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8 tips to help you upgrade your hotel room for free

Oct. 26, 2022
16 min read
Atlantis Dubai Presidential Suite
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Whether you're traveling for work or pleasure, scoring a free upgrade can go a long way toward ensuring a comfortable stay. This is one of the best perks of hotel elite status, but 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 they can sell the room to a paying customer.

Today, we'll discuss some strategies to help you land that coveted suite or improved room. We will focus entirely on the upgrades you're eligible for, based on your elite status or by looking at which travel programs (like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts or the Luxury Hotel & Resort Collection) can help or hinder your chances of scoring that upgrade.

These tips won't help you sweet-talk a front desk agent into an upgrade that isn't rightfully yours. Instead, we'll show you the importance of knowing the rules for getting the best upgrade you're eligible for.

With that out of the way, how should you maximize your chances of getting that upgrade you deserve?

Know what an upgrade is

An upgraded room at the Andaz Prague. ANDREW KUNESH/THE POINTS GUY

The most important place to start is knowing what an upgrade is and isn’t.

However, that’s often in the eyes of the beholder. Does your upgrade look like a room farther away from the elevator? Maybe you want to move from a lower floor room to a higher floor room. Perhaps the lower floor rooms have a coveted fire pit like the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, so you’d prefer a first-level floor room.

If you wanted a higher-floor room at this property, you’d actually be receiving a downgrade if you had booked a first-floor room at this property. The point is that there’s quite a range of what an “upgrade” can mean. Walking into check-in, it’s best to know what kind of upgrade you’re looking for.

To see what may be available, search through the app as if you were making another reservation (also known as a dummy booking) at the hotel. It's one of the best ways to check what room types may be available.

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That said, it should be noted that just because a room is available on the app, it may not be fair play for an upgrade due to hotel policies and elite status restrictions. Still, if you’re interested in looking at what other rooms the hotel has available before check-in, this is a great place to start.

Related: How to spend a million Marriott points for an epic post-pandemic trip

Have hotel elite status

KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Status is probably the best way to ensure an upgrade is waiting for you at check-in.

While there is no way to guarantee a complimentary upgrade with status alone, it's one of the most reliable ways. However, before you arrive at a hotel, it’s best to know the ins and outs of your status tier if you're expecting an upgrade.

Sometimes it’s hard to hear, but no matter how many fingers you cross, you likely won't get an upgrade at the St. Regis Maldives with only Marriott Silver Elite status.

Here’s a quick rundown of some of the major hotel loyalty programs. It’s good to note that all upgrades are subject to availability unless specifically noted.

Hilton Honors

  • Silver: None.
  • Gold: Space-available upgrade to a preferred room (up to Executive Floor room types) 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 and conditions). However, the fine print also includes the qualifier “may include,” so suite upgrades aren't guaranteed — even if available.

Related: What is Hilton Honors elite status worth?

IHG Rewards

  • Silver Elite: None.
  • Gold Elite: None.
  • Platinum Elite: Complimentary room upgrades, excluding suites.
  • Diamond Elite: Same published benefit as Platinum members.

Related: What is IHG One Rewards elite status worth?

Marriott Bonvoy

  • Silver Elite: None
  • Gold Elite: Space-available upgrades to enhanced rooms when checking in, excluding suites.
  • Platinum Elite: Space-available upgrades to enhanced rooms when checking in, including suites (though not at Ritz-Carlton properties).
  • Titanium Elite: Same published benefit as Platinum Elite members, but including Ritz-Carlton properties.

Related: What is Marriott Bonvoy elite status worth?

World of Hyatt

  • Discoverist: Preferred room within the type booked.
  • Explorist: Upgrade to the best available room at check-in, excluding suites and rooms with lounge access (excluding Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Residence Club and MGM resorts).
  • Globalist: Upgrade to the best available room at check-in, including standard suites (excluding Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Residence Club and MGM resorts).

Related: What is World of Hyatt elite status worth?

Use your upgrade certificates

Suite at the Sheraton Grand Rio Hotel and Resort. KATIE GENTER/THE POINTS GUY

Some of the major hotel loyalty programs award elite members upgrade certificates when they qualify for elite status or after staying a certain number of nights. Namely, IHG, Marriott and Hyatt award upgrade certificates to elites, but some are better than others.

Marriott Suite Night Awards

Marriott lets Platinum Elite and Titanium Elite members select five Suite Night Awards (SNA) as a choice benefit when they qualify for status. Each SNA is good for one night of your stay, so a three-night stay requires three SNAs.

Unfortunately, these certificates do not outright confirm an upgrade at the time of booking. Instead, Marriott does its best to confirm it starting five days before arrival. If the upgrade isn't confirmed by 2 p.m. local time the day before your arrival, the SNAs are returned to your account.

The TPG team has had mixed results in using SNAs to score an upgrade at premier properties and during peak seasons. You'll usually have the best luck confirming these upgrades at off-the-beaten-path destinations, on off-peak dates or at large hotels with multiple suite options.

Related: How I used 15 Marriott Suite Night Awards in 10 months with 100% approval

Hyatt upgrade certificates

Meanwhile, Hyatt offers Club Lounge Access Awards and Suite Upgrade Awards when you reach certain night thresholds yearly.

Club upgrades are the less exciting of the two. When you redeem one of these certificates, you simply have access to the hotel's club lounge. These are generally found at Hyatt Regency, Grand Hyatt and some Park Hyatt properties.

You'll earn two club upgrades after staying 20 nights or earning 35,000 base points ($7,000 in spending) and another two at 30 nights or 50,000 points ($10,000 in spending). It's worth noting that Globalist elites have access to hotel clubs without using a certificate. These awards are valid on stays of up to seven nights booked with cash or points, but not free night certificates.

Those seeking an upgrade will find Suite Upgrade Awards. One of these certificates is good for a confirmed suite upgrade for a stay of up to seven nights. Per the terms and conditions, you'll be upgraded to a standard suite with these upgrade certificates.

You will earn two suite upgrades when you earn 50 elite-qualifying nights or 80,000 base points ($16,000 in spending) and another two at 60 nights or 100,000 base points ($20,000 in spending). Then, you'll can another Suite Upgrade Award for every 10 nights you stay at Hyatt properties after this, up to 100 nights. Like Club Access Awards, these are valid if you pay for your stay with cash or points, but not free night certificates.

Related: How to redeem Hyatt points for upgraded rooms and suites

IHG upgrade certificates

IHG revamped its loyalty program when it introduced IHG One Rewards earlier this year. As part of the revamp, it introduced Milestone Rewards that you can earn when you hit certain night thresholds. At the 40- and 70-night thresholds, you can select confirmable suite night upgrades as your milestone reward.

Right now, you can only apply these upgrades to eligible paid rates, though IHG's terms note that free nights will come at a later date. These certificates are good for an upgrade to an entry-level suite on stays up to five nights and can be applied within 14 days of arrival. Confirmable suite nights are valid at all IHG brands except avid hotels, Atwell Suites, IHG Army Hotels, Holiday Inn Club Vacations, IHG Residences, Mr & Mrs Smith and InterContinental Alliance Resorts.

You should be able to confirm an upgrade when you call to redeem your certificate, though it may be declined if no suites are available on your travel dates.

Related: Here's my plan for IHG status and nights

Fast-tracking elite status with credit cards

THE POINTS GUY

At first glance, earning hotel elite status may look daunting, but qualifying is a lot easier than one may think.

Nearly all the major loyalty programs listed above offer automatic elite status with cobranded credit cards, so it may be worth applying for one before booking hotels for your next vacation.

For example, these Marriott Bonvoy cobranded credit cards include various tiers of elite status:

The information for the Marriott Bonvoy Bountiful card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Hilton Honors also offers elite status with cobranded credit cards, all the way to its top-tier Diamond status.

The information for the Hilton Aspire American Express card has been collected independently by The Points Guy. The card details on this page have not been reviewed or provided by the card issuer.

Better yet, The Platinum Card® from American Express and The Business Platinum Card® from American Express include both Marriott Gold Elite and Hilton Gold status as long as your card is open and in good standing.

Related: Guide to Marriott and Hilton elite status with the Amex Platinum and Business Platinum

World of Hyatt and IHG One Rewards loyalists aren't left out, either. Both hotel giants offer Chase cobranded credit cards, including:

Look at your upcoming travel plans and see if it makes sense to apply for one of these credit cards before you depart. For example, having a Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant card could get you free breakfast at select brands with its included Platinum Elite status, which could save a fair amount of money at high-end properties.

Related: The best credit cards to reach elite status before the end of the year

Visiting during the offseason

This can be tough, but upgrades are limited during peak travel season, and a hotel can only accommodate a finite amount before running out of upgraded rooms. During peak times, there are likely to be more elites at any given property and guests that pay for upgraded rooms outright.

Typically, upgrades are dished out by level of status, so a Hilton Gold elite member is unlikely to receive an upgrade at the Conrad New York City Downtown over the winter holidays. However, during the middle of the week in October, that guest might have better odds of scoring a better upgrade as this tends to be a less busy time for travel to New York.

Of course, planning a beach vacation in the winter may not be realistic in all locations, but finding a shoulder season to plan that beach vacation after school has re-started may allow for better success with upgrades. From May to August, however, you may be hard-pressed to score big upgrades at popular hotels.

Related: 9 hotels opening before the end of the year we can’t wait to visit

Book with Amex or Chase, with one downside

The Equinox Hotel New York. MELANIE LIEBERMAN/THE POINTS GUY

Some American Express cardholders can access Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts (FHR) and Hotel Collection benefits. FHR is the most rewarding of the two programs and includes space-available room upgrades, late checkout and other on-property benefits. Amex Platinum and Business Platinum cardholders can access these benefits when booking through Amex Travel.

Chase’s Luxury Hotel and Resort Collection (LHRC) offers similar benefits, including space-available upgrades and daily breakfast. Various cards include access to the LHRC, including most United cobranded cards and the Chase Sapphire Reserve®. Check out our full guide to the program for more information.

However, there are downsides to using these programs. Generally, you will not earn points, elite night credit or be able to use your hotel elite status perks when you book with Amex or Chase's hotel programs or another online travel agency like Hotels.com.

Because of this, you may want to use FHR, Hotel Collection or LHRC when booking hotels that aren't affiliated with a loyalty program.

Related: Why you don't earn hotel points when booking through an OTA

Be willing to (politely) ask

Asking at check-in is one of the most obvious yet effective strategies for getting that free upgrade. Generally, hotels upgrade your booking based on status before arrival, but for one reason or another, it can get overlooked.

In my experience at the Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island, Marriott Titanium Elite status does not usually receive upgrades at that property. When I inquired about an upgrade at check-in, I was told the property doesn't usually give elites upgraded rooms.

I did my homework beforehand, however, and knew that the room I wanted was on the first floor, something that is usually less desired. The front desk agent looked again and accommodated me in my desired room despite it being an untraditional upgrade. Then, I enjoyed the night in a fire pit room mentioned earlier, which was an upgrade for me.

Other times, the hotel's system may have unintentionally not upgraded you even if rooms are available. If you see a better room available online, it never hurts to politely ask if you can be moved to that room based on your elite status tier.

Again, It can be hard to find the right balance, but if you show up having done your homework knowing what an upgrade looks like to you, you may very well be able to score a better room. It may be difficult not to come off as entitled, but it is also important to take full advantage of the perks you have earned with elite status.

Related: Here’s what I did when a Hyatt resort didn’t honor my ‘confirmed’ suite upgrade

Be flexible

Sometimes you can be upgraded midway through your stay if you ask. BENJI STAWSKI/THE POINTS GUY

Oftentimes, upgraded rooms aren’t available at check-in since they're booked on one of the days you're staying at the property. It’s not a reason to be discouraged, though.

At check-in, let the agent know you don't mind switching rooms during the middle of your stay if a better room becomes available. Then, you may be upgraded for the first or last couple nights of your stay, and move to/from a standard room for the other nights you're at the property.

This strategy worked for former TPG senior reporter Benji Stawski when he stayed at the Las Vegas Hilton at Resorts World in 2021. Midway into his stay, he asked the front desk if any suites had opened up since he checked in. Lo and behold, he was upgraded to an entertainment suite for the last two nights of his stay because of his Hilton Diamond status.

Related: 6 amazing benefits that make Hilton Diamond status worthwhile

Bottom line

One of the most valuable perks of your hotel elite status is enjoying space-available upgrades. In this article, I showed you a few of the best ways to improve your chances of confirming an upgrade on your next hotel stay.

Having elite status is often your best bet at confirming an upgrade, and it never hurts to ask if you are not granted an upgrade at check-in.

If you're staying at a property that doesn't participate in a loyalty program, booking through Amex FHR or Chase LHRC can improve your chance of getting a better room.

Additional reporting by Andrew Kunesh.

Featured image by ZACH HONIG/THE POINTS GUY
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
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  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
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Best premium travel card for value
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10xEarn 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
5xEarn 5x total points on flights through Chase Ultimate Rewards®.
3xEarn 3x points on other travel and dining.
1xEarn 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®

    80,000 bonus points
  • Annual Fee

    $550
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more