One of the questions I am asked the most is “What’s the best way to get a room upgrade?”. Before I answer that, I have two things to say. First, book the room you want and will be satisfied with. Do not ever “count” on an upgrade. Second, the thing NOT to do is think you can tip the person at the front desk and that it will make any difference. If upgrades are available, most hotels are willing to give them or sell them to you, and would fire a front desk, or other personnel, who would give you one by lining his/her own pocket. Ask politely and don’t get an attitude if it’s not available. Most hotels would LOVE to sell you an upgrade at check-in, IF they have such a room that would otherwise be vacant. If you’re at a fully booked hotel, the odds are slim that such will be available, but it never hurts to ask.
The best way to get a room upgrade is to belong to a program that provides for it. Choosing the program that best suites your needs and budget is the primary chore for the traveler. The one we’ve used the most and that suited us perfectly for world luxury travel was American Express Platinum card. For many this might be out of your price range, but the upgrades can’t be beat. As a cardholder, you will get a room upgrade at check-in, “if available”, as well as certain other amenities, like a free spa service or complimentary breakfast or brunch, as well as early check-in and late check-out.
I’m sure the words “if available” jumped out at you. In this program, every time we chose one of selected hotels, we DID get an upgrade at check-in. Lesser programs are not so “giving”. Investigate the programs out there and you might find you already belong to some through credit cards or “loyalty” programs. To take advantage of these upgrades, of course, you are going have to book through one of the hotels that participates in the program, so some planning is necessary. Next, you may have to book through your sponsoring program, so you’re going to have to check out the “rules”.
We had always thought that we had to book through American Express Travel Services or an American Express Travel Agent to get this perk. It did not matter to us, since our travel agent was an AmEx TA. We were very pleasantly surprised on two occasions, one before a cruise and one after a cruise, that at check in, since we were paying with our American Express Platinum Card, we received upgrades even though our hotels were “add-ons” to our cruise packages.
One “downfall” to the perk that we encountered was that in order to qualify for the upgrade, you usually had to pay “rack” rate. They are not going to give you both a cheap rate and an upgrade. For us it worked spectacularly, although the rates we paid were no bargain. The suites we got were fantastic. Mind you these were all very upscale hotels to begin with. At the Hay Adams we were upgraded to the suite they advertise in their brochures that had a balcony looking directly at the White House. At the Grande Bretagne in Athens, we had a suite with a huge terrace looking directly at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Parliament. In Versailles, at the Trianon Palace we had a suite that resembled the size of an apartment with a view of the Palace of Versailles. At the Shangri La in both Hong Kong and Bangkok, the room upgrades were location/view based. The Excelsior in Rome gave us a beautiful suite with a fireplace. The Marbella Club gave us a multi room suite to die for with a private, furnished, “back yard”. The list goes on and on. We frequently utilized the card benefit (as well as the two for one international air in Business or 1st Class).
As a rule, you are not going to get such if you are staying at large “chain” hotels, even if they are part of your program benefit. They tend not to have such “wow” rooms. You are not going to get a “bargain” rate either. You will get tremendous rooms/suites. Do your homework first to see if the hotel even has such great rooms. You can’t get an upgrade to something that doesn’t exist.
Loyalty programs can also get you upgrades. Sometimes these are direct from the hotel chain and sometimes they are associated with a credit card, or both. These are your typical programs that use “miles” or “points”. “Hilton Points” is a very popular one because of the number of choices in the “chain” all over the world. They can be used for free stays or upgrades. Many people who have to travel for business use this program for their business travel and then use the points for their leisure travel. Unfortunately, they have recently greatly increased the number of points that are needed for free stays/upgrades. You need to stay on top of your “program” for Rule changes and know when it might be time to change programs because of those rule changes.
The final way to be likely to get a room upgrade is with a smaller operation or boutique hotel where you are a repeat guest. They are less likely to have a “loyalty” program, but more likely to reward their repeat guests with upgrades. This has happened to us quite a few times, including in France at the Chateau d’Artigny and even at an all-inclusive in the Dominican Republic, Majestic Elegance.
In the “old” days, a travel agent had “contacts” in the industry and could get you a great upgrade or mark you as a “VIP” for that choice room, especially if it was a special occasion like a honeymoon. Ours got us a Central Park view over-the-top suite at the St. Regis in NYC for the beginning of our honeymoon and great upgrades throughout our trip in Buenos Aires, Rio de Janiero, and Iguacu Falls . Those days are rare now, but many places do offer honeymoon upgrades.
Book the room you want, but do your homework before you go, especially if you belong to a any kind of program that offers upgrades. Know your program rules and inquire politely at check-in. Some programs might require you to select the upgrade using points at the time of booking.
Happy, Safe, & Healthy travels always!