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How to score a free hotel upgrade

Getting a better room at no extra cost is not as simple as it used to be. Here's how to pull it off.

By MSN Money Partner Jun 14, 2011 1:16PM

This post comes from Seth Fiegermanat partner site MainStreet.


During the recession, travelers could have walked into most hotels and motels in the country with a reservation for a standard room and easily talked their way into an upgrade, so desperate were these companies for customers. But that has changed in the past one to two years as consumer demand for travel has picked up.


"It's not as good a climate now for hotel upgrades as it was a couple years ago at the peak of the recession," said Bob Diener, co-founder of and and a hotel industry expert. Post continues after video.

Hotels today generally have more customers on any given night than they did in 2008 or 2009, and therefore have fewer available rooms to offer those travelers looking to score nicer lodging when they arrive and get more bang for their buck. But even though nicer rooms are harder to come by these days, there are still plenty of tried-and-true ways to talk your way into getting a free room upgrade.


Sweet talk the front desk. The simplest way to go about asking for a room upgrade is, of course, approaching the front desk. But, as Diener explains, there is a right way and wrong way to do this. You shouldn't be too aggressive in how you approach the person working behind the desk, nor should you be bashful about your request, either.


"The front desk wants to please you, and in the hotel business, they really appreciate people who are friendly, so the best tactic is just to be nice," Diener said. He recommends going so far as offering the hotel attendant some candy or sweets while chit chatting with him or her before asking politely whether there are any rooms available.


The one exception to this tactic is when there is something actually wrong with your room, in which case Diener argues it is the hotel's job to go out of its way to to please you and not the other way around.


Leverage your online presence. The Internet has given consumers new leverage in all their retail dealings, including with the travel industry, by providing nearly anyone with a virtual soap box from which to complain or praise. Just consider the recent incident of a group of soldiers who were charged $2,800 extra for their baggage by Delta and posted a video to YouTube to complain, which quickly forced Delta to change its policy.


In the same vein, travelers can reach out to hotel management and offer to praise the company on social networks like Twitter and Facebook or on review sites like Yelp if they are given a better room.


"If you call the reservation department after you book a reservation, ask to speak with a general manager on duty and tell them you'd like to get a little more information about the hotel, that you're really excited to stay there, and by the way, that you're planning to write up a nice review of the place if you can get a better room," Diener said.


Sign up for hotel loyalty programs. If you travel to the same few hotel chains frequently, you might consider signing up for their hotel loyalty programs, most of which are free at the moment. Hilton, Marriott and Hyatt all offer these frequent stay programs and, according to Diener, "a lot of the hotels will upgrade you just because you're a member." It certainly won't hurt your chances, and really, the worst-case scenario is that you'll end up with a few extra emails from these hotels each month.


Get the right credit card. Several credit cards count hotel upgrades amount their perks. Visa Signature card offers upgrades and discounts at more than 800 hotels worldwide, and the American Express Platinum card offers upgrades at 600 hotels globally, not to mention complimentary breakfasts and late-checkout options.


Do your research. While you may never be able to say with certainty that a particular hotel will give you a free upgrade, there are several telltale signs consumers can look out for to improve their odds.


For starters, Diener recommends contacting the hotel management or reading hotel reviews to find out which floors have the newest rooms. This way, the day you're supposed to check in, you can call early and ask to reserve one of those rooms, which may not be any more expensive than the room you're slated to receive, but is still likely to be much nicer. Typically, Diener says, these rooms go on a first-come, first-served basis.


Moreover, if you want additional leverage, you can check the hotel's website the day you're supposed to check in to see if there are any vacancies. This way, you can say with more confidence that you know there are empty rooms and you would like to get a nicer one if it's available.


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