What is the secret to scoring a hotel room upgrade?

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By Christopher Elliott

When it comes to a hotel room upgrade, ask and you shall receive.

That’s right, a polite request can sometimes do the trick, which surprises frequent guests like Allan Jordan. It might surprise you, too.

After all, for years everyone thought the color of your loyalty card determined the chance of a hotel room upgrade. And while status still can make a difference, there’s a new rule in effect for anyone who wants a better room: You get what you negotiate.

Jordan, a business consultant from New York, recently used that strategy at a luxury hotel in Miami. The front desk clerk asked him if he’d ever stayed at the property.

“I said, ‘Not in years,'” he remembers. “She immediately made a big deal of welcoming me back and saying she was dedicated to making sure I had the best stay ever. I asked for a room with a particular view even though I knew it was an upgrade. She said no problem – and no charge.”

What’s your hotel room upgrade potential?

Jordan and other upgrade experts are quick to add that loyalty is still important. Just not all-important. The days of bellying up to the counter, flashing your platinum card and demanding a suite are over. Maybe that’s a good thing.

I’ve followed the hotel industry for years, and like many hotel guests, I’ve become disillusioned with our collective and often thoughtless obsession with loyalty. Being so status-conscious loses sight of the traveler in the here and now and the potential of a guest to become a lifelong customer. Now there’s evidence that the hotel industry agrees.

Simply put, relationships matter. Even if you don’t travel enough to achieve elite status, but you travel frequently to the same location, try to stay at the same hotel and get to know the employees, says Gina Fleck, director of loyalty at HelloWorld, a loyalty company based in Detroit.

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“Good relationships can absolutely impact your upgrade potential,” she says. “If the room is going to go empty, the front desk has the power to put you in it instead.”

Fleck says it can be something as simple as having a conversation with someone at a front desk. A co-worker did that on a recent hotel stay, where she returned to the same property several times over a month. “She made it a point to always chat with the front desk staff, and was always upgraded to a two-bedroom suite despite paying for the smallest room in the hotel,” Fleck recalls.

Make friends at the hotel — before you arrive

Peter Hoagland, a consultant from Warrenton, Virginia, says developing relationships with management has also improved his odds of a hotel room upgrade. He researches the name of the manager and then reaches out to that person before his hotel stay. Hotel general managers are some of the busiest people in the travel industry, but they are usually happy to hear from guests, and even happier when they’re not contacting them with a complaint.

“The best-case scenario is when they offer an upgrade of some type without even asking for it,” Hoagland says.

Alan Grant, the director of front office at The Ballantyne in Charlotte, says friendliness matters, too. (Related: No air-conditioning in her Mexican hotel. Will Booking refund her stay?)

“If the hotel staff has a pleasant encounter and connects with a guest upon arrival, they will do their best to place them in a nice room,” he says. “These upgrades could include a higher floor with a stunning golf course view or a suite.” (Here’s how to find the best hotel at the most affordable rate.)

Hotels also look for unconventional ways to give away a hotel room upgrade. Take the Kimpton hotels in Philadelphia, which often offer free upgrades to guests who book through a specific link on their Instagram page (@kimptoninphl). “We’re always looking for new ways to engage with our followers and reward them for their interest and loyalty,” says James Adamson, the general manager of the Kimpton’s Hotel Monaco in Philadelphia.

The takeaway

We’ve entered a new travel industry era, where your powers of persuasion, niceness and creativity can land you in a better room.

The ‘special’ reasons you can get a hotel room upgrade

A special event. Honeymoons rank high on the list. Doron Nadivi, the chief marketing officer for an online travel company, says he’s scored an upgrade by telling the front desk employee he’s on his honeymoon. He even admits to doing it more than once, which I don’t condone, but hotels will try to make your special occasion more memorable if you ask.

A special circumstance. If you’re thinking of coming back to the hotel and bringing a big group with you, mention it. If you’re planning to return again in a month or a year, say something. Anything that sets you apart as a more valued customer can sway a hotel to upgrade you.

A special need. Some of the larger rooms are more disability-friendly. If you need extra room to accommodate a wheelchair, or walker, the only room that might fit you is a suite. Don’t be shy about asking.

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Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is the founder of Elliott Advocacy, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that empowers consumers to solve their problems and helps those who can't. He's the author of numerous books on consumer advocacy and writes three nationally syndicated columns. He also publishes the Elliott Report, a news site for consumers, and Elliott Confidential, a critically acclaimed newsletter about customer service. If you have a consumer problem you can't solve, contact him directly through his advocacy website. You can also follow him on X, Facebook, and LinkedIn, or sign up for his daily newsletter.

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