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Whether you’re traveling for work or pleasure, scoring upgraded accommodations can go a long way toward ensuring a comfortable stay. This is one of the best perks of hotel elite status, and you don’t need to be a road warrior to enjoy a shot at a better room. Unfortunately, these upgrades are subject to availability, and hotels may not want to give them away if there’s still a chance that they can sell the room to a paying customer. Today I want to go through some strategies to help you land that coveted suite or improved room.
Before getting into my suggestions, it’s important to note the title of the post. This will focus entirely on the upgrades you deserve, based on your elite status or by booking through certain travel programs (like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts or the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection). My tips will not help you sweet talk or tip a front desk agent into an upgrade that isn’t rightfully yours. Is it possible to score a better room this way? Of course, but that’s not the focus of the post.
With that out of the way, how should you maximize your chances of getting that upgrade you deserve?
Start by Knowing the Rules
The first (and most important) step to take is to investigate the rules of the given program through which you booked. Each one has different inclusions and exclusions when it comes to room upgrades, so you need to know what to expect before you arrive. No matter how much they want it, a Marriott Silver Elite member does not deserve a suite when they check-in at a hotel like the Ritz-Carlton San Francisco.
Here’s a quick rundown of the major hotel loyalty programs (all upgrades are subject to availability, if not otherwise noted):
- Silver: None
- Gold: Space-available upgrade to a preferred room at most brands, including Waldorf-Astoria, Conrad, Curio, Hilton and Doubletree
- Diamond: Same published benefit as Gold members but including “junior,” “standard” or “one-bedroom” suites (per the program’s terms & conditions)
- Gold: None
- Platinum: Complimentary room upgrades, excluding suites and not applicable on award nights
- Spire: Same published benefit as Platinum members
- Silver: None
- Gold: Complimentary room upgrade at check-in based on availability, up to (and including) suites
- Platinum: Same published benefit as Gold members
- Gold: Upgrade to enhanced room at check-in
- Platinum: Upgrade to best available room at check-in, including a Standard Suite
- Discoverist: Preferred room within type booked
- Explorist: Upgrade to best available room at check-in, excluding suites
- Globalist: Upgrade to best available room at check-in, including standard suites
As you can see, even though the benefits are relatively similar at comparable tiers across the five programs, there are some notable differences, especially when it comes to suites. Be sure to keep these details in mind so you know exactly what the program allows ahead of your check-in.
Send an Email (or Add a Note to Your Reservation) Ahead of Time
Once you’ve made sure that you understand the rules, another strategy I’ve used in the past (with decent success) is sending an email to a hotel manager before your stay. I typically indicate how excited I am for the stay and will inquire about on-property services that can be booked in advance, like spa treatments, dining reservations or tee times (which shows I am planning on spending money, even if I’ve booked using points). Then, if I’m traveling for a special occasion, I’ll throw in something like this:
“Since my wife and I will be celebrating an anniversary, I’d love to surprise her with an upgraded room. I know that as a (insert status level here) member these upgrades are subject to availability, but I’d certainly appreciate anything that you could do to help.”
I occasionally receive personalized welcome emails in the week or so leading up to my stay, so I’ll oftentimes simply respond to that individual. If not, most hotel websites have an email address posted for a manager or concierge, and even if that person isn’t the best contact, he/she will typically forward to the appropriate party.
Note that you can also add a note to your reservation at the time of booking using similar language. The best upgrade I’ve ever received (the Impériale Suite at the Park Hyatt Paris-Vendôme) was via this method, and that was when I merely held Platinum status with the program formerly known as Hyatt Gold Passport.
Keep an Eye on Your Reservation Leading up to the Stay
Just about every program out there allows you to check your upcoming reservations online, and some will indicate whether you have been upgraded in advance. This is how I knew that my confirmed suite upgrade was really a downgrade back in 2014 when I stayed at the St. Regis Bar Harbour in South Florida. A couple of weeks before the stay, I happened to notice that the hotel had proactively upgraded me to a massive suite. However, when the window opened for the Suite Night Award I had applied as an SPG Platinum member, the system moved me to a standard suite. A quick phone call restored the original upgrade, but the lesson remains: Checking your online reservation can indicate when you can expect an updated room.
Keep in mind, however, that just because you’ve been upgraded in advance doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed that room. A hotel has every right to withdraw that upgrade up until you’ve been handed the keys to that room.
Check Availability Shortly Before You Arrive
Another strategy to help with your upgrade prospects is checking room availability at your hotel shortly before you arrive to check in. Simply pull up the property’s website and act like you are going to make a new reservation for your exact travel dates. This can (in theory) give you an idea of the room to which you might get upgraded. If there’s a standard suite available for a new reservation and the program through which you’ve booked allows upgrades to this room category, you could reasonably expect to be assigned this room upon arrival. On the other hand, if the hotel is entirely sold out for new reservations, your chances of getting upgraded are slim.
A few things to keep in mind with this approach:
- Availability can change by the minute, so even if you saw an upgraded room available five minutes before arrival, that doesn’t mean it’s still available when you get to the front desk.
- Be sure to check for the length of your entire stay. A suite available for the first night of your stay but not the second through fifth nights does no good.
- Beware of the check-in time. If you arrive before the published check-in time, that suite you saw as available online may not be ready, so the “best available” room at that time may just be on a higher floor.
Now, there are many readers who may think that this strategy goes a bit overboard, especially if that upgrade doesn’t come to fruition. Standing at the front desk saying things like, “But your website says you have a suite available, and based on my status, you need to upgrade me” isn’t the best way to ingratiate yourself with the check-in agent. That being said, getting an idea of which rooms are available can help you finesse that coveted upgrade.
Try to Arrive Shortly After the Published Check-In Time
When you’re visiting a hotel with top- or mid-tier hotel elite status, chances are quite high that you aren’t the only guest with said status. As a result, if a hotel has just one standard suite still available and you are the second member to arrive, there’s typically nothing you can do, as the standard room with a better view may actually be the best available room. While you may not be able to control your arrival time due to flight arrangements, traffic or other external factors, I typically try to arrive shortly after the published check-in time. This will hopefully put me in front of other elite travelers but also allows housekeeping to finish cleaning those upgraded rooms, especially if another elite member was granted a late check-out.
Politely Ask at Check-In, and Be Flexible
Finally, when all else fails, simply ask at check-in. Generally speaking, hotels should automatically upgrade you based on your status and the rules outlined above when you arrive, but there may be properties that try to skirt the rules in the hopes that you aren’t an informed guest. If you suspect that the hotel isn’t being forthcoming with an upgrade, I personally have no problem with inquiring about the possibility of a room upgrade, as long as it’s done in a polite and non-entitled fashion.
This can be a hard balance to strike, especially if you’ve done your homework, know the rules and know that the hotel is still selling suites but is only offering you an upgrade to a “deluxe” or “superior” room. While only the hotel knows the true inventory available for upgrades, you can politely say something like, “I was actually wondering if you had any suite upgrades available for a (insert level here) member.” If you really want to push it, you can add something like, “It looks like you still have suites available online, so I’m hoping you’ll be able to honor the published benefits of the program.”
Again, it may be hard to not come off as entitled with this approach, but it’s also important to hold a property accountable for providing the benefits they are required to provide. I’ve even read cases of top-tier elite members emailing or tweeting a program’s customer service team if they believe that a given hotel isn’t acting in good faith, and in some cases this results in immediate action (e.g., being offered an upgrade after the fact). Regardless of whether this impacts your current stay, it’s critical to notify the program of the possibility of rule-bending.
In addition, having some flexibility can also go a long way. Maybe you’re staying for a week and the hotel only has upgraded rooms available for the last four nights of your stay. Feel free to say something like, “You know, I certainly wouldn’t mind switching rooms mid-stay if a better room became available. Would it be possible for you to contact me if something opens up?” While it’s a hassle to pack and then unpack again to move rooms, going from a basic room to a suite could make it worthwhile.
Hotel elite status can be quite valuable, and one of my personal favorite benefits is the ability to enjoy upgraded accommodations when you book standard rooms. Even though this type of perk isn’t guaranteed, there are some strategies you can utilize that will maximize the chances of receiving the upgrades that your elite status and/or program provides. Hopefully this post has given you some suggestions for how to do just that!
What tips do you have for ensuring you get the room upgrades you deserve?
Featured image courtesy of the Westin Berlin.
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