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Travel Tips

Jetsetter’s Guide to Scoring a Hotel Room Upgrade

Every seasoned globetrotter knows that there are two rites of passage to perform before you can call yourself a true travel expert: completing the successful mileage redemption and securing the equally triumphant hotel room upgrade. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a VIP or rocket scientist to achieve the latter—that is as long as you A) don’t show up at the reception desk looking like a complete vagabond and B) follow these tried-and-true tips for snagging a better room for the same price. Just beware that there are no surefire ways to land a hotel room upgrade (it’s more of an art than a science). Read on for nine tricks of the trade.

Jen has been a staff editor at Architectural Digest, Travel + Leisure, and Martha Stewart Weddings, and her work has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Afar, and Elle Decor. When she's not snowmobiling in the French Alps or tasting scotch straight from the barrel in Scotland, she's at home in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.

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Get the timing right

If you’re planning your trip during an off-peak or shoulder season, you’re already one step ahead of the game. Hotels are much more likely to offer you a room upgrade or beef up service amenities when they’re not fully booked, as they usually are in the high-season. The same is true if you arrive mid-afternoon, when there will be fewer guests around to hear your request (discretion is key) and the staff has a better idea of which rooms will be vacant that evening and beyond.

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Don’t expect to Biff Tannen your way to an upgrade

When it comes to dealing with hotel staff, especially those behind the front desk, it’s best to leave rude or threatening behavior at the door. After all, no one wants to help someone who’s launching into a verbal assault, no matter who you know or what bad reviews you’ve read online. That said, you generally can’t receive what you don’t ask for, so do open your mouth—in the most polite way possible.

Be a date-dropper

Forget birthdays, though it never hurts to mention them. If you’re celebrating an actual special occasion—a milestone anniversary, honeymoon, or other more unexpected event (like a divorce)—do let the check-in staff know about it. Chances are they’ll go out of their way to make sure you have a good time—and book another stay down the line.

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Consider joining a loyalty program

Whether it’s through a hotel-linked credit card or a membership rewards club, status holders are much more likely to cash in on free upgrades than the casual vacationer. Compare benefits to see which options best fit your travel style. Some offer a lower threshold to entry, allowing complimentary upgrades depending on availability while others come with standard upgrades.

Be the early bird

Sometimes, snagging a complimentary upgrade is as easy as hitting send. A few days before you arrive, shoot the hotel manager or concierge an email to telegraph your excitement and inquire about any services that can be secured ahead of your arrival, including dinner reservations, spa treatments, or activities bookings. This will put you on the staff’s radar as well as give you an opportunity to mention your status level and the occasion of your visit (if it’s noteworthy).

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Be socially aware

It pays to do your research before you arrive. If you see a negative comment on TripAdvisor or other reviewing site, contact the hotel directly to ask about how they’ve remedied the issue. (Again, tone is everything here, so be tactful.) The staff will appreciate your concern and likely do everything in their power to make sure you have a good stay. Of course, a positive review may also do the trick, especially if you’ve written glowingly on Instagram about a sister hotel.

Make friends with the new kid

Consider booking at a just-opened hotel, where there will likely be more free rooms available. Another bonus: because the staff will be looking to create buzz through positive reviews and good word of mouth, they may be more willing to offer you substantial perks. After all, the better your stay, the greater the chances are that you’ll help them in the promotion department.

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Trust the experts

In these do-it-yourself times, more bookings are done online than anywhere else. However, working with an agent from a travel network with reputable industry connections like Virtuoso can score you perks you wouldn’t otherwise be privy to, whether that’s a free room upgrade or a late checkout.

Be prepared to walk away

No matter what the success rate of each of these strategies—and it’s variable, for sure—the truth is that it all comes down to availability and who’s working the desk. If luck isn’t on your side this time, be content to settle for free drinks in the bar, a late checkout, or whatever the staff is offering. Then buck up and try again on your next trip.

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