The expansive suites, mind-blowing views, 300 thread count bedding and maybe even a private butler, who does not want an upgrade on their next hotel stay? But it is not easy getting a $500 or more upgrade for free, there are some subtle tricks to it as Edward Convoy points out.
Disclaimer: the answer will vary a LOT from hotel to hotel, and depending on the circumstances. This is the general pattern I have observed at hotels I’ve worked for.
In short, it depends on standing out from the crowd. There are a number of ways to do this:
1. Be a member of the loyalty program. This is by far the easiest (as it is generally free) way to stand out from the crowd. Loyalty programs tell hotels that you care about where you stay, rather than only looking for the cheapest place, and thus a good experience might turn you into a repeat guest. Hotels reward member guests by making their reservations more important (in general) from non-member reservations.
2. Be polite and notice things that can be included in a feedback survey. A guest who uses my name, and who gives an email address so that they can give feedback on their stay is more likely to comment on the stay. Having consistent positive feedback from guests is a core goal in hospitality. Management and staff are judged on this as a key job performance indicator. Hotels that fail to meet standards can lose their brand status, so this is very important. Letting the front desk know you will not be giving feedback is akin to saying that you don’t care about your stay.
3. Work for a company or group that sends a lot of business to the hotel, and make sure to mention this when you book. If a hotel has to choose between giving an upgrade to a random guest, or an employee of one of their regular business/group clients, it will generally choose the guest with the connection. If you do not have an existing connection, mentioning an interest in having your business or group stay with the hotel may also help.
4. Stay during a time when business is temporarily slow. This includes holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving, off seasons for seasonal properties, for business-focused hotels Sunday night is also generally slower. When there are fewer guests competing for upgrades, there is greater flexibility.
5. Approach: how you ask is VERY important. A polite inquiry at checkin, for example “I have heard your property has some great suites (or whatever the upgrade you are looking for), would it be possible to get one for this stay?” would be a good phrasing. “I always get upgrades when I stay here”, in contrast, is liable to alienate the staff and make sure they deny your demands. Ask, because in order to accomodate a request the staff has to know, but make it an open door, rather than trying to force the issue.
6. I would suggest avoiding manufacturing a false complaint or issue, as that can backfire. You may get something by forcing this one time, but you will have made yourself memorable in a bad way to the staff and management. Similarly, a bribe will often backfire, as staff who are honest will be insulted, and those who are dishonest risk discovery and firing.
A good upgrade request will include some or all of these, and doing so will maximize your chances.
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