6 tips to get the hotel room upgrades you deserve

Mar 10, 2021

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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, we’re going to go through some strategies to help you land that coveted suite or improved room. As suggested by the title of the post, we 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). These tips won’t 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?

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In This Post

Start by knowing the rules

The first (and most important) step is to investigate the hotel program rules. 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 Bonvoy Silver Elite member does not deserve a suite when they check-in at a hotel like the St. Regis Bal Harbour.

St. Regis Bal Harbour suite
Politely inquiring about upgrades at check-in is completely fine; just be sure to avoid sounding entitled. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Here’s a quick rundown of the major hotel loyalty programs (all upgrades are subject to availability, if not otherwise noted). Note that some programs also offer top-tier elites confirmable suite upgrade certificates, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

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 & conditions). However, the fine print also includes the qualifier “may include,” so suite upgrades aren’t guaranteed — even if available.

Related: Why Hilton should add a new elite tier above Diamond

IHG Rewards

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

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: How and when to use Marriott upgrade certificates

World of Hyatt

  • Discoverist: Preferred room within 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 M life resorts)
  • Globalist: Upgrade to the best available room at check-in, including standard suites (excluding Hyatt Place, Hyatt House, Hyatt Residence Club and M life resorts)

Related: How and when to use Hyatt upgrade certificates

As you can see, even though the benefits are relatively similar at comparable tiers across the four 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.

Fast-tracking elite status

If you don’t already have hotel elite status, qualifying may be easier than you think. All of the hotel programs above give away automatic elite status to cobranded credit cardholders. Hilton Honors is the most generous program, offering automatic top-tier Hilton Diamond status — which includes suite upgrades — to Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card cardholders. Another great option is to consider a status match or challenge. Also, keep in mind that several programs have even reduced their qualification requirements for 2021. The information for the Hilton Aspire 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.          

Related: The best credit cards to jump-start elite status

Explicitly request an upgrade ahead of time

Grand Oceanfront Suite
If you reach out to the hotel ahead of time, you may increase your chances of scoring that coveted upgrade. (Photo courtesy of Conrad Punta de Mita)

Once you’ve made sure that you understand the rules, another strategy that can be successful is reaching out to the hotel before your stay — either via email, chat or direct message via social media. Try to indicate how excited you are for the stay and inquire about on-property services that can be booked in advance, like spa treatments, dining reservations or tee times (which shows that you’re planning on spending money, even if you’re booked using points). Then, if you’re traveling for a special occasion, you can 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.”

Hotels sometimes send personalized welcome emails in the week or so leading up to your stay, so you can simply respond to that. 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 it to the appropriate party. Note that you can also add a note to your reservation at the time of booking, using a similar language.

Related: Suite deals for families with points and status

Marriott chat upgrade
(Screenshot courtesy of Marriott)

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. However, keep in mind 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. Based on the TPG team’s experiences, using mobile check-in typically doesn’t affect your chances of an upgrade.

Related: The 2 reasons I don’t use Marriott mobile check-in

Check availability shortly before you arrive

Grand Hyatt Baha Mar fountain view suite
Checking online shortly before you arrive can give you an idea of whether or not the hotel has any upgrades available. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

Another strategy to help with your upgrade prospects is checking room availability at your hotel shortly before check-in. Simply pull up the property’s website and act like you will 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.

Many readers 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.

Related: The best hotel credit cards

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. As such, it’s typically best to try to arrive shortly after the published check-in time. Hopefully, this will put you in front of other elite travelers and allow housekeeping to finish cleaning those upgraded rooms, especially if another elite member was granted a late check-out.

Related: Best top-tier hotel elite status for your family

Politely ask at check-in, and be flexible

 

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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, there’s 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.”

Related: Why readers should stop using the word ‘entitled’

Again, it may be hard not to come off as entitled with this approach, but it’s also important to hold a property accountable for providing the benefits it’s required to provide. There’ve even been 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. 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.

Related: Our family saved $900 on a hotel suite — reader success story

Bottom line

One of the most valuable benefits of hotel elite status is enjoying 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. If you need a guaranteed upgrade, there other options, such as using upgrade certificates or points to lock in a suite.

Nick Ewen contributed to this story.

Featured image of the Atlantis Dubai Presidential Suite by Zach Honig/The Points Guy

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