’t have availability, but they would try to request a complimentary upgrade at the check in. At the check in, they said they didn’t have a Club room available, but they did grant me free access to the lounge.

    Long story short, a couple weeks later, I noticed an upgrade charge on my CC bill. I contacted the hotel, they confirmed I shouldn’t have been charged in the first place, apologized profusely, and issued a refund. If they didn’t, I would’ve filed a dispute with my CC and I would’ve won it. No doubts about it.

  9. Seems Sheraton has some major problems. I had a strange thing in Sheraton New Orleans about 10 days ago.
    As a Platinum member, I requested a late checkout at 11am and was granted a 4pm departure. However, when I came back to the room at 3pm, I could not open the door. Even worse, new guest already CHECKED-IN the room. When I returned to the front desk, I was told the late checkout is based on availability and not guaranteed, although the lady acknowledged that my late checkout was in the record and they should not checked me out and checked someone in. When I asked about my bag with clothes left in the room, she assured me that security had it and not a problem (really?). The worst part came in 10 minutes later — security could not find my bag.
    At 6:30pm, because the bag was still missing, the manager on duty offered me 10,000 spg points, which I declined. Then, she said that a claim would be filed.
    Two days later, an agent of insurance company called me saying that because housekeeping said that she never saw my bag, no compensation can be made.
    I tried several calls to the number (insurance) Sheraton gave me, never got a return call.

  10. 3 weeks ago I was checked into Sheraton Bourganville PVR and asked if I can get free wifi and room upgrade if available. Showed my SPG Gold membership but was denied as I did not reserved my rooms with SPG. My reservation with Amex Travel is a 3rd party agreement and will not be honored for benefits as informed by the front desk. Please Beware.

  11. I am the one stayed in Sheraton New Orleans, and just noticed that there was a comment left by another “Jay”. So, I change mine to “JayW”.

  12. I ask for upgrades at every hotel where I have status. Price is almost never discussed. The implication and the inference is always that it’s free due to status. Only once in my memory was I offered a paid suite when a free one was unavailable and that was at a Hilton during a high profile/high attendance event. But they were crystal clear about their offer at the front desk.

  13. That’s pathetic. Any time I’ve asked if they have an upgrade, they tell me if they don’t have free ones what it would cost to pay for one. I assumed that was always the case.

  14. Happened to me once at a Hilton. Hilton Hawaiian Village. At checkout, I saw that my room rate was vastly different and higher than my confirmation. The desk told me that I was “upgraded” to a room with a better view in their beachfront tower and that resulted in an increased rate.

    After explaining that I would never pay a dime to “upgrade” to the same size room as I had reserved, with the only difference being a slight view of the beach (if you turn your head 90 degrees out the window), they quickly took the upcharge off of my bill. Besides, with status, I was supposed to get space available upgrades.

    Thought that was a very shady practice, though have never encountered it anywhere else.

  15. Everytime I get an upgrade at the Encore in Vegas, they make me sign something that says “Upgrade Rate”.

    This is pretty ridiculous. If they decided the rate was $2000 a night they would force the customer to pay even though they never agreed?

  16. I asked for an upgrade at Sheraton PVR and was given an enhanced room supposedly with view of the ocean. In reality I got an obstructed view. Fortunately I was not charged dxtra for the so-called enhanced room. My request for free wifi was denied as I did not booked my rooms with them directly but with Amex Travel. To them, Amex is a 3rd party arrangement and no benefits accorded even if you are a Gold or Platinum member. A lesson learned,

  17. Like SE_Rob I always use the word “complimentary”. Everyone understands that is just a poised way of saying “free”. I also invariably, when the upgrade will make a difference, email a day before mentioning how happy I am to be visiting the XXXX Hotel and saying how much appreciated it would be if a meaningful complimentary were to be available based on my status if I have status in that hotel chain. I push for an executive room wherever possible if that has lounge privileges I would not otherwise get. Meaningful tells them I don’t want the common IC trick of calling rooms that are essentially no different except they are one floor up, “enhanced upgraded rooms”. I cannot remember the last time I was not well upgraded. The check in usually starts, Good afternoon Mr Harry, I am pleased to tell you we have a nice upgrade for you today.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *