Special Occasion Upgrades

by on August 2, 2013 · 23 comments

in TPG Contributors

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TPG Contributor Nick Ewen gives us some of his tips on how to get a hotel room upgraded for that special occasion such as an anniversary or a birthday.

As points & miles enthusiasts, we all love getting upgraded. Whether it’s that elusive Medallion upgrade clearing at the gate, getting bumped up to a suite at a luxury hotel, or even snagging a convertible at the rental car counter, these perks help make for memorable travel experiences.

However, on a recent trip with my wife, I was the recipient of a rash of upgraded hotel rooms unlike anything I had before, and it got me thinking: was there anything that made this trip any different from past ones? It suddenly dawned on me…of course it was different!

I’m not talking about hitting a new elite status threshold or opening a new credit card with added benefits. The trip in question was for our five-year anniversary, and I had included that fact within the comments section of each reservation. I strongly believe that this simple act played a direct role in our upgrades during the trip, and this post will share my experiences and provide suggestions for experiencing the same success for your own travels.

First and foremost, I think it’s important to set some realistic expectations (which can sometimes be challenging for those of us who get “spoiled” with upgrades). In all of the examples I will share, I have had at least some level of elite status. The chances of being upgraded from a basic room to an overwater bungalow in Bora Bora without any status just because you put a note in your reservation are slim to none. Secondly, there is no guarantee that any of the methods will work even with elite status. There are so many factors that figure into your likelihood of an upgrade: a property’s occupancy rates, the time of year, the length of stay, etc., that nothing is for sure.

That being said, I have tried (and succeeded) using three different methods for helping procure an upgraded room:

1)   Placing a note in my booking
2)   E-mailing/calling the hotel ahead of time
3)   Pre-booking amenities to show that I will be spending money on property (even though my stay was booked with points)

Please note that I don’t have enough data points to know if one is more effective than the others, nor do I have any way of knowing for sure if the upgrades would’ve happened anyways. However, the examples I am about to share illustrate that such methods can only help your chances.

I will also just add an ethical disclaimer. The only reason I even tried any of these methods is because this trip was for a special occasion. I would never sanction anyone saying it’s a special occasion on their trip when that wasn’t the case. It’s the equivalent of accepting a free dessert from a restaurant by falsely claiming it’s your birthday. Not only that, but if more and more people lie, chances are opportunities like this will go away, so use discretion and be honest.

Place a note in your booking
Each of the major hotel chains includes a comments section with any “Special Requests” that you may have for your upcoming stay. Don’t be shy about filling it out.

For my recently completed trip, all I did was input something along the lines of, “My wife and I will be celebrating our five-year anniversary, and I would love to surprise her with an upgraded room if at all possible. Thanks!”

At the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome, that’s all it took! When we arrived for our one-night stay (booked using 22,000 Hyatt Gold Passport Points), the guest services manager actually walked us to our room, which I felt was a bit strange. As we approached the double-doors (my second indication that something was up), she let me know that the hotel had upgraded us to the Imperial Suite in celebration of our anniversary. It was the largest hotel room we had ever had, including a giant living room, an office, and even a steam room in the shower!

The enormous living room of the Imperial Suite at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome; that’s me with my hands up at the far end!

The enormous living room of the Imperial Suite at the Park Hyatt Paris Vendome; that’s me with my hands up at the far end!

Even more surprising? I am only Platinum with Hyatt. Now granted, this was a one-night stay on a Tuesday at the end of May (so not exactly high season), but it was still an incredible surprise. In this case, given that upgraded rooms are not even a published benefit for Platinum members, I can only assume that this request played a significant role.

Later in the trip, my wife and I made it to Mauritius, where we spent three nights (Wednesday through Saturday) at the new St. Regis Mauritius Resort. It was a terrific property in and of itself, but what made the stay even more memorable was our upgrade here.

When we arrived, we were met by our butler and escorted to the Manor House Suite, one of the property’s largest rooms, complete with a huge balcony overlooking the pool and ocean, an enormous living room, and a massive bathroom with two built-in massage tables. Not too shabby for a simple note when making the reservation.

The four poster bed in the Manor House Suite at the St. Regis Mauritius.

The four poster bed in the Manor House Suite at the St. Regis Mauritius.

This room was also booked using points, though I am a top-tier elite with Starwood Preferred Guest. In fact, I used my Platinum Requalification Gift of 35% off a Starpoints redemption on this stay, so rather than costing me 60,000 points, the three-night stay only set me back 39,000 points.

Funnily enough, the resort actually upgraded me in stages. About a week in advance, my online reservation had us in a junior suite. Then, two days before our arrival, we were in a St. Regis Suite. By the time we arrived on property, we had been bumped up to the Manor Suite.

Contact the hotel (via phone or e-mail) ahead of time
I have had two very recent experiences with this as well, both of which resulted in terrific room upgrades that may have not happened without the communication.

The first was last May in Bali – this trip was for our fourth anniversary. I had booked a six-night stay at the Conrad Bali using Hilton HHonors points, which at the time only set me back 157,500 points (ahh, the pre-devaluation days!). About a month before we arrived, I sent a very simple e-mail to the hotel manager, noting that it was our anniversary and politely requesting an upgraded room if at all possible. He wrote back and let me know that he would see what he could do, and then, two days before we left, I noticed that we had been upgraded to a room in the Conrad Suites section, which was in the part of resort near an adults-only pool, the executive lounge, and even included daily laundry service (though sadly, this has since been discontinued; guests in the Conrad Suites section of the resort now only get a discount). Again, I have no way of knowing if my Hilton Diamond status would’ve led to this upgrade anyway, but the communication certainly didn’t hurt my chances.

The adults-only pool area and Executive Lounge (second floor above the umbrellas) at the Conrad Bali.

The adults-only pool area and Executive Lounge (second floor above the umbrellas) at the Conrad Bali.

I had a similar experience at the Hilton Labriz Resort & Spa in the Seychelles this past May during our big anniversary trip. After booking a six-night stay for just 225,000 points (again, at pre-devaluation levels), I contacted the hotel to arrange for our boat transportation to and from the property (which is complimentary for stays of 5+ nights booked online). I also casually mentioned the fact that the trip was to celebrate our five-year anniversary, and I politely inquired about surprising my wife with an upgraded room. When we arrived, we had been bumped from the standard garden villa to a King Beachfront Villa. Even better was the fact that our villa was one of only 6 (by my count) in that category of rooms with a private plunge pool in the walled-off patio.

Looking out through the bathroom to the private patio of the King Beachfront Villa, including an outdoor rain shower and private plunge pool.

Looking out through the bathroom to the private patio of the King Beachfront Villa, including an outdoor rain shower and private plunge pool.

Each hotel’s website will include a phone number, but where can you find an e-mail address? Some hotels actually post an e-mail address online, while some managers respond to comments on TripAdvisor, thus allowing you to “guess” their e-mail address (e.g. if the manager of a Hilton is named Bob Johnson, chances are his e-mail address is [email protected]). For the Conrad stay, I managed to find the e-mail address through FlyerTalk, while the Hilton Labriz communication was initiated through the coordinator who arranges transportation to the resort from the main island.

Pre-Book On-Property Purchases
There’s one final thing you can do to help your upgrade chances: contact the hotel ahead of time to pre-book some type of service on the property. There’s no question that we like taking advantage of free things while traveling. However, some hotels may view an award reservation as less “valuable” than a revenue room. I’ve even heard at least one hotel employee refer to point redeemers as “free-loaders!” (Please note that this was a friend and was “off-the-clock” at the time. I would not take kindly to being addressed that way by an employee during a stay.)

In at least two of the cases above, my initial contact with the hotel also included an inquiry about pre-booking services. At the Conrad in Bali, my wife and I figured we would be jet-lagged after flying MIA-JFK-HKG-DPS, so we booked a jet-lag recovery massage with the on-property spa. It was much more expensive than our other spa treatments off property at the Sekar Jagat Spa, but it was well worth it, especially if it played any role in helping us get the upgraded room!

At the Hilton Labriz, we did the exact same thing with a massage after flying LHR-NBO-SEZ. However, we also took this a step further. Since our actual five-year anniversary fell during our stay there, we decided to do a simple vow renewal ceremony on the beach that afternoon. Though this was not an inexpensive proposition, but the scenery made it worth every penny, and if it helped with the upgrade, even better!

My wife and I on the beach of the Hilton Labriz in the Seychelles after renewing our vows.

My wife and I on the beach of the Hilton Labriz in the Seychelles after renewing our vows.

There’s one other benefit that these suggestions can have: it allows the hotel to put their own spin on the special occasion. We experienced this very phenomenon during the first stay of our trip at the Hilton Imperial in Dubrovnik, Croatia (also a fabulous property, incidentally).

We were fortunate enough to be upgraded to a corner sea view suite on the second floor, which actually offered a terrific view of the water and the old city. In addition, when we arrived, we were greeted by a plate of canapés, rose petals on the bed, a chilled bottle of champagne, and a handwritten note wishing us a happy anniversary and a pleasant stay at the Hilton Dubrovnik. It was a phenomenally personal gesture, and without noting it in my reservation, it wouldn’t have happened.

The chilled champagne and hand-written note that greeted us at the Hilton Imperial in Dubrovnik.

The chilled champagne and hand-written note that greeted us at the Hilton Imperial in Dubrovnik.

Now, before you start flaming these suggestions, I absolutely positively do not advocate for lying in these efforts to procure an upgraded room. Doing so would be a quintessential example of DYKWIA behavior, and I definitely can’t condone that!

Our most recent trip (as a whole) was a celebration of our five-year anniversary. Even though only one of the nights was the actual anniversary, I felt no qualms about placing a note mentioning the special occasion in each of our reservations (though some may disagree). However, I will not do so on trips that are just vacations.

As an example, we are heading to North Asia via Europe this December/January to take advantage of US Airways’ 90,000-mile business class award redemption (while it lasts!). Even though my wife’s birthday is December 13, I will not be indicating this on any of our reservations, since the trip is simply for fun and not a “celebration” of her birthday.

Just to clarify, these examples are from two separate anniversary trips I took with my wife, so don’t be afraid to tell the hotel it’s your anniversary each year.

Do any of you have experiences with upgraded rooms or special treatment when you mention a special occasion ahead of time or pre-book on-property expenses? Please share in the comments section below!

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • Ben Price

    Would it be too repetitive (read: annoying) to both leave a special request on the booking AND email/call the hotel? Staying at the St. Regis NYC next weekend for on both my wedding night and the night after. Want to get a good shot at getting upgraded. No status with SPG (yet), but I do have enough stays under my belt where they should see this isn’t a hit and run. I believe the hotel is almost fully booked :(

  • Heather L. Cannady

    Why would anyone flame? I think these are nice suggestions showing someone that cared about his significant other. Oh well. I am jealous of your Vendome upgrade!

  • Rachel

    The length of your stay and low vs. high season are huge factors in this! We stayed at two hotels last summer in Greece for our honeymoon using the fifth night free option. Vedeema in Santorini was sold out so we had the standard Dorian room (which is still very lovely and quite large). The Blue Palace in Crete upgraded us (I was also Platinum at the time), but we actually asked them to downgrade us because the suite overlooked the resort and they had a lower category room with private pool that overlooked the ocean. Both hotels congratulated us on marriage at check in.

    I always get the best upgrades when I’m traveling alone for business and don’t request them. Got the Presidential Suite at a Hotel Indigo twice, on one night stays for a Tuesday and a Wednesday night.

  • Kevin

    Is there any way to leave a comment for a preexisting reservation? Specifically with Hyatt and Hilton as I have 5 nights at a Hyatt booked and 4 nights at a Hilton and didn’t even think to leave a note in the comments as we will be celebrating our 3rd anniversary. I’m trying to figure out how to edit it online to no avail. Am I better off just emailing and hoping that does the trick?

  • joeypore

    Status and availability helps immensely. Also, being polite and speaking the local language (at least attempting) I’ve found also helps.

    With properties like the Park Hyatt Vendome though, their customer service is already impeccable. It seems they will do just about everything they can to help you out. I just stayed there this week, and I was provided with complementary drinks in the lounge not only upon check-in while waiting for my room (which they upgraded just because I asked if a nicer view was available), but also while I was waiting for the hired BMW to arrive. Their service is incredible, and I would probably contribute the upgrade their to their service and of course their availability.

    But I’ve found I get the best upgrades with Starwood. I have just Starwood Gold, and I’ve gotten an upgrade almost every time. It’s marvelous. Hyatt has even been very generous to me lately. I’ve been getting Regency Club upgrades (even though it’s not technically a benefit until Diamond) left and right.

    These hotel chains have really been impressing me lately. Really hoping for a suite upgrade at the Holiday Inn CDG as of my new Platinum Elite status with IHG… We’ll see how they do!

  • joeypore

    I believe you just have to call and have the agent add a note to your reservation. They’ll add just about anything for you.

  • joeypore

    If the hotel is full, there’s nothing you can do… (for obvious reasons). But “almost” is a good thing! Better than full!

    I’d say, when you call, just be very polite, and call at an hour that’s not near check-in or check-out. If I call in advance for any request, if the manger sounds frazzled, I’ll usually just make up a reason to call back later.

  • Mary Iacono

    My fiance and I are getting married in Florence in May. Would it be worth it to try this with our airline? And how would you even go about doing that? Honestly, if I can afford it, I’ll pay for the upgrade. I just want to fly as easy as I can, knowing the added anxiety of flying right before such an important day.

  • Nick Ewen

    Honestly, you can try, but I would be STUNNED if an airline would upgrade you for free in this situation, even with status. You could always inquire at check-in, but most would probably quote you the difference between your paid fare class and the business class seat at that moment (which a few hours before the flight would likely be full-fare). There are a few airlines that have offered same-day upgrades for purchase (KLM out of Amsterdam will do this), but I don’t have any personal experience to share. Anyone else want to chime in here?

    You really have three options:

    1) Pay for business class
    2) Pay for upgradeable coach and use miles/vouchers to upgrade
    3) Hope for an op-up

    #3 is really only an option if you have status with said airline, and it would completely depend on the route, load factor, etc. If you can find a way to swing it, I’d STRONGLY encourage it. My wife and I were exhausted after our wedding weekend, and having business class was a lifesaver.

    Either way, congrats on the upcoming nuptials!

  • shonuffharlem

    What about showing a $20 at checking asking if they have any upgrades, how does that work for people? Always works for me in Vegas but wonder how it works outside there..

  • Nick Ewen

    Glad to hear you’ve had such great experiences at the Park Hyatt and with other upgrades! I can’t help but wonder if hotels, which have regained a lot of their pre-recession booking levels, are now focusing more on those truly valuable guests rather than those just seeking the next promotion (and whether that is also leading to the lackluster promos we have seen this year). Just spit-balling here…

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • Nick Ewen

    This is spot-on. Most reservations will allow you to go back in and edit the reservation to add a “Special Request” or “Comment” to the booking, but if you got a really great rate or if the hotel no longer has rooms available, the last thing you’d want to do is inadvertently cancel it! I think calling is the best method.

  • Nick Ewen

    I hear what you are saying. I once had a HUGE suite while traveling for business at the Washington Hilton. I honestly don’t even bother requesting them when traveling for work, even at check-in. Don’t want to “use up” those upgrades when I will be in the room for such a short amount of time!

  • Nick Ewen

    I’ve unfortunately run into many travelers that believe my strategy outlined above is all about gaming the system and getting things to which I am not entitled. Personally, I don’t have any problem with you all submitting a simple (legitimate) request, especially if we remember that it isn’t guaranteed and don’t lose sleep over it not happening!

  • Nick Ewen

    Like Joeypore, I don’t see any problem with this. Again, as long as things are respectful and concise, there’s nothing wrong with putting in a polite request (and a phone call/email on top of the booking request can just be a simple reminder to the manager/front desk agents).

    Congrats on the wedding!! Be sure to have a Bloody Mary while at the St. Regis…I recently learned that they were (supposedly) invented there!

  • Nick Ewen

    I would be surprised if this works anywhere but Vegas (or other gambling meccas), but I could be wrong! Anyone have experience with this strategy at a large chain hotel?

  • Mary Iacono

    Thank you! I will keep all of that in mind when booking our tickets. Hopefully we luck out, and if not, hey – we’re still getting married!

  • Nick Ewen

    I LOVE your attitude, Mary! I am definitely guilty of being “spoiled” as a frequent traveler, but at the end of the day, being able to share these experiences with my wife (regardless of status or upgrades) is what really matters.

  • Sarah

    Sounds like an amazing trip! Any chance you will be reviewing these properties anywhere? I’d love to see a trip report on the 5 year anniversary trip!

  • jjflysalot

    Yes, having status absolutely does matter–probably the only reason you got some of these upgrades. I’ve never asked for an upgrade when it otherwise is available for an extra cost. I have however included a note simply stating it was a special occasion; and then without ever asking for one–got one. I’ve never been comfortable with the “hey, gimme an upgrade” route. I know we’re talking hotels here, but try THAT with an airline and see what happens. In any case glad it has worked out so well for you–you just really can’t discount that status plays a major factor–especially for higher tiers.

  • Jeffsauer

    I agree that this is a great benefit of travel. Love the success rate for special occasions and hotels that aim to please. Ironically, upgrades were harder to come by for our honeymoon then they were for our engagement and first anniversary. Seems hit or miss depending on time of year and availability.

  • martin

    “I used my Platinum Requalification Gift of 35% off a Starpoints redemption on this stay”
    What’s that how do you receive Requalification?

  • SteveCA

    My wife and I recently returned from a 4 week tour of Europe to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We stayed entirely at Starwood hotels in Paris, London, Prague, Vienna, Salzburg and Venice. I have SPG Gold status. I did include comments in many of our reservations but also contacted concierge services and hotel reservations by email ahead of our visit. Starwood are great at giving complimentary upgrades since this is part of the Gold benefits but they really outdid themselves in several hotels. At Paris W we were upgraded to a Wow suite on top floor, free bottle of sine, chocolates and personal card from the staff to congratulate us on our anniversary. Similarly, at Le Meridien Piccadilly in London – upgrade to Club, free bottle of champagne, card; Prague – upgrade to 2-level suite (with 2 bathrooms), bottle of wine, and great service throughout our stay; upgrade to executive suite with butler at Hotel Imperial in Vienna and bottle of champagne and card; Gritti Palace wasn’t the best for upgrades or status treatment but what a view from the terrace bar!! We also got complimentary upgrades to Club level at London Heathrow Skyline for our two stays. Amazing service across Europe!!

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