Even though I remain loyal to Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) as a 50 night Platinum member, not all my stays are within the Starwood Hotels portfolio. A lot of people ask me how I always get nice rooms at budget hotels, bed and breakfasts, and upgrades at chain hotels where I don’t have elite status membership. The term ‘upgrade’ is pretty vague and my definition of upgrade is any room better than the one you booked. For example, a non-smoking to a smoking, accessible to non-accessible, lower floor to a higher floor, standard room upgrade to a superior or deluxe, from no view to a view, from a mountain/garden view to a pool or ocean view. Here are 9 ways to get free hotel room upgrades without elite status.
1. Join the hotel’s loyalty program (if applicable) – Even if you have no intention of obtaining elite status with the hotel’s brand, at least join their loyalty program (if they have one). Even if you booked your stay through a third party website such as Orbitz, Hotwire, Priceline, Expedia, etc, you can always call the property to add in your loyalty membership number over the phone. When you check-in, sometimes they will thank you for being a loyal “xxx” member (even as a general member) and then you can ask if there’s any better rooms available.
2. Call the property and ask for a complimentary upgrade – Before calling the hotel property, do your research online to see what kind of category rooms they have. I always book the lowest price room which often means a less desireable room such one with 2 beds (instead of 1 King), an accessible room, or a smoking room (even if I don’t smoke). Pull up the webpage with all the available category rooms and note which room you would like. For example, try to go for a superior or a deluxe from your standard room. Call the property at midnight local time when the night auditor is working the graveyard shift (this is important!) and ask to confirm your reservation. The night auditor will then repeat back with “Sir, I have you confirmed on Feb 12th for one night at the B&B Inn in a standard queen room”. Then politely ask, is it okay if you can change it to a room with a King size bed, preferably in a higher floor. Usually the higher floors are the more desirable, but don’t be afraid to say “Is it possible to have a King Size bed in a deluxe room?”. More often than not, the agent will comply with your request since he is bored and there’s nothing to do at that hour. It is very important to be very pleasant and polite over the phone and perhaps joke with the agent.
3. Present an AMEX Platinum card at check-in – I know this is a stupid reason, but I’ve actually had a front desk agent give me an upgrade because I was using an American Express Platinum card. This was many years ago when the Platinum card wasn’t that popular and it was one of the most prestigious cards to have next to the Amex Black Centurion Card. I still have my Amex Platinum Card and I use it to pay for most of my hotels because of the no foreign transaction fee. Even though the Amex Plat card isn’t as prestigious as it used to be, some hotels have great relationships with American Express and some front desk agents might deem that you’re a ‘high profile’ traveler and will give you a free upgrade.
4. Just ask for a free upgrade at check-in – The key to getting a complimentary upgrade is by being a nice and polite person. When you first enter the hotel and step into the lobby, I like to say “Good morning/Good afternoon/Good evening, how are you doing?” to the front desk agent. You must do this with a smiling face even if you’re in a bad mood. If there’s a line, be patient and follow up with the statement, “Wow, it must have been a busy day today!” When the agent asks for your ID and credit card for incidentals, take note of when the agent starts typing into his or her computer. When he/she starts typing, interrupt and ask “Are there any better rooms available?” Again, remember from STEP 2 to note the different types of room categories available at that hotel. More often than not, you will receive some sort of upgrade if the front desk agent likes you.
5. Check in at midnight local time – A few times I’ve had really late arrivals into a city and the front desk agent told me that the room I booked was completely sold out. However, because the standard room was all being taken, the front desk agent had the liberty to give me an upgrade to the next category room. Sometimes you can grab a double or triple upgrade depending on the mood of the agent.
6. Book a room for only 1 night – Have you ever heard a front desk agent say the words “You’re only staying for 1 night?” Well, those are the magical words you should be listening for because they have more flexibility to give you a better room if you’re only staying for one night. That way, you don’t tie up existing inventory of taking up a much better room for an extended amount of consecutive days.
7. Bribe the front desk agent – Have you ever heard of the Twenty Dollar trick? It usually only works in Las Vegas and 2 years ago I wrote Frequently Asked Questions about the $20 Trick in Las Vegas. I don’t recommend bribing the front desk agent in hotels other than Las Vegas because it might be against the rules. Some hotels have a ‘gifting policy’ where it’s illegal for the employee to accept monetary gifts and they can get fired for that.
8. Write an e-mail to the General Manager beforehand – 2 years ago, I wrote How to Improve Your Hotel Upgrade Chances Every Time Before Arrival where I explained how writing an e-mail to the hotel’s General Manager can land you a complimentary upgrade. Some reasons why you might write a letter to the GM in advance could be a celebratory birthday, anniversary, or job promotion. It works particularly well when parlayed with elite status, but you can also omit the elite status part as well in the sample e-mails to the General Manager in this post.
9. Use Twitter to tweet the hotel – 2 years ago, I wrote Why Twitter is Important in the Miles and Points Game. Most (if not all) chain hotels have Twitter accounts, but you’ll want to look for the hotel’s individual own account. Send a tweet saying “I’m excited to visit the @MarriottMexicoCity next month!” The person behind the hotel’s account will check your twitter profile and using your name, they might look up info about your stay so they can give you a better room.
If you’ve followed two or more of the aforementioned steps (especially Step 4), you should be in great condition to receive some sort of upgrade. Definitely comment below if you have any more tips of your own to share and if you have been successful in getting a free hotel room upgrade.