Arriving at a hotel to discover you’ve been upgraded to a room with more space, extravagant facilities and breathtaking views for no extra cost is a feeling like no other. Some people seem to get very lucky when it comes to freebies or upgrades, but for most of us that scenario is nothing but a pipe dream. We asked some of our favourite travel insiders and hotel experts for their top tips on how to maximise your chances of getting a free hotel upgrade.
Travel during the off-season
Naturally, when a hotel is fully booked and staff are rushed off their feet it’s unlikely that there is much chance of an upgrade. “Guests are more likely to be eligible for upgrades during quieter times, whether that means travelling in the low or shoulder seasons or opting for mid-week stays,” says Michael Caines, UK & Ireland delegate for Relais & Châteaux and chef-owner of Lympstone Manor.
“This is when availability is typically higher and hotels may choose to offer complimentary upgrades upon check in, as it’s in their best interest to provide their guests with the best experience possible,” he explains. There are other benefits to travelling in the off-season, too. You’ll get crowd-free access to typically jam-packed tourist attractions, tables at those otherwise impossible-to-book restaurants, and, more likely than not, cheaper hotel rates, with or without upgrades. Plus, it’s a more sustainable way to travel – visiting during low season helps spread the benefits of tourism to the destination across the year, and placing less emphasis on visiting at peak weather periods could result in an increased appreciation of culture and other local experiences.
Join hotel loyalty programmes
Booking your room directly with the hotel can increase your chances of getting a free upgrade. Most hotels don’t have access to the booking systems of third-party sites, so wouldn’t be able to upgrade guests even if they wanted to. Hotel loyalty programmes are a great way to let a property know how valued their services are, and also make sure you reap the benefits of booking directly. “Keep returning to your favourite hotel and you will always be assured of an upgrade if one is available,” says Neil Kedward, founder and owner of Seren, a hospitality agency dedicated to showcasing the very best places to see, eat and stay in Wales. “Good hotels will identify you as a regular customer and hence a VIP in their minds.”
“If you’re staying with one of the major brands like Hyatt, Hilton, Marriott or IHG, among others, having elite status is a great way to improve your chances of getting an upgrade — especially if you have top-tier status,” Tanner Saunders, senior hotels report at The Points Guy, tells us. “Historically, top-tier Hyatt Globalists have the best luck with upgrades (and the most tangible perks across the board).”
Relais & Châteaux also offers perks for booking directly. “If you book one of the ‘Routes du Bonheur’ itineraries through Relais & Châteaux’s concierge service, you’ll get access to a range of benefits and discounts of up to 15 per cent,” Michael explains. “Some properties offer benefits such as welcome gifts, meals or even a complimentary upgrade when redeeming one of our gift boxes.”
Learn about the perks of using hotel booking sites
Having said that, there can be benefits to booking hotels through certain third-party sites. “You can also get potential room upgrades by booking through a luxury travel advisor at a company like Virtuoso or through websites like Skylark,” Tanner explains.
“The easiest way to get an upgrade from my experience is by using Tablet Hotels, a hotel curation site, or another similar programme which guarantees you an upgrade at check-in, when available,” Andrew Kelly comments. Andrew is the owner and managing director of The Bradley Hare, a cosy pub hotel in a storybook village in Wiltshire. “The price point is quite important. If you are at an Aman or a similar top-end hotel, and you simply ask if any other rooms are available, they will almost always upgrade you, depending on availability. I once got a quadruple upgrade in St. Moritz – I booked through Tablet, and as it was the off-season, they gave me another upgrade. Then, unfortunately for the hotel, the bathroom flooded, and they had to upgrade me again – this time to a full suite!”
“My main reliable source of a room upgrade without paying extra is Booking.com,” says Katy Maclure, editor of The Detour, a weekly newsletter from Jack’s Flight Club. “I’ve used the platform so many times that I now get free room upgrades as a perk of Genius Level 3. “You usually won’t find yourself in a presidential suite, but getting bumped to a king room instead of a double certainly doesn’t do any harm. The other mega perk of being Genius Level 3 is the free breakfasts.”
At Booking.com, there are three levels of loyalty perks. Genius Level 1 offers instant 10 per cent discounts for certain hotels, Genius Level 2 increases that discount to 15 per cent and throws in free breakfasts and potential upgrades on select stays, and Genius Level 3 pushes the discount to 20 per cent and increases the likelihood of upgrades. “It says you get free room upgrades from level 2, but I’ve certainly noticed a lot more of them since I reached level 3,” Katy tells us.
Use a credit card when booking hotels
“If you’re not a super frequent traveller or you don’t have elite status at hotels or booking sites, that doesn’t mean you’re out of luck,” Tanner says. “Depending on how you book, you can also have a shot at getting an upgrade. If you have the right American Express card, booking through Amex Fine Hotels + Resorts is a great way to get potential room upgrades at many luxury hotels, along with other perks like free breakfast, a credit to use on dining or the spa, plus guaranteed late check out.”
American Express card members get access to a whole bunch of perks when travelling. Platinum card holders can get free room upgrades at Fine Hotels + Resorts properties when booking on Amex Travel, and other benefits include access to airport lounges and 20 per cent off certain airline fees, for example.
“My husband travels a lot for work and can collect Avios points through his American Express card. In the past, we have qualified for premium flights with companion vouchers and have booked flights to a long haul destination travelling in economy one way and business class return (often to ensure a better sleep before going back to work),” says Lauren Burvill, Traveller’s commerce editor. “It’s happened a couple of times where we’ve found out these flights have been upgraded when we get to the airport, with the economy leg often getting bumped up to premium or business class. It makes the journey so much more enjoyable, and if there’s a chance of being upgraded at the hotel, too, then even better.”
You’d be surprised at how many hotel guests can be quite unfriendly after a long flight or unexpected delays to their journey. Being courteous and kind always goes a long way, but never more so than when you’re hoping for a free upgrade. “Being nice and making the time to have a good conversation with the reservationist to build a great relationship from the outset,” advises Neil. “A good team member will remember your conversation and will always do the best for you on the day if they can.’
Tanner agrees. “If all else fails, you can always simply ask about upgrades when you’re checking in. If something’s available, a little kindness and a smile might get you an upgrade, or a hotel may offer you a paid upgrade at a discount if you just ask,” he tells us. “I’ll never forget being offered a $100 (£78.95) upgrade at the Waldorf Astoria in New York City before it closed — and that $100 moved me from an entry-level room to a massive, multi-room corner suite easily worth quadruple my original room rate.”
This story originally appeared on Conde Nast Traveller