13 Easy Tips for a Free Hotel Room Upgrade

File away these smart tactics for your next trip.

“Upgrade.” The word itself conjures images of bigger and better. And in the world of travel, that usually is true. Get an upgrade on your airplane seat, and you’re likely to wind up in first class instead of crammed in the back. Get an upgrade on your hotel room, and you could find yourself in a bigger room with a nicer view, a bigger bed, more amenities—maybe even a large soaking tub with airjets. Keep in mind that sometimes an upgrade might not mean a bigger room; rather, a hotel might offer you a room with an ocean view, tickets for complimentary breakfasts, free access to the spa or a credit to the on-site restaurant.

But how do you get a hotel upgrade? Better yet, how do you get a free room upgrade? Read on: Most of the tips are easy but some take research and planning.

Tip 1: Just Ask, But Use Your Manners

Travelzoo editor Hilary Solan says: “Niceness is the best policy. Seasoned travellers will tell you that the front desk employees literally hold the keys to bigger rooms, ones with more windows, locations farther from the elevators, places on the corner and many other common requests. Make your mom proud by remembering your pleases and thank yous.”

Tip 2: Be Different

Bob Hinds, of South Carolina, said he and his wife, Helen, went to visit his sister in Ohio, and they rode his motorcycle for the trip. “We decided to make an overnight stop in Cleveland to visit the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. ... The young guy that checked us into the downtown Holiday Inn must have thought it was cool to see two ‘senior citizens’ riding from South Carolina on a motorcycle, and he upgraded us ... to the presidential suite.”

Tip 3: Say It’s a Special Occasion

When we posed this question on social media, some people advocated always saying it’s your anniversary. “Works every time!” one said. Perhaps that's true, but we do not urge you to lie to get what you want, and perhaps the responses say more about the ethics of the general public than it does about upgrade strategies. However, if it really is your anniversary—or birthday or other special occasion—let them know when you check in. The person at the front desk just might be generous enough to give you an upgrade—or perhaps send a bottle of Champagne to your room.

Tips for upgrades on hotel rooms

Tip 4: Report Problems With Your Room

‪Retired nationally syndicated political columnist Gene Owens, of Virginia, said he and his wife, Peggy, spent a night in a prominent Roanoke hotel. "As a courtesy, Peggy reported a loose tile in the bathroom." Although their message was a simple so-you-know maintenance report and not a gripe, the hotel responded quickly. "Before we knew it," Owens said, "hotel officials surrounded her and directed staff to escort us to the Governor’s Suite, a thee-bedroom spread occupying the top floor. No extra charge.”

Tip 5: Do Your Homework

Know the hotel at which you are planning to stay, from its busiest time of the year to the types of rooms it offers—from standard rooms to executive suites. Manage your expectations about the type of upgrades that are possible. Stayful founder Cheryl Rosner told refinery29 this tip which bears repeating: "Get familiar with the types of rooms that are slightly fancier than the one you booked. Going from a basic superior room to the superior room with a corner view would be totally within reason.” 

Tip 6: Use the Loyalty Program

Loyalty programs are meant to attract loyal customers, and one of the ways they do that is by giving rewards. When Mary Benedetto took a recent trip to Barga, Italy, her family had all three of their rooms upgraded to a suite by using Marriott Rewards. All of the hotel chains are on board with this strategy: The Hyatt Gold Passport offers its "Diamond" members four confirmed suite upgrades each year. The Starwood Preferred Guest program offers an upgrade to "best available room at check-in—including a Standard Suite.” Research the rewards program for your favorite hotel, though, because each loyalty program offers—or doesn’t offer—different things, and some of those offers depend on your repeat business.

Travelzoo's Solan concurs: "It’s in a hotel chain’s best interest to keep their most frequent guests happy, and oftentimes it’s not a great expense for them to upgrade the guests if an inquiry is made. Also, if you have a brand's credit card, be sure to use it if you can at check-in.”

Tip 7: Use a Rebooking Site

Rebook through sites such as Tingo, DreamCheaper, TripRebel and others that monitor the reservation you made. If a better room becomes available at that price, you automatically get upgraded. They cancel your previous reservation and rebook you at the same price into the upgraded room. It doesn’t get any easier than that.

Tip 8: Know the Right People

Know who’s who at the hotel. Freddie Floyd, "The Consummate Concierge," made this recommendation to Popsugar: Email the general manager after you’ve booked just to say you are excited about staying at the hotel and to report all the good reviews you’ve read. He also suggested getting to know the concierge, whose job it is to do anything possible to personalize your trip and stay. Floyd notes that concierges often can pull more strings than desk agents.

How to get a hotel room upgrade

Tip 9: Look nice

This one might seem basic, but frequent travelers report that hotels are more likely to upgrade a guest arriving in a nice business suit or dress.

Tip 10: Tip the desk attendant

Granted, offering a tip doesn’t make it a free upgrade, but sometimes tipping the desk agent can go a long way.

Tip 11: Book directly, via the phone

Here's a strategy that can sometimes work: Reserve over the phone. Instead of booking online, talk to a real person and simply ask for an upgrade when booking. Don't forget to be nice!

Tip 12: Try a new place

You might be more likely to get a great deal at a newer property. Research brand-new properties that are still trying to spread the word and using lower prices on luxurious rooms to compete in the area.

Tip 13: Check in late

This one might seem counterintuitive, but the later in the day you check in, the better knowledge the desk agents have of available accommodations, and there might be room to negotiate, or the hotel may have used up its standard rooms and will have to place you in a larger room, even if you didn't pay for it. The converse, however, is that the later you check in, it's more likely that other guests—especially guests with "status" in the loyalty programs—have already received all the upgraded rooms. Play this last tip conservatively.