Tips For Scoring A Hotel Room Upgrade

Several years ago, I began a cross-country trip in San Francisco, where I’d booked a night at the Marriott through Priceline for something like $85. But because I’d arrived so late in the evening, the only room left for me wasn’t the windowless heck-hole next to the ice machine I would usually expect, but a deluxe room with a sweeping view of the city. Little did I know I’d inadvertently followed one of Travel + Leisure’s tips for hotel upgrades.

Without further ado, here are some highlights from the list T+L put together for

1. Go where there are empty rooms:
These days, certain destinations with high room counts have had lower occupancy rates: Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Hawaii and Orlando are among the cities T+L suggests. Also, try the resorts in the off- and shoulder seasons.

2. Book the right way:
Try using a travel agent who’s affiliated with a network such as Virtuoso or Ensemble Travel. They can sometimes get you bumped up to the next room category.

3. Go standby:
Hilton and Hyatt are among the hotel chains that allow customers to pay a nominal fee to get on a standby list for space-available upgrades.

4. Be card savvy:
There are many credit cards affiliated with hotels that can earn you upgrades. Additionally, T+L points out that booking with an American Express Centurion or Platinum card can get you a better room — but then again, T+L is owned by American Express, so take that with a grain of salt.

5. Check in later:
The later you check in after noon, the better your chances for securing an upgrade, especially if you’re staying only one night. Plus, it’s more likely that housekeeping has turned over rooms.

6. Be loyal:
If you’re a frequent travel, many chains ofter loyalty programs. So be sure to sign up and use your member number ever time you book to earn your way to an upgrade.

As always with these lists, there are likely to be glaring omissions or items on the list you disagree with. Tell us all about it below!

7 strategies for hotel upgrades []


Edit Your Comment

  1. Blinden says:

    hold a $20 visibly in your hand and ask the desk “Is there any upgrades available?”

    If yes, give them the $20, if no, thank them for checking. This will be far from the first or last time they’ll have seen this.

    • HRGirl wants a cookie says:

      This worked for me in Vegas; we ended up in a suite for the week and they threw in some free trips to the buffet. Friend says it’s because I showed major clevage but we’ll just say it was the tip for the sake of propriety.

    • JRules says:

      Thats not exactly a free upgrade then is it…

      • Blinden says:

        I don’t exactly see the word “free” anywhere, what’s your point?

        If you don’t want to spend the extra $20, maybe an upgrade isn’t for you.

        • JRules says:

          If I wanted to pay for an upgrade, I would just pay for an upgrade. Whats the point in this list if they are not free options.

          • Blinden says:

            because it’s still cheaper then paying full price for the upgrade..

            this really isn’t as hard of a concept as you are trying to make it out to be.

            • evnmorlo says:

              Rather sketchy though since you are encouraging the clerk to embezzle money

              • macnbc says:

                It’s not embezzlement. If he took the money I paid for the hotel room and put it in his bank account, that would be. The $20 is a tip.

                • Randell says:

                  Most hotels do not allow tipping to the front desk and would be considered embezzlement. It would be like going to the meat counter and giving the butcher an extra $20 to bill you for chicken instead of veal. Or how about you give the flight attendant $20 and she moves you to first class. It is not only unethical, it is theft of service unless management specifically allows for it.

                  • Sudonum says:

                    Excuse me, I’ve worked in the hotel industry off and on for 20 years. Front Desk people ARE NOT discouraged from taking tips, at least in any of the 20 or so hotels I’ve work in.

                    That being said, giving a clerk a tip top get an upgrade isn’t going to work everywhere. It’s much more likely to work in places like Vegas, New York, or New Orleans than it is other locales, shall we say, more conservative locales. And as stated previously, it depends entirely on hotel occupancy.

                    And no, it’s not considered theft or embezzlement. However, if one clerk has a penchant for doing it significantly more than others, they will get asked about it.

                  • peebozi says:

                    The recent SCOTUS ruling relating to “honest services” addresses this for you. it is now legal to scam

              • Chmeeee says:

                That $20 is a tip. The clerks frequently are allowed discretion in giving away free upgrades. Your tip is encouraging them to use said discretion on you rather than the next customer in line.

                I have done this at the MGM Grand. While it didn’t get me a suite, it did get me moved from 3rd floor facing the back to 22nd floor facing the strip.

              • Av4rice says:

                Supposedly clerks get a certain amount of discretionary upgrades that they can use for various reasons like smoothing out a mistake that the hotel might have made, or compensating for things like a large convention in the hotel or ongoing construction. Essentially you’re giving a large tip in exchange for a discretionary upgrade, on the chance that they have any left and aren’t saving any to potentially help out a future guest. If they don’t have any to spare, they just refuse.

                Some hotels don’t like the practice and don’t allow discretionary upgrades without a manager, in which case those clerks would also refuse.

                More details here:

              • Big Mama Pain says:

                Time to look up the word “embezzle” in the dictionary…

            • macnbc says:


              I’ve done this in Vegas twice and its worked both times. At the MGM Grand I got upgraded to a suite from a standard room, and at Caesar’s Palace the desk clerk upgraded us from an older standard room to a HUGE room in their newest tower…. and then he gave me the $20 back!

              In both cases paying for an upgrade would’ve cost into the hundreds of dollars, but the most I paid was $20. I call that a good deal even if it isn’t free.

    • wadexyz says:

      haha, if I tried that, it would end up like Seinfeld when he tried to pay off the maître d’ at the Chinese restaurant

  2. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    8. Where the outfit pictured above.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      *Wear, cursed edit button.

      • SlayerGhede says:

        What are you talking about? I see the edit button just fine

        *edited by SlayerGhede at 10:41 AM, June 25, 2010*

  3. Snockered says:

    Oh really? Waving around your Amex Centurion (Black) card will get extra special free stuff? Never would have guessed.

    • fatediesel says:

      If you have an AmEx Black card you aren’t worrying about free upgrades because you’re so rich you’ve already booked the best room. The Black card is very hard to get, as you have a high net worth, a near-perfect credit history, spend at least $250,000 a year with your AmEx, and have to pay a $5,000 fee to get the card and a $2,500 annual fee.

      • 47ka says:

        It is one of my dreams to get that card, but I don’t know what I would spend 250K a year on unless I actually went into business for myself. You can’t put real estate on AMEX.

      • Snockered says:

        I was joking.

        But really, the free perks are the only reason to have a centurion, aside from the bragging rights. Free plane tickets, hotel rooms, concierge service, etc.

  4. Swervo says:

    Hawaii is a city?

    • god_forbids says:

      Yeah, that’s my question too. Didn’t know that hotels in (my town) Honolulu are indistinguishable from those in Poipu, Kailua-Kona or Ka’anapali.

  5. nbs2 says:

    There were seven tips and you listed six as highlights? Why skip the use your connections? I would suspect more folks have the connections mentioned than carry the Centurion.

  6. bhr says:

    1. ASK
    1b. Be nice

    you get someone at the front desk ask you why you are in town or any other question be pleasant. Usually they are stuck talking to jerks all day, so a kind response can quickly make a friend at the counter. If you are in town for something other then business travel mention it to them. I got a number of free upgrades while taking my brother to see grad schools just because the guy/gal at the front desk was a college student as well and wanted to help him out. Same went for going to see my friends from college in San Francisco last year. It never hurts to ask for an upgrade.

    • Good Cop Baby Cop says:

      This is exactly what I was going to say and I’m speaking as a hotel employee. Be friendly and ask.

    • pgh9fan1 says:

      That doesn’t just work at hotels. It works everywhere. My brother and I flew into Tampa once. The flight was late and people were testy. Another big flight arrived at the same time. It was a very late Sunday evening. Everyone went straight to the rental car companies’ desks. We waited in line a while. Everyone ahead of us were such jerks to the rental agent. I mean she was really taking some serious crap. We got to the line and I smiled and acknowledged what she’d been going through. It was tough to get everyone their cars. And, they were running out even though they had reservations. We’d booked a mid-size, but I knew that they were really short on those. Since it was just the two of us I said we take even a sub-compact. She was so grateful she gave us a luxury car.

    • Sarge says:

      Found that “Please” and “Thank-you” go a long way as well.

  7. twophrasebark says:

    What would Jason Bateman do?

  8. giax says:

    1. Ask nicely
    2. It’s your honeymoon (if you are travelling as a couple)…

    • Sultan of Swing says:

      Honeymoon works quite well, but I also had luck with “we just got engaged today.” It got us upgraded from a standard to a mini-suite with jacuzzi tub.

      • RandomHookup says:

        It helps if one of you is wearing an engagement ring (though two straight guys/gals can probably make it work if you don’t mind sharing a big bed).

    • chocolate1234 says:

      Ugh, just got back from our honeymoon and it didn’t work for us at all! I was so disappointed.

  9. dreamfish says:

    8. Say you work for Consumerist


  10. mxjohnson says:

    5. Check in later:

    That’s also a good way to a downgrade. Why, they might even make you sit around for an hour waiting for a shuttle to come pick you up and take you to some other property.

    I’m an inveterate late-checker-inner. I can’t count how many times I’ve heard “We’re full, but I can put you in a lousy room and tomorrow after check-out time we’ll move you to the room you reserved.”

    • ageekymom says:

      Checking in late (with a confirmed reservation) got me upgrades at 2 hotels on my trip to Las Vegas in May. We checked in at the Golden Nugget after 10pm and were upgraded to a 2-room suite. We checked into the Palazzo around 9pm and got a $500/night 1500 sq. ft. suite upgrade (and I was being comped 4 free nights already.)

  11. 50ae says:

    Not only be loyal but learn how their loyalty program works. You can reach platinum status(Holiday Inn) in no time if you know how to earn your points. You can literally cut a month of nights off your required nights to platinum if you learn how to max out your points per stay.

  12. Shmoodog says:

    Very recent story.

    Girlfriend and I go to Jamaica Resort, Riu Montego Bay, all inclusive. We arrive at 10:30 AM, must wait until 3 pm to check in. They give us our room number right away though.

    We check back in at 3:15. They can’t find the key at first. Then, they give us a key, with a small plastic thing on it, instead of the long white plastic covered attachment that says the hotel name.

    We walk our luggage all the way around the resort, not wanting to wait for the bell hop. We use the key, open the door…and there’s someone in our room already. (We see them in the bed, and quickly back out…later surmised they must have given us the security key.)

    We back out. go back down to lobby. demand upgrade (we paid for cheapest room, no view.)

    We go to next room, with ocean view, but it had double instead of a King bed, and it REEKED of cigarettes.

    We go back down, and flip out. the manager gives us attitude.

    Finally, after we give him the death stare for 10 minutes, and we demand a king bed and a jacuzzi, he gives us…the Deluxe Suite. Best Room In The House. Jacuzzi, huge bed, best view of the resort, twice as big porch as everyone else.

    And that is how you do it.

  13. mr hoff says:

    I always complain that someone was smoking in the room previously. Many times this results in better room.

  14. Draw2much says:

    Or you could a be a young couple who just got married. That’s what happened to us. It might also have helped that my husband was military. We were traveling from MS to SD (where he was stationed) in 2003 and stopped at a hotel around 11-12 at night. We didn’t ask, hint, or suggest anything to the front desk people about an upgrade. We were just happy to find a hotel at all. The lady behind the desk upgraded our room all on her own. (And I can only assume it was because he was military and we’d just gotten married 2 days prior. Something I was happy to tell any unfortunate soul that crossed my path at the time…)

    It was one of the best hotel rooms I’d ever been in. Huge bed, super comfy, nice electronics, and a jacuzzi for a bath tub!! Wow!

    It was so sweet of the lady to upgrade us like that. I’m glad she did, since we never got a honeymoon and 3 months later my husband got deployed.

    There really some awesome people in the world, you know? :)

  15. rwalford792 says:

    All the times Ive got an upgrade – has been free, simply by asking if I could get a complimentary room upgrade, or if there are any rooms comparable to the one Ive booked at a comparable price.

    Ive been moved from a suite – a slightly larger room at a Fairmont $225 to a Lanai poolside room with complimentary snacks, drinks, strawberry Chocolate platters, and 24-hour Pool use (the pool closes at 10PM for all other guests) and parking included FOR FREE. Normally the room was $450 PLUS $75 for parking PLUS $75 for the strawberries lord knows how much fo the drinks, it was about a good $1000 night, all for the same price as another room I booked – why? Because I simply asked if there was anything different for the same price. They wanted to make a return guest happy. Ive stayed there EVERY time Im in that city since.

    Sometimes just asking gets you further.