How to Get an Upgrade on Your Next Hotel Stay

Hotel upgrades have a great deal of discretion. While rooms may be pre-assigned to guests, the front desk agent can usually make a decision (within certain bounds set by the hotel — the best suites may require a manager’s approval).

    how to get an upgrade
    Living room at the Park Hyatt Abu Dhabi

There are many reasons they might upgrade you — your status, because you’ve been disserviced in some way, because you tipped them.

Tips go a long way in Las Vegas, and supposedly in some other cities. The “$20 trick” costs more at better hotels, but involves slipping cash to the check-in agent along with your credit card and asking them if an upgrade might be possible. Know what room you want, and ask for it specifically. At the Bellagio, $100 once got me a suite with five bathrooms for a four night stay.

Using Your Elite Status at Hotels for Maximum Effect

There are a lot of guests in a hotel, many of which have some sort of status, and some get the upgrade and some don’t, some get the ‘special’ suites while others get the more mundane ones. And there are things that you can do to distinguish yourself, and it usually does have more to do with your mojo and strategy than about who you are in a hotel’s program (super-secret special hotel levels notwithstanding).

Let’s not over-estimate the importance of ‘technique’, because hotel elite status obviously matters a lot. It’s the excuse to ask and your ticket in the door. But lots of people have status. And not all programs are created equal; Marriott, Hilton HHonors, and IHG Rewards Club don’t even include upgrades to suites as a published promise of their programs.

    how to get an upgrade
    Extreme Wow Suite at the W San Diego

Hyatt will let their Diamond members confirm a suite at booking four times a year, but it’s not usually going to be one of the monster or ‘named’ suites.

Starwood’s upgrade program technically only extends to ‘standard’ suites.

The one program that I’ve found can be useful in getting the really high-end suites, and whose hotels often have them, is Intercontinental’s Royal Ambassador.

In each case though one key is to stategize. Hotels may be known for giving more generous upgrades than are required by a loyalty program. Know which hotels those are and patronize them. Similarly, some hotels give the bare minimum required (if that), avoid those.

    how to get an upgrade
    Two bedroom ocean pool villa at the Conrad Koh Samui

But status is an opening gambit, a reason to give the upgrade but not a guarantee of that upgrade. Be nice and ask and combine that with status.

Book Hotels through the Right Channels

While I’ve had suites on Priceline stays, discounted third party bookings and even full price online travel agencies aren’t going to be helpful. Hotels pay a big commission to third parties and usually third party guests are seen as less loyal. You might get upgraded but these venues don’t boost your chances.

Booking through a chain’s website doesn’t get you anything positive but it doesn’t detract from your chances.

Premium hotel programs like American Express Fine Hotels and Resorts, Virtuoso agents for participating properties, and other similar programs such as Visa Signature Hotels may incorporate an upgrade subject to availability as a free add-on to your reservation, and often at no additional cost.

Negotiating With Hotels in Advance

Upgrades can be arranged through correspondence with a manager.. GM, reservations manager, revenue manager, etc. Some hotels put e-mail addresses on their websites, other times I google the contact information.

Before I had any sort of hotel status, I would often send a fax to the hotel with some request about my stay. Perhaps it was a special occasion, and could they give me the view I was looking forward to? I might have flowers delivered to the room so that they’re there when we arrive, that would force the hotel to pre-block a room, and while they were thus hand-selecting a room it would tend to be better than if left to the check-in desk.

I would send a fax rather than making a phone call usually on the theory that a piece of paper could be picked up and taken as an action item, whereas a person that I got on the phone might well forget to do anything I had asked. (E-mail works.)

With elite status things are still quite negotiable. At the Sheraton Saigon I offered to spend points to get a Towers room. I had booked an award stay, and the hotel doesn’t upgrade from the main rooms to the Towers section as a status benefit. But they agreed to move me offer for points, confirmed in advance rather than an instant award at check-in, and then confirm my elite upgrade to a suite in the Towers section at the same time.

Negotiating With Hotels at Check-in

Various hotels give varying levels of discretion to front desk staff, Randy Petersen was quoted years ago in the New York Times suggesting walking up to the counter and saying something like, “By any chance, is that big presidential suite available? I just feel important tonight,” and it doesn’t hurt to ask, even jokingly, once in a blue moon it might work.

Sometimes it means ‘pushing’ at the check-in counter. When I arrived at the former Westin Rio Mar at 4pm, my pre-blocked junior suite wasn’t ready. They suggested I go have a drink or a late lunch and wait. I asked whether they were buying me lunch? Or if they’d like to find me a better room that was ready? The front office manager came over, typed a bit, and put me into an Atlantic Suite.

It can also mean just expressing disappointment once you get up to the room, returning to the front desk and asking the hotel to do better.

Now, In Las Vegas, “negotiating” means “tipping.”

On that Bellagio stay I slipped the $100 under my credit card, and asked “I was wondering if there are any upgrades available, I’d love one of those great big penthouse suites.”

The desk clerk typed away, took my credit card and stuck the $100 in her pocket, and told me that I’d enjoy my room very much (but that if I had any concerns, to please come back and speak with her and not anyone else.)

More Advice

Three years ago I posted a video discussion of scoring hotel upgrades.

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 »

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  1. Thanks, Gary. If I have status at the hotel chain, I try to find the email of a manager at the hotel and ask them a few days before my stay. I personally don’t like asking in person and usually do okay with an email ahead of time.

  2. Now I’m sure everyone is asking; How many times will I be out $20+ every time I try the tipping trick? Also, many readers to this blog are checking into hotels with reward points. Getting an upgrade on “free” rooms is almost unheard of. The worse rooms are typically set aside for award stays.

  3. Running low on content today? This is a recycled post. Nearly verbatim to a previous post from June 1, 2011.

  4. @Evan

    I imagine his readership has changed significantly in 5 years, and are unlikely to pore through his old posts. Doesn’t hurt to make a new one, even if the info hasn’t changed much

  5. Tim:

    In my experience @ Bellagio, the check-in agent pushed me back my $50 as he said he was unable to upgrade me (as nothing was available). I guess they only take the tip if they can deliver 🙂

    So you are really not out anything just for trying in Vegas – though YMMV…

  6. Hah! I love this post Gary. Does Tim have a point with award stay upgrades being nearly impossible?

  7. Any tips for a hotel independent of any chain? I am travelling to Hong Kong where many excellent hotels are not affiliated, therefore no status can be referred to other than maybe previous visit/s ?

  8. I find elite status is meaningless when it comes to suite upgrades (SPG notwithstanding) – it just means you don’t get the worst room in the hotel and if you do the front desk will entertain a request to change rooms. Similarly I have rarely had success with advance emails to the hotel (the normal reply will offer an expensive paid upgrade).

    Virtuoso always results in a better room, but use of an agent generally means I am paying a non-discounted rate at a premium property – often much more than I would normally pay (or just use points).

    I find the key factors for upgrade success are (1) length of stay and (2) occupancy. My best upgrades have come on one night stays with late checkins where the hotel is fairly full. Conversely, I rarely get a “free” upgrade on family trips over extended weekends, because we often travel at peak times to high demand destinations. Interesting how neither factor is addressed in this blog post.

  9. Just curious, how long ago was that Bellagio upgrade? I thought that $100 would be enough for the penthouse suite since the recovery.

  10. +1 Evan….This is normal he actually like to recycle more often than you think….actually he prefers to copy other bloggers posts and ‘pretends’ like it is his owns…

  11. I must admit Gary that I am always amazed at the number of readers offering to edit your blog for free!

    But seriously, did you find the time during your 4 night stay to use all 5 toilets?

  12. @johnny33 thank you as always for your thoughtful contribution. I wonder though whether it seemed at all ironic to you, continuing to recycle the same snarky comments here while you continue to read this blog over and over. Meanwhile I wonder whether you’ve noticed that I’m one of the most careful bloggers about attributing information I’ve seen elsewhere when bringing it to readers of this site.

  13. @Gary Leff, funny and true comment you wrote to Johnny33! I don’t read all of your articles, but when I just read his comment, I thought, geese, I’ve seen several of his comments – and “snarky” wasn’t what came to mind to describe them. I wondered why he continues to read and comment?

  14. @Rene.
    Go figure. I have subscribed to Gary for several years and yes have seen the post in a similar format before. Gary’s database will have changed in the meantime and I suspect is new content for a fair number of subscribers.
    Although I am UK based now, some of the content remains relevant for me and I enjoy the blog and Gary’s insights to our fascinating hobby.
    You will always get the detractors, I particularly enjoy DCS’s take on Gary’s posts and his particular stance…
    Hats off to Gary for the time and effort to produce the blog, just one, only one request, can we please get a new pic of the Conrad Samui;)

  15. @Evan I thought I read this before . Confirmed it when Gary showed the Intercontinental Montelucia which became the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia a couple of years ago. It is like shopping at Gimblis

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