“Thank you for being a loyal customer. We have upgraded your room…”, are the sweetest words one can hope to hear while checking-in at a hotel.
Discounts, promotions, bonus points, and credit card rewards may be pretty much the norm nowadays for booking a hotel, but nothing beats the excitement of a complimentary upgrade.
Of course, on many occasions, you will struggle to figure out what exactly is ‘upgraded’ in the upgraded room. But that’s a conversation for another day.
The fact is – upgrades are real. Even suite upgrades. Even upgrades when you are redeeming points for a free night. However, it’s not for everyone. And not every time.
So, how do you increase your chances of a complimentary upgrade at a hotel? To answer that, we spoke to several frequent travelers. And based on the experience, here are the recommended tips for how to get an upgrade in a hotel.
Upgrades are for hotel’s customers, not OTA’s.
If you have made a reservation directly with the hotel (or their loyalty program) through their reservation helpline, app, or website, there is a possibility of being considered for an upgrade. However, if you have booked through Online Travel Aggregators (OTAs) like Expedia, Booking, Agoda, etc., it is unlikely that you will be ever considered for an upgrade.
This is because hotels have to pay significant commissions to OTAs, which is not the case with direct bookings. Additionally, hotels have a limited number of upgrades available each day and would prefer to prioritize their own customers over those who booked through OTAs.
Achieving elite status with a hotel program is one of the key requirements for securing a complimentary upgrade. While most hotels offer upgrades for Gold elite levels and above, having a higher status greatly increases the chances of an upgrade. If your elite status is below Gold, consider yourself lucky if you are offered an upgrade.
Fortunately, there are a few hotels that offer elite status without requiring 20 or 50 nights stayed first.
Ways to get an elite status faster.
IHG One Rewards: The best program for instantly obtaining elite status is IHG One Rewards. By purchasing an IHG Ambassador membership for $200, you not only receive a Buy One, Get One night certificate but also gain Platinum elite status with IHG. Additionally, guaranteed upgrades are provided at InterContinental properties—making this program unbeatable in terms of value.
Accor ALL Memberships: Complimentary silver membership with Accor ALL can be obtained through Accor Plus in Asia Pacific or globally through Accor ALL Plus. By staying at participating properties for just 3 or 4 nights, the cost of these memberships can easily be recouped.
Credit Cards: Many hotel credit cards, especially in the US, offer complimentary elite status to their cardholders. This is by far the easiest way to get an elite status with a particular loyalty program, provided any such card is available in your country and you are eligible for one.
Promotions with 2x Elite Night Credits: Numerous hotels offer promotions where you can earn double the elite night credits for each night stayed. This means that staying for just one night will count as two nights towards reaching elite status, effectively halving the required number of nights. We cover most of these promotions on our website and you can stay updated by subscribing to our newsletter or following us on Telegram.
Status Match: If you hold elite status with any program, there are opportunities to match your status and obtain a higher level with other programs. Even if you don’t currently have elite status with any other program, some hotels offer a ‘Status Match Challenge’ where you can request to be matched. Keep an eye on the latest Status Match opportunities here.
Upgrades are for Kings and Queens only.
According to frequent travelers, booking a hotel room with twin beds significantly decreases your chances of receiving a complimentary upgrade as compared to booking a King or a Queen bed.
This may be attributed to the fact that most suites and higher category rooms typically offer King or Queen beds. This is particularly true for automatic upgrades that are displayed in the app prior to your arrival.
Time your arrival.
The timing of your arrival at a hotel can also impact your chances of getting an upgrade. If you arrive too early, the hotel may still have time to sell their higher category rooms to last-minute online bookers.
Conversely, if you arrive too late, these upgraded rooms may already be sold out. However, during off-peak seasons, it is unlikely that all the higher category rooms would be sold out.
In my experience, late night check-ins during the off-season tend to result in the most upgrades. On the other hand, during peak seasons and in locations with high tourist demand, arriving a couple of hours after the designated check-in time is likely to increase your chances of getting a complimentary upgrade.
1 to 3 nights is the sweet spot.
Shorter stays often result in more upgrades, as the likelihood of a higher-category room being available for 1 or 2 days is higher than it being available for a longer period, such as 7 days.
Additionally, even if the room is available at the time of check-in, hotels have ample time to sell the higher category room for cash.
Typically, stays ranging from 1 to 3 nights are more likely to receive upgrades.
Don’t be disrespectful.
Social media is filled with stories of guests who display rude and entitled behavior towards hotel front desk staff.
Don’t be that person.
Be polite, and be prepared to accept a “no” as an answer. Fighting for a room upgrade is pointless unless it is guaranteed with your booking or status. You will only end up spoiling your mood and your vacation.
It would not be surprising if hotel staff deliberately assign less desirable rooms to ill-mannered guests. While they cannot shout back or engage in physical altercations, they do have control over room allocation.
Hotel staff encounter numerous Diamond elites on a weekly basis, so there is nothing particularly special about being just another one of them. However, what can truly stand out and be special is being a gentle and respectful guest.
Wisely choose your room.
Pick the most basic room category that you can comfortably stay in. This could be the base category room or maybe even a junior suite, depending on your preferences.
This is because lower category rooms means there are more higher-category rooms one can be upgraded to. By selecting a lower category room, you increase your chances of receiving an upgrade.
However, it’s important to note that there is still a possibility that you may not get upgraded at all.
Never demand an upgrade. But always ask for one.
There is no legal obligation for a hotel to provide an upgrade unless it is guaranteed. Demanding an upgrade, therefore, leads to nowhere.
However, it is best to always inquire about the possibility of an upgrade. A straightforward question such as “Is it possible to upgrade my room?” can often be effective.
Personally, I always ask for an upgrade but never insist on it if the request is denied. Additionally, I prefer not to mention my elite status as it is already visible to the hotel staff and there is no need to flaunt it.
Special occasions are special opportunities.
If you have a birthday, anniversary, or any other special occasion that you will be celebrating at a hotel, make sure to inform them by giving them a call or using the remarks option during the booking process.
Hotels try to make celebrating an occasion memorable. And at times, that includes a complimentary upgrade.
This one is quite straightforward. During the off season, there are more vacant rooms and a higher likelihood of receiving a complimentary upgrade when you travel. In tourist hotspots, peak seasons usually result in fully booked hotels and a larger number of elite guests compared to the limited number of higher-category rooms available.
The country matters even more.
Hotels in Asia tend to give the most upgrades. Hotels in the US, the least. Interestingly, the quality of rooms and services follow a similar pattern.
This is primarily because it’s much easier to get an elite status in the US. Thanks to a zillion credit cards that come with complimentary elite status. That’s not the case in the rest of the world.
Hotel owners in the US often talk about how on most days they have more guests with ‘elite status’ than not. And as they say – '‘If everyone’s an elite, no one’s an elite.’*
Point being, if you are checking-in at a hotel in the US, adjust your expectations.
What are friends for?
If a close friend or a family member works in the hospitality industry, they may be able to get you great discounts and a complimentary upgrade.
Don’t forget to check with you friends in the industry before booking. And remember to be always nice to them :)