Scoring an Upgrade at the Bellagio: a tip at checkin and a two-bedroom, five bath suite

I’m sitting at the Bellagio in Vegas, and while it’s certainly an impressive physical plant it isn’t really a ‘nice’ hotel.

Every request takes probably 45 minutes or more to fulfill. (I wanted more towels, so I was sure to pull out my phone while I was down at the pool to call the hotel so that there would be towels in the room when I went up later… there weren’t, but fortunately housekeeping turned up within 20 minutes of my returning to the room.) Turndown service is inconsistent. Housekeeping is inconsistent. The lobby is a madhouse. Valet parking can take a couple minutes or 30.

But that’s really a function of Vegas more generally. There are a few better service-oriented options. Certainly Skylofts at MGM Grand would provide better service (I haven’t stayed there myself). Of course once you leave your room you’re still in the MGM. And there’s the Four Seasons on the top floors of Mandalay Bay, but it does have a separate entrance. It’s at the very southernmost end of the strip, not where I wanted to stay, and price was about three times as much for my dates. So I chose the Bellagio.

All of the missing pieces at the Bellagio can easily be made up for by an outstanding room. Luxury can’t be replicated on a 3000-room scale. But the peace and tranquility of the room itself can help. Booking through Amex Fine Hotels and Resorts I was pre-blocked into a lakeview room. And their standard rooms are large as far as standard rooms go. Lakeview is nice for the water show, with the accompanying music available on the TV channel 31. But it’s just a room, a place to sleep and shower, and not a peaceful retreat.

I’m used to having a bit of juice with the standard hotel chains, and I’ve been the fortunate recipient of several outstanding and lavish suite upgrades this year. But in Vegas my chain options are more or less limited to the Aladdin on the strip or the Westin or Hilton if I want to go off-strip. And I’m not a high roller.

Fortunately, in Vegas you don’t need to be. You just need to tip the checkin clerk. And the best part is that you feel like Sinatra while you’re doing it.

The conventional wisdom is that you’ll have more success with male clerks than females, but the dozen or so people working checkin were all women. I scoped out my choices and picked my line. I walked up to the front of the line when it was my turn, struck up a conversation, and pulled out my drivers license and credit card… with a $100 bill folded beneath it (with the amount clearly showing).

In most properties a $20 should do the trick. At the Bellagio I’m guessing a $20 wouldn’t get me far, maybe the lakeview I was already in. Would a $50 have worked? Probably. But the $100 provides the wow ‘pop’ factor, and I really wanted a better room. Plus, I was planning to stay 4 nights so it’s really just an extra $25 a night (with no tax!).

I politely asked whether any upgraded rooms might be available, and that I’d especially love “one of those big penthouse suites.” She looked at the $100 and said, “let me see what I can find.”

Chances hadn’t seemed good, since I checked online and the hotel was completely sold out. No rooms available for purchase, what if all the suites had been allocated? But I suppose they were probably oversold on standard rooms and someone was going to have to get moved up. I just figured I should make sure I secured that upgrade.

The woman at checkin pounded at the keyboard and was having a terribly difficult time of it. It didn’t help that I was checking in at 1pm. Not all the rooms were cleaned yet, and she couldn’t assign a room that wasn’t ready even if I was willing to wait for it (and she couldn’t risk my coming back to get keys from another checkin clerk!).

Finally she found a room that she promised I’d like. It was a two-bedroom, five bath suite in the Spa tower. Over two thousand square feet, my biggest suite score of the year (topping the 1650 square foot Diplomatic Suite at the Intercontinental Bangkok I had back in April).

She handed me the keys, I pushed forward the $100, and she placed it in her pocket. Pleasure doing business with you!

The whole transaction took place right under the nose of the assistant front desk manager, the checkin line I used was right next to the manager’s station. I really don’t know why clerks in Vegas regularly get away with this, perhaps it’s so ingrained in the culture that the cost to the hotel to monitor and disabuse the behavior is too high for it to be worth it. And perhaps wages for front desk clerks are depressed to account for their ability to supplement their income on their own. I can only speculate on the economics and motives of it.

But someone is going to get moved up to a suite. In some circles it’s done by status. In others it’s random. In Vegas, tips are king — at checkin, at the show, everywhere. It’s culturally acceptable here, where in most other places it’s not. And I’m generally comfortable applying local ethos and customs and not binding myself by my own provincial norms.

Sure, you could read “tip” as “bribe” — but it’s no secret to the hotels and I’ll defer to their judgment on the appropriateness of the technique. Mostly I wanted to see how well it would work.

Thanks to Flyertalk’s skofarrell for plenty of tips on the technique. Here’s my previous post on the $20 trick and my other tips for scoring a hotel upgrade.

Dining room


Living room


One of the two bathrooms attached to each bedroom


One of the bedrooms in the suite


View of the water show with Paris in the background


I ran into Kevin Smith on the way back from the pool. He was smoking a cigarette outside the arcade


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. Getting the room is one thing, but running into Kevin Smith? That’s even better! Congrats!

  2. gleff,

    Thanks for sharing the experience, the pics and the ‘tips’ for a ‘King size’ upgrade!

    What day did you check in? (sorry if I missed that)

    Cheers 🙂

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