Tipping for hotel upgrade: MleValue writes about tipping $20 at checkin at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. This is usually called “the twenty dollar trick”. He got an ocean front Ali’i Tower room with free breakfast.
But $20 to upgrade his four night stay was clearly worth the ‘tip’ at checkin.
The only time I’ve ever done this is in Las Vegas.
When I was staying at the Bellagio for four nights I pre-prepared myself. I took out the credit card I would be using, and stuck a $100 bill behind it — folded so that it was smaller than the card, but with the largest ‘$100’ showing up so that it wouldn’t be missed. This was a $100 trick rather than the twenty dollar trick.
I walked up to the check-in counter, pulled out my drivers license and the credit card (with $100 bill) now in my pocket, and slid it across the desk.
I was wondering if you have any upgrades available? I’d love one of those great big penthouse suites.
The usual advice is to pick a man over a woman at the front desk to check you in. I don’t know if that actually matters, but I hung back for a bit and watched the different checkin lines. Remember you don’t have to take ‘whoever is next’ to help you. Just hang back. I saw a woman who seemed to handle herself well, confidently. I didn’t want someone frazzled, overwhelmed. I wanted a veteran who wouldn’t be nervous, who would have been through this drill many times before.
The woman was indeed confident, but I got a little bit nervous when it turned out that the manager out front at the desk was hovering a few feet to her left. No matter. She noticed the $100 but barely blinked. Started typing away. Mind you, the Bellagio was booked solid even though it was July. She was having difficulty finding something suitable.
If all she had was a fountain view, I was prepared to swap out a $20. I wouldn’t have been happy with $100 for regular room with a view. And while if she had simply said ‘no’ I could have taken the bill back, I would have still tipped her $20 for trying. It wouldn’t have been expected, but I would have felt strange putting the $100 out there and giving her nothing, even if she gave me nothing, which probably goes to the ethics of the whole transaction.
After typing away for awhile she had success. A key lesson as well is to know what you want, I specified a penthouse suite and that’s what she gave me. It had two bedrooms and five bathrooms in addition to a dining area and a bar.
She said I’d like it, but did mention if I had any questions or concerns to please come back only to her (we didn’t want to involve anyone else in this little transaction of ours, did we?).
This was 2006, and I haven’t done it since. Even in Las Vegas, because I haven’t especially cared what room I had. (All of the rooms at the Cosmopolitan for instance were nice enough.)
I do think there’s something about Las Vegas which makes it ok. I know I felt ok doing it there, I also know I haven’t done it anywhere else. When you’re surreptitiously slipping a $100 to get what you want there you feel like Frank Sinatra. You feel like you fit in. That’s just how Vegas is supposed to work, right?
Sure, it’s engaging in a transaction where you’re paying a hotel employee to do something which may not be in their employer’s interest. You’re bribing that employee to sell you something at a discount, with them keeping the money instead of the hotel. That’s wrong, right?
It does feel wrong. At least anywhere but Vegas. And I’ve never had a great sense of how well it worked outside of Vegas, even though it seems to work most of the time in Vegas.
Very Good Points recently reviewed Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky. She didn’t like the book, describing it as “a detailed guide on how to hustle, steal, lie and rip off hotels and their guests.”
Tomsky is always talking about the value of tipping throughout — whether it’s what he would do for guests as a front desk agent in exchange for tips, or about the rest of the staff angling for tips, pressuring tips for guests, and how he would help them put guests in awkward situations so they would feel compelled to tip.
He began his career in New Orleans, and though he fictionalizes names he clearly started off working at the Ritz-Carlton there when that property opened. But his scamming didn’t begin until working at a hotel in New York.
New York is certainly a tipping town, and I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me how well tipping for a better room, free breakfast and late checkout works there at least in Tomsky’s telling. I enjoyed the book, even if it’s somewhat fictionalized, I read it over a couple of afternoons earlier in the month in Grand Cayman (hotel report forthcoming).
I didn’t want to know his experience of maids cleaning glasses with pledge, and I wouldn’t use his tricks to get everything free out of the minibar (when not staying at an Intercontinental). But I can still enjoy reading stories that horrify me.
And it got me thinking, how much can tipping get you outside of Vegas? How common is this? And how do I feel about it? Have you tried a twenty dollar trick?
Me, I’ll stand by my usual approaches for securing the best hotel upgrades. Which includes tipping — in Las Vegas only.