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6 Easy (and Mostly Free) Ways to Score a Hotel Room Upgrade

We all want the best hotel room, but how can you snag it? With these tips, an upgrade might be on the horizon.

We’ve all arrived at a hotel after a long travel day and thought, “It sure would be nice to score an upgraded hotel room!” Anyone who’s traveled often enough has undoubtedly been upgraded at random, and it’s a great feeling to get into a hotel room that’s larger, more favorably located, or perhaps with a better view than the one reserved initially. But how can guests work to get upgraded? Sometimes it’s a matter of random luck, while other frequent travelers work to cultivate elite status with a hotel loyalty program. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of asking.

Here are some other ways to score upgrades.

Ask Without Asking

Rooms that are more expensive at the time of booking can often have more fluid distinctions between categories once at the property. At one of my first hotel jobs, I was a front desk clerk, and we had three standard room types that were identical, except for the floor—moderate rooms on the lowest floors, deluxe rooms slightly higher, and summit rooms on the top floor. At this particular property, it was understood among the staff that the standard room sizes were considered interchangeable to accommodate basic guest requests, like high/low floors, near/far from elevators, or for specific views.

To secure such an upgrade, don’t ask for an “upgrade.” Simply ask if a higher floor room or one with a specific view or side of the building is available, and if available, front desk staff can often swap rooms to accommodate. This generally doesn’t work at properties where views are at a premium (at beach resorts, enough guests will pay for ocean views that the resort won’t often give them away), but it doesn’t hurt to ask.

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Join the Loyalty Program

Like airlines, hotels sometimes overbook room categories and may need to upgrade guests at the last minute. When that happens, being an elite member of a loyalty program helps, and sometimes upgrades are included in elite member benefits. However, it’s important to consider the type of property. Many resorts have several suite accommodations, but city center hotels popular with business travelers may have a lot of elite members staying regularly but a limited number of suites, so it largely depends on what the property has available.

Related: Things to Know Before You Book a Luxury Resort With Points

Consider How You Book Your Hotel

Not all booking channels are created equal when booking hotels, particularly luxury ones. Sebastian Hinsch, General Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, suggests guests can “reserve through one of our Preferred Partner travel advisors whose benefits include a space available room upgrade.”

Many independent luxury travel agents have cultivated relationships with luxury hotel brands, while others, like American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts or the luxury Virtuoso travel agency consortium, have also negotiated upgrade agreements across a wide range of top-end properties. Destination specialists who also book a lot of volume at particular destinations may also have arrangements with their most-booked properties to secure upgrades for their clients.

Build Relationships With Your Favorite Hotels

Travelers who frequently return to the same property have a good chance of being upgraded if the staff recognizes them and has had positive experiences with them in the past. George Cook, Director of Guest Services at the Deer Path Inn, suggests doing something thoughtful for the hotel staff, like sending a thank you note for a memorable stay or bringing treats for the front desk: “If a time ever arises when you’re looking to secure a reservation or upgrade during an extremely busy booking period, you’ll have a much better chance of securing them (without any additional charges or fees) because of the relationship you’ve established with the on-site team.”

Don’t Forget to Mention Special Occasions

“The smaller the hotel you’re staying in, the fewer opportunities there will be for an upgrade.”

Hotel staff doesn’t know it’s a special occasion unless you let them in on the secret. If it’s your anniversary or birthday and you’re hoping for special consideration, be sure to mention that at the time of booking so your reservation can be remarked, as some hotels will pre-assign rooms and upgrade categories a day or so before arrival. It also doesn’t hurt to double-check with the front desk when checking in.

Chris Harvey, Director of Operations for Charlestowne Hotels, which includes independent properties in several states, suggests that guests make clear their special. “Just know that the smaller the hotel you’re staying in, the fewer opportunities there will be for an upgrade, so don’t get disappointed if the staff is unable to upgrade your room,” Harvey advises. 

Just Ask–And Have a Little Cash

No, we don’t suggest handing out bribes for room upgrades, but in the absence of a free upgrade, many hotels will offer unsold upgraded rooms or suites at deep discounts. Kristen Whyly, Hotel Manager at the Four Seasons Hotel Houston, notes, “In cases where we have larger rooms/suites available, we’ll often offer the upgrade to guests at a highly discounted rate while they’re checking in. There’s no guarantee this will be available, but if it is, the guest can score a very special room for a fraction of the normal cost.”

Keep Your Expectations Reasonable

When asking for upgrades, the most important thing to remember is that you’re requesting something other guests are willing to pay extra for. While hoteliers often strive to make their guests happy, they’re under no obligation to hand out freebies just because they’re there—the most surefire way to secure an upgrade is to simply pay for the accommodation you want. If it’s not possible to secure an upgrade free or at a discount, just enjoy the room you originally reserved at the rate you’ve agreed to pay.