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Holy, 100th Post!!…And 6 Ways To Get Free Hotel Upgrades

(I didn’t have to pay a cent more above the standard room rate for this beautiful villa!)

I can’t believe I’m at my 100th post today!  Holy, where did the time fly?  And I can’t believe I even have this much to say about traveling!  😉  If you’ve actually read all my posts from the beginning, you are a trooper and deserve a medal (yes, I’m talking to you, mom!).

In honor of such a momentous occasion, I thought it was about time I start posting something useful.  So, why not talk about hotel upgrades?  I tend to get them a lot.  If you recall, I recently got upgraded to presidential suites on two separate occassions, which is uh-friggin’-mazing even for me.  Usually I’ll get standard suites but I’ve also had two bedroom suites and  villas (remember when I raved about this villa and this one?).  The best part is that these upgrades are always complimentary!  Depending on the hotel, the upgraded rooms may come with enhanced amenities like free bottled water, slippers, robes, and/or luxe toiletry kits.  Heck, you may even get complimentary breakfast and hors d’oeuvres!

If you’re new to the hotel game, here are some of my tips for getting the suite life (see what I did there?):

1. Join the hotel loyalty program

When you make the reservations, sign up for the hotel’s loyalty program even if you don’t plan to stay at the hotel again.  Not only will the front desk staff treat you better when you check in, you may get an automatic upgrade just for being in their loyalty program (check out Preferred Hotels & Resorts’ loyalty program, iPrefer).  Others will give you free upgrades after only a few stays (Kimpton Hotels’ program gives you upgrades after 15 stays)!  While loyalty programs are usually free, some chains offer guaranteed upgrades if you join their program.  Check out the Ambassador program at Intercontinental Hotel & Resorts.  For a membership fee of $200, you’re guaranteed room upgrades – depending on the property you’re at and the length of stay, the fee to join could more than make up for the price you would have paid for that upgraded room.

2. Obtain status in the loyalty program

Earning coveted hotel status is one of the best ways to get upgraded, and the best part is that it isn’t that hard to get status!  For instance, Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG), my absolute fave program, upgrades its gold and platinum members as long as there are rooms available.  You can get SGP gold status after just 10 stays.  Alternatively, spend $30,000 annually on the Starwood American Express card and you’ll get automatic SPG gold status.  If that’s still too much, the Platinum American Express card has an annual fee of $450 but comes with SPG gold status and travel perks with other hotels and airlines, too.  If you travel a lot, those fees pay for themselves when you get the better rooms!

3. Redeem hotel points for free upgrades

You’ll earn hotel points through the loyalty program whenever you stay at the hotel or through a hotel branded credit card.  With credit cards, you generally earn 1 point per dollar spent and more when you’re spending at the hotel itself; it varies depending on the card.  Earn enough hotel points and you can redeem a chunk for free nights or a smaller chunk for an upgraded room.  The number of points required for an upgrade varies depending on the property but as an example, upgrade certificates start at a 1,000 points/night at SPG and 5,000 points/night at Marriott.

4. Tell them you’re celebrating a special occasion

If you’re celebrating your honeymoon, anniversary, or birthday, make sure the hotel knows – the earlier the better!  I start by making a note on the reservation, and then follow up with an email to the hotel concierge a week before my stay to let them know: 1) I love their hotel (it’s easier to catch bees with honey), 2) I’m celebrating a special occasion, and 3) it’d make my stay to get an upgrade.  Higher end hotels are super cool about this and have totally hooked it up prior to arrival.

5. Milk that mistake the hotel made

This one requires that you’ve already settled into your room.  If you spot anything unpleasant during your stay, report it!  Maybe you’re next door to super loud neighbors.  Or the A/C unit doesn’t work.  Or the water pressure in the shower is nonexistent.  Whatever it is – call the front desk, report the issue (nicely), and ask for another room.  If they don’t have any other comparable rooms available, they’ll generally move you to an upgraded room – free of charge!

6. Ask nicely

If all else fails, flash your best smile, befriend the front desk staff, and ask for what you want.  If you’re going to do this:

  • It helps to be specific: a higher floor room, a room with a view, room facing the golf course, room overlooking the ocean, etc.
  • If helps if you’re asking during off peak seasons/days/times.  These periods are different for every hotel, but the point is, your chances of an upgrade are better if the hotel isn’t fully booked.  Some also think you have better chances if you ask during the late afternoon or early evening since hotels will know if they have cancellations by then, but I’ve received upgrades at all times of day.

Anyway, what do you have to lose?  The worst they can say is “no” in which case, you’ll still be in the original room you reserved had you not asked!

Finally, if you’re going to try any of these tips, don’t forget to book directly with the hotel itself!  In my experience, reservations made through an intermediary (e.g., Priceline, Hotwire, etc.) or a travel agency are considered “second tier”.  Not only are these reservations more likely to get bumped, but they’re often excluded from earning any hotel points or perks so your chances of a complimentary upgrade are even slimmer.

Do you have some tips of your own?  Share the wealth – I’d love to read them in the comments below!

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