Last updated: 10:48 AM ET, Fri July 24 2015

5 Great Ideas for Scoring Hotel Upgrades (That Rarely Work)

Features & Advice | Tom Bastek | July 23, 2015

5 Great Ideas for Scoring Hotel Upgrades (That Rarely Work)

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We've all tried it. We've all sauntered up to the hotel front desk, knowing full well our reservation was for the standard suite, but brimming with confidence that we would soon be talking our way into the penthouse. And, in short order, we've all been shot down. 

It's a tricky game, wiggling your way into a free room upgrade, and one fraught with pitfalls. Short of paying for it, there's no guaranteed way to score a room upgrade. But here are a few strategies that might work. They probably won't, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Great Idea: I will tell the front desk person that I am celebrating a special occasion, they will upgrade me!

Will it work: Hardly ever.

The Truth: Front desk agents see, on the average, 75-100 guests a day. Everybody is getting married, on their first vacation in ten years, or celebrating a birthday. If you don’t stand out, you aren’t going to get anything special. Now, if you can celebrate something wacky, unique or even the slightest bit funny, you might just make that desk agent's day and he or she will throw you a little love.

Great Idea: I will complain about something in the room not being up to par and they will have to upgrade me.

Will it work: No. And if it did, could you live with yourself afterward?

The Truth: By all means, if you have a legitimate complaint, bring it to the attention of the staff at your hotel. There is nothing worse for a property to get a bad review after the fact from a guest who never gave the staff a chance to make it right. But if you are going looking for something, anything, that is wrong just so you can get an upgrade for free, you are slime.

Great Idea: I will ask politely and they will want to give me an upgrade because I am not a jerk.

Will it work: Sometimes, but only with the right set of circumstances.

The Truth: You need to be very specific and super friendly and polite. Don’t just ask if there are any upgrades available. The key here is specificity. If you are looking for a certain view, ask for the mountain view on the north side. If you would really prefer a room with a mini-fridge, ask for a room with one. In the process of being friendly here, a little begging, winking, and chatting can’t hurt.

Great Idea: I will be the first one to check in and they will have so much availability they will give me an upgrade.

Will it Work: Rarely.

The Truth: Checking in early means that many rooms still haven't been turned over by housekeeping. It actually means there are fewer rooms available out there. At the same time, if you wait too late, you may be losing out to the people who came in ahead of you and asked for an upgrade.

Great Idea: I will tip the front desk agent and they will be obligated to give me an upgrade.

Will it work: This is probably your best bet, but it is never a certainty.

The Truth: Tipping is probably your best bet out of anything on this list. Most of the time you don’t even have to ask for anything and that bill you slid across the counter will get you some sort of preferential treatment. But if you are asking for anything, make sure you put some money down. 

Keep in mind that sometimes no matter how much money you give the desk agent, you just aren’t going to get the upgrade. Sometimes there are no rooms left to upgrade you to, there is a manager looking over an employee’s shoulder, or they just don’t want to. Desk agents are not obligated to give anything to anyone outside of what a person has paid for. So if you don’t get the upgrade, just enjoy the good karma of having tipped generously.

Remember, no matter what you do, be nice! It is just as easy for a front desk agent to put you in the room next to the elevator or overlooking the dumpster as it is for them to put you in a corner room with a view. Most really good desk agents have figured out how to make you believe that you got an upgrade no matter where they put you. In that case, enjoy blissful ignorance.


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