How to Ask for an Upgrade

When readers shared their own travel tips several had suggestions for getting upgrades. I wanted to share those, and then offer my own advice.

Jordan said,

Contact hotel managers before special vacations and let them know why you are traveling and politely ask if there is anything they can do to help make the trip more memorable. (Room upgrades often happen. Great if you have no status)

Dainya Olsen said,

Whenever I’m going on a special trip and want to ensure an upgrade I email the hotel manager. Beyond upgrades we have received chocolate covered strawberries and other snacks for our special occasion.

Jordan said,

Politely/jokingly ask for things. Example that got me an international upgrade to business class was after i got talking to the flight attendent I mentioned how it would be a waste to have that empty seat in business class go to waste… he gladly let me move.

Spencer F said,

Combining two tips into one: “If you don’t ask, the answer’s no” and “It’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar” Don’t be afraid to ask for upgrades, better rooms, etc. but doing so in a genuinely nice way can increase the odds.

Sice said,

Always mention special events, birthday, anniversary. You never know when you’ll be upgraded!

CodeAdam10 said,

Contact the hotel before special vacations and let them know why you are traveling and politely ask if there is anything they can do to help make the trip more memorable. (Room upgrades often happen — a little work for something very beneficial even if you have no status)

Airline upgrades are almost exclusively done by formula, with little discretion allowed to gate or check-in counter agents. The only time there may be wiggle room is when a flight is oversold, and while elite frequent flyers may get preference for moving up to a premium cabin, the most important priority is getting a flight out on time. Other than these “operational upgrades” though, upgrades are going to be based on published criteria – not who is nicest, who dresses best, or who asks.

Rental car upgrades are probably easiest, car agencies will often sell upgrades for a very modest fee and counter agents may even get commissioned based on selling you an upgrade. Given them an excuse or a reason (such as your status) and you may just drive away in a better car. But without any status, upgrades can usually be purchased for a few bucks a day (and the price may be negotiable).

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).

    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, man 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 askand ticket in the door. But lots of people have status. And not all programs are created equal; Marriott, Hilton HHonors, and Priority Club don’t even include upgrades to suites as a published feature of their programs.

    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.

    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.

Here’s where some of the reader tips really come in.

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.

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, Lucky had an interesting (and successful) experience with this recently.

Similarly, I mentioned my disappointment at the location of my suite at the Intercontinental Montelucia (ground floor, right next to the pool) and they moved me to a much larger suite… with its own back yard.

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

This is also where tipping comes in, 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.)

Even More Advice

This summer I posted a video discussion of scoring hotel upgrades.

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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. Gary, is it easier or harder to get an upgrade when you are staying with a negotiated rate from your company?

  2. @Denis – in general probably doesn’t make a difference except that you cannot use points to confirm the upgrade in programs like Hyatt’s and Starwood’s

  3. “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”

    I did this at the Hyatt Regency Toronto when the sofa in the living room of the suite was under a large curved window without shades. It felt like a sunroom. It would have been unbareable for me to work while watching TV for any extended period.

    I was there for a week using points and I know they were not thrilled but felt obligated to move me to a better suite.

  4. You reference knowing which hotels are known being generous with upgrades (or particularly stingy), where can this information be found?



  5. B careful ab the tipping f.desk method. I once tipped $50 at taj n.y.c. and get the exact rm i booked.

  6. “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).”

    I was talking about this with a Fairmont desk clerk who told me that upgrading a guest based on her own discretion was grounds for termination. I wonder if non-corporate hotels are more open to upgrade discussions.

  7. I keep reading that IHG hotels don’t do status based upgrades. My only experience is that the last two summers in a row we have been upgraded before arrival at the Crowne Plaza Bruges in Belgium. We are both IHG Gold, but only by having the Priority cc, with just a few paid stays a year ago, and none this year.

    We were staying for 2 nights on the yearly certificates, and a third night on the last of our points. Still got upgraded to a Suite. Maybe in the summer there are no business travelers, and they can’t sell those $500+ suites, but whatever the reason I’m not complaining.

  8. I thought that the 20$ trick, you would put the note in the passport. Where else than Las Vegas does it work? And how much should we give?

  9. Robert F. – This really depends on the hotel. I’ve worked at multiple hotels and the upgrade policy depends on the hotel. Some hotels empower their employees more than others. I know some people who had to clear any upgrade or compensation with the MOD before offering it to the guests.

  10. If you were going to fax the GM in advance about an upgrade, how far out would you suggest doing that? Thanks!

  11. Something about grubbing for upgrades just doesn’t sit well with me. I understand it works sometimes, which is why people do it. But still – I’d feel weird asking a manager if they could do anything “to make my trip more memorable”.

    I guess there’s no real harm in asking nicely, but I don’t think it’s cool when people bully their way into upgrades or take advantage of employees who just don’t want to deal with the unpleasantness of saying no to someone who’s in their face.

  12. doing a bos-Mun-Fra-Dub in the spring and need an upgrade to Bus or at least Lounge access since we are using US points. We could not get BUS seats as not avail (they did not release any). With the withdrawal of US from the *Alliance we hope we can talk into an upgrade or lounge access (have a 9 hr layover).

    Any suggestons?

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