You've probably heard a few stories of travelers who were upgraded to first class on the plane after booking a coach seat, or given a suite when they had only been booked in a regular hotel room. How can you catch the same break when you travel?
Don't expect them. Well, sorry to disappoint, but the industry has changed a lot over the years and upgrades aren't handed out as frequently as they once were. "Airlines, hotels and cruise lines are not offering upgrades as they have in past years," said Pam George, travel agent with Global Connections. "However, always supply all information when booking, such as frequent flyer numbers, past passenger information, any celebrations that are going on and if an upgrade is offered when it is unexpected it is icing on the cake."
One couple traveled for her husband's birthday to New York City and nonchalantly told the front desk about their plans for the Big Apple. When they handed the couple the keys, it was to a much larger room with additional amenities than they had booked.
Say cheese! "In my experience, the best way to score an upgrade is to smile, be pleasant and ask for one," said Kelly Baumgartel of Global Connections. "You'd be surprised what you can get." Yes, flashing a toothy grin does work sometimes because hotels just might have some extra rooms available during a slow period a flight might not have that many passengers and being nice can get you far. While you're smiling, let the crew know if it's your birthday or anniversary.
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Reward yourself: "Upgrades may be subject to availability," said Lynn Newman with Global Connections in 2011. "So I recommend my clients sign up for rewards programs to earn extras." There are rewards programs for hotels, airlines, car rental programs and even resorts. Of course, the more you travel the more upgrades you may receive. Even if you don't travel often, become a member anyway because points do add up.
Minimize: "You should always select a room in the minimum room category that will make you happy," said Erin Logsdon, Virtuoso Travel Advisor at Luxury Travel Works. "Not just the minimum acceptable room category, but the one that you will be happy with even if you do not get an upgrade."
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Then, Logsdon says, once you have determined your preferred room category, get in touch with your travel advisor to make the reservation for you. "Check to see if they participate in the preferred partner program for that hotel," she said. "Not every hotel has such a program, but for the ones that do this step can give you an edge over other guests attempting to upgrade. It can also offer you special rates not available through any other channel."
Travel smart: Upgrades can happen depending on when you are traveling. "Upgrades are hardest when the hotel is at full occupancy," said Logsdon. "This is typical during school vacation weeks, the festive season (last two weeks of December and the beginning of January), and other major holidays. If you have flexibility with your dates, let your travel advisor know. We can steer you away from these busy periods which will help increase your upgrade potential."
Work with an agent: While some passengers can score their own upgrades, working with an experienced travel agent opens up additional opportunities for upgrades. "Most hotels are more responsive to good agents who work with them on a regular basis," said Pam Walker, affiliate of Travel Experts, Walker Adventures, LTD.
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