5 Tips To Getting Hotel Suite Upgrades For Free

Filed Under: Advice, Club Carlson

Travis is my first new contributor to the blog, who will be writing a post every Wednesday to start. The idea behind adding guest contributors is to add different perspectives to the blog. Travis has a unique approach towards travel, given that he travels almost exclusively with his wife and young children, which is in stark contrast to my travels, which are usually alone.

Travis has recently returned from a month-long trip to Southeast Asia with his wife, 3.5 year old son Squirt and 2.5 year old daughter Squeaker (not their real names).

The single most important factor in terms of traveling with young children is… space.  Be it on the plane, in the hotel, or in the car, more space is better!  

Perhaps the best way to maintain sanity on a long family trip is to be able to put the kids in their own space and shut the door when it’s time for bed.  So while Ben apparently forgets to even use the suite upgrades he is granted each year, I often go out of my way to finagle suites which I’m not even entitled to!

Now to be clear, I’m not talking about the Presidential Suite, the Ambassador Suite, or whatever the the hotel calls their best room.  I’m really just looking for more space and ideally some means of separating the two rooms (such as a door!).  In most cases, a junior suite is perfect and can actually be preferable to a fancily furnished suite anyway….

That’s not to say that we absolutely have to have a suite.  We can — and frequently do — stay in a single hotel room for a night or two, but we know that our kids (3.5 year old son, 2.5 year old daughter) will eventually be in each others’ faces (or ours!) if we do this for an extended period of time.

On our recent month-long Southeast Asian Adventure, we stayed at six western chain hotels where we had some level of status.  We booked a single standard room at each of these six properties, and in no case were we entitled to a suite.  Yet 5 of the 6 stays we were upgraded to suites.  

(We also stayed at several independent hotels on this trip.  Those results are not included here.)

Here’s how we went 5 for 6 on suite upgrades which we weren’t entitled to, and how you can too! 

Sheraton Bandara Hotel (Jakarta Airport)

Update: This hotel is now the Bandara International Hotel by Accor Hotels

Booked:  Standard Room
Received:  Junior Suite
Award / Revenue:  Category 2 award
Nights:  3 (1 stay of 1 night, 1 stay of 2 nights)
Status:  Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Gold

Junior Suite at the Sheraton Bandara Jakarta Airport
Junior Suite at the Sheraton Bandara Jakarta Airport

How:  I emailed the hotel about a week before arrival to request a pickup at the airport.  In the same email, I mentioned that I was an SPG Gold member and requested an upgrade to “one of their beautiful suites.”  The hotel promptly replied confirming the airport transfer and informing me that I had been assigned a Junior Suite.

Intercontinental Singapore

Booked:  Standard Room
Received:  Standard Room (Fail!)
Award / Revenue:  Anniversary award nights via Intercontinental Hotel Group (IHG) Mastercard
Nights:  2
Status:  IHG Platinum

Standard room at the Intercontinental Singapore
Standard room at the Intercontinental Singapore

How:  At check-in I politely asked if there were any suite upgrades available for a Platinum member.  After several minutes of furious typing, the agent stated that they didn’t have any suites available.  Instead he offered me either an upgraded “shopkeeper’s room” or my original room plus high-speed internet and breakfast.  Since the “shopkeeper’s room” was supposedly just nicer (not actually bigger), I chose the latter.  I honestly think he would have given me a suite had there been one available, but perhaps he was just trying to let me down easy.  Strike out.

Four Points By Sheraton Penang

Booked:  Standard Hill-View Room
Received:  Junior Suite
Award / Revenue:  Category 1 award
Nights:  2
Status:  Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Gold

Junior Suite at the Four Points by Sheraton Penang
Junior Suite at the Four Points by Sheraton Penang

How:  A few days before our arrival, I emailed the hotel requesting a pickup at the airport.  I also mentioned that I was an SPG Gold member and would like to request an upgrade to “one of their beautiful suites.”  They replied confirming the airport pickup (for a fee, as expected) and informed me of my Gold benefits — namely that I would receive an upgraded room (within the same category), late checkout, and a choice of amenity.  Yep, that’s what the rules say — no argument here!  Strike one.

At check-in, the very kind agent informed me that I had been upgraded from a hill-view room to a sea-view room.  I very politely asked if they had a suite available for a Gold member tonight.  After some very quick typing, the agent informed me that, regrettably, the only suite available was on a smoking floor.  We took it, as the room smelled impressively clean, even if there was a slight odor in the hallway.

Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

Booked:  Standard Room
Received:  Grand Suite
Award / Revenue:  2 nights as credit card sign-up bonus, 2 nights My Elite rate.  Globalist Suite Upgrade (GSU) applied.*
Nights:  4
Status:  Hyatt Globalist

Suite at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur
Grand Suite at the Grand Hyatt Kuala Lumpur

How:  I originally emailed the hotel to apply the DSU to all 4 nights.  They politely informed me that the credit card award nights were not eligible for the upgrade.  Strike one.

I then reached out to World of Hyatt Concierge via FlyerTalk.  I asked that the GSU apply to all 4 nights.  I politely explained that when the Hyatt credit card debuted, Globalist members received two nights in a suite upon signup.  Therefore, I was effectively just asking for the original offer.  I was also still using a GSU for the other nights.  The concierge apparently agreed that this was a reasonable request and quickly reached out to the hotel to make arrangements for the upgrade.

*It is debatable as to whether this stay counts as a “suite that I didn’t deserve”.  The two nights booked on revenue using the My Elite Rate were certainly GSU eligible.  However, the two credit card nights were not.  Since it took special consideration on the part of HGP, I chose to include it here.

Crowne Plaza Changi (Singapore Airport)

Booked:  Standard room
Received:  Suite
Award / Revenue:  Anniversary award night via IHG Mastercard
Nights:  1
Status:  IHG Platinum

Suite at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport
Suite at the Crowne Plaza Changi Airport

How:  This room was in my wife’s name, so she checked in.  She tried our standard routine of politely asking if there was a suite upgrade available for a Platinum.  The check-in agent quickly replied that the hotel’s policy was to give Platinum members a one category upgrade to a Premium room.  My wife asked what the difference in those rooms would be and found out that now we would be on the top floor.  Yippee!  Strike one.

We went up to the room which was indeed on the top floor.  I reviewed my notes (which is to say I asked Google) and confirmed that this property has a reputation of treating Platinums very well — there are many reports of Platinums getting suites and even club access!

I returned to the front desk to try again.  I hoped to get a different agent who might have a different interpretation of the policy, but as luck would have it, I ended up with the same one with which my wife had spoken.  I quietly and politely stated that “my wife and I are both IHG Platinum members <she interrupted to thank me for our loyalty> and wondered if there was a suite upgrade available.”  She repeated the same line to me as she had to my wife, but then added, “since I know you are traveling with two children, maybe I can get you a suite, just this time.” Ah yes, the “one time exception.”  Has IHG started hiring United agents?  Cause if I had a nickle for every “one time exception” United has offered me over the years….

Anyway, it turned out that she only had a smoking suite available.  I went to look at it smell it, and confirmed that it was acceptable.

Radisson Brunei Darussalam

Booked:  Standard Room
Received:  Executive Suite
Award / Revenue:  Award (BOGO nights)
Nights:  4
Status:  Club Carlson Gold

Executive Suite at the Radisson Brunei
Executive Suite at the Radisson Brunei

How:  About a week before our arrival, I emailed the hotel to ask for an airport pickup and at the same time explained that I was a Club Carlson Gold member and would like to request an upgrade to “one of their beautiful suites.”  (Do you see a theme here?)  I received a prompt reply confirming the airport pickup (for a fee, as expected) and that we would be upgraded one category to a Deluxe room.  The Deluxe room did seem to have more space according to the website, but this was still strike one, as that door is really key.

At check-in, I politely asked if there would be a suite upgrade available for a Club Carlson Gold member.  The agent immediately started typing and said that “regrettably none were available right then.”  I asked when one would be available and he said perhaps in half an hour.  Deal.  I said we would wait, and he offered me our original room to go relax in while we waited.  Even better.  The suite was ready in about 5 minutes.

And that’s how we received suite upgrades at 5 out of 6 properties on this trip when we weren’t entitled to any!

It would be easy to write all of this off to “Travis is just lucky” and while I do believe that I am the luckiest guy on Earth — at least among those not actually named Lucky — I think there is a bit of technique to this.  Here are 6 take-aways to help you try to get a suite upgrade when you aren’t entitled to one.

  1. “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.”  My Dad taught me a long time ago that the worst somebody is going to say is “No.”  We can’t let a fear of rejection get in the way of getting what we want.  Had I feared rejection and losing, I would have given up five upgrades to avoid the one rejection.
  2. “In the land of the blind, the man with one eye is king!”  My SPG and Carlson status are only mid-tier while my IHG status is top-tier but just about everybody and their brother has it.  Yet when you are traveling in off-the-beaten path places, properties may not see many elites and thus they treat you like royalty.  (Heck, even booking directly on the hotel website can put you ahead of the competition who likely made their reservation with Orbitz, Expedia, Hotels.com, etc.)
  3. “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar.”  In every case, I knew I was not entitled to the upgrade.  I asked very politely and was prepared for (and expecting!) rejection.  This should definitely not be a DYKWIA moment!
  4. If the front desk indicates that suites are available, but refuses the complimentary upgrade, inquire as to how much it would cost.  If your stay is for a single night, and it’s already late, the suite is probably going to go unsold.  The incremental revenue they get from selling you an upgrade is basically going straight to the bottom line, and as such, they may have room to negotiate.  Inquiring how much the suite upgrade would cost also indicates that you aren’t just looking for a handout (even if you’d gladly take one!), which may actually encourage the hotel to give you just that.  In the worst case, politely decline the offer if it is more than you want to pay.  Interestingly, we never had a chance to try this approach on this trip since the only time we struck out completely was when the all the suites were occupied (or so we were told).
  5. Asymmetric information.  Readings blogs (such as OMaaT) or websites such as FlyerTalk can make you believe that everyone is a Diamond, Platinum, Royal Ambassador, etc., and that you have no right to ask for an upgrade as a lowly Gold member who cheaply obtained their status just by having the credit card.  Trust me, most of the world has no status.  And check-in agents rarely know what it takes to earn status anyway.  You don’t need to tell them that this is actually going to be your first stay with their chain this year, or that you’ve never actually spent a dime with them.  If they want to treat you like a big shot, just smile and let them.

Batting 83% on suite upgrades is incredible — and will get you in the Hall of Fame — but it’s still far from guaranteed!  While my wife and I really appreciate the sanity that more space offers, we know that we can get by for a few nights in a single room.  So perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that you have to be prepared for the front desk to say no.  If you really absolutely need a suite, then by all means, book one!

What tips do you have for getting upgraded to suites when you aren’t entitled to one?

  1. I count 21, but some word have more than one exclamation points.

    Ok so I cheated and just used the search function in Firefox.

  2. great article and very helpful as i never really paid attention to hotel upgrade possibility in the past. love the advice about not fearing rejection. applies to so much in life as well.

  3. @ Dax — Gonna go out on a limb and say that most people have better things to do than search exclamation points in a 2,200 word blog post. Stay busy, my friend!

  4. “@ Dax — Gonna go out on a limb and say that most people have better things to do than search exclamation points in a 2,200 word blog post. Stay busy, my friend!”

    You know it! I’m currently planning some trips to Asia. Trying to decide between Macadamia Air, Missing Airways, and Early Arrivals.

  5. I think one other factor here is Asia. Was SPG Gold last year, and Platinum this year. Every time I was at a Starwood property in Asia, I was upgraded with little drama at both levels.

    In the US, in my experience, upgrades are rare. And usually only after a fight – as Ben has written about in the past.

    Overall, good for you and the family, but interested to see if anyone else’s luck with upgrades is regionally similar.

  6. Ok, I’m back this week to acknowledge that this is good stuff — good information, solid title at the top, no embellishment. I think, as you also point out, that the “sympathy factor” of having a couple of small kids may have played no small part in your success.

    And that reminds me of the time quite some years ago that we got operationally upgraded to a Tower Suite for four nights — a big deal, by the way, complete with a massive crystal chandelier in the dressing room — after a post-midnight arrival at the Waldorf. This was strictly a one-night upgrade, I was told. The next morning I came down by myself and politely begged the desk agent not to disappoint my wife by making us move out for our remaining three nights. After saying, “Let me see what I can do, and I’ll give you a call,” he called us ten minutes later with the balance of our four-night upgrade. That dressing room with the chandelier still lives in my memory to this day.

  7. I don’t think I could bring myself to ask for a suite at checkin if I weren’t entitled to one (at least on a “subject to availability” basis). I’m not saying it’s wrong to ask. It’s not. But I just don’t have the cheek to do it.

  8. I guess what shocks me is that someone playing this game would so routinely use hotel-provided airport transportation. One of the worst deals going, yet it doesn’t seem to faze you. Do you do research before you use the hotel’s resources?

    The fact that you do likely gives you “extra credit” in upgrade consideration, as you’ve contributed to margins with the transport. Thrree of your five upgrades were in conjunction with airport pick-up.

  9. Thank you for informative article. I got my Carlson Gold status a year ago and so far I was able for get an upgrade to the suite 2 out of 2 times (New York City and St. Martin).

    In NYC I booked thru Chase and according to several reps, if you book thru the third party you are not entitle to members benefits. I got upgraded to the suite anyway but have not received in room gift.

  10. Interesting point Colleen. I usually avoid hotel transport at all costs because I am a cheapskate. Might have to rethink that if it potentially impacts upgrade probability.

    Travis, my mother has always told me the same thing “the squeaky wheel gets the grease!” It’s amazing what hotels will do for you if you just ask politely. I’ll frequently contact the GM of a hotel in advance and ask for a free upgrade. Doesn’t happen all the time, maybe 30-50% consistently, but I don’t expect it to. Even works at hotels without loyalty programs, like for example the Four Seasons Scottsdale recently and the MGM Grand Las Vegas.

    Disclaimer: I included 1 exclamation point in this reply.

  11. Thanks for post. How well have these techniques worked in EU or US? SE Asia is more accommodating when comes to customer service? On FT someone pointed out to me in a thread that upgrades also depend on the type of room and quality hotel you book. Fancier hotels tend to have more larger rooms to upgrade you too.

  12. Great tips, Travis, thanks! I’m going to give it a whirl w/ our upcoming Lucky/Tiffany-inspired trip to Egypt!

  13. Neil —

    Interesting comment about Asia. My previous belief was that Asia was, by and large, “by the book” in that if the rules said “no suite upgrade at your status level”. But maybe that was more Japan, Korea, China, rather than SE Asia?

    I wish I had another month to go find out!

  14. Tom:

    The “two pre-schoolers in tow” sympathy factor could definitely be in play. But while we’re building the regression model, let’s also include the fact that I was on crutches for this trip. So that’s two major sympathy points right there.

    Hey Lucky, would you be interested in taking my kids for a few weeks to test out whether they increase your hotel upgrade chances? Could be a good experiment. (I’m joking. Or am I?)

  15. Levy:

    I’m trying to recall where else I’ve had unentitled suite upgrades. Ones that come to mind —

    South and Central American: Radisson Montevideo, Country Inn and Suites Panama Canal.

    Europe: Can’t think of any.

    US: Too many Hyatt’s to count. As a Diamond, I have great success at getting suites at check-in, which is good, because 4 DSU’s wouldn’t be enough for me. (I’ve thought about writing a post about this.)

    I’m going to take the opposite side and say that the fanciest hotels are more likely to follow the book and not upgrade you. I don’t really have data to back that, just a gut feeling. Obviously you need to be at a fancy enough hotel that actually has suites to upgrade you to, but maybe not too much? Let’s just say that asking the Hyatt Place for a suite probably isn’t going to work too well…… 🙂

  16. In defense of the IC Singapore, the Shop(house) rooms are quite a lot larger than their regular room and you shouldn’t be expecting upgrades with an IC when you’re not Ambassador. As a Platinum Ambassador, I had to beg to get upgraded to the Shop(house) Suite and honestly I was underwhelmed when I did get it.

  17. Colleen:

    The hotel transportation comment is interesting. First, in my younger days, I would agree with you that it is way overpriced. I’m the guy who couldn’t find the entrance to the Park Hyatt Tokyo because I walked the 3/4 mile from the train station!

    But I’m not quite as cheap as I used to be. For this trip, we had two pre-schoolers and me on crutches. We were definitely willing to pay a bit more to avoid the “BS” that can go on in the arrivals hall when trying to arrange transportation. When your kids are on the verge of melting down, there’s something comforting about walking out of immigration and seeing your name on a sign and a guy who is grabbing your bags and loading them in the van. As I think Gary says, “sometimes you hire a tout to protect you from the other touts!” I guess I’m willing to pay something to have the hotel keep me away from the touts.

    But how much am I willing to pay? For the Four Points, research on FT indicated that they charged perhaps 20% more than “retail”. That seemed a small price to pay. I honestly don’t think the front desk really cared one way or the other, but who knows.

    At the Radisson Brunei, they actually subcontract their airport pickup to Avis (literally, it’s just a rental car and driver), so I don’t think they care one bit about whether you use it or not. There again, the cost was about 20% more than a cab so in my mind, not much. And cabs in Brunei can be hard to find (I read there are only 40 in the whole country), so I didn’t want to gamble on their being on waiting at the airport.

    Now at the Grand Hyatt KL, they wanted more than DOUBLE what I knew we could get a taxi for. 100% mark up? Sorry, that’s where I draw the line.

    So while I appreciate your looking for factors that could have increased my chances, I honestly don’t think this is one. I think having kids in tow and being on crutches would carry more weight.

    Finally, I count 2 of the 5 as having paid for the airport pickup. The Sheraton Jakarta doesn’t count cause it’s a free shuttle.

  18. Tom, Dax(!), and others:

    Thanks for giving me another chance. Means a lot. I’m a STEM guy in my day job. I write a decent number of technical papers and stuff, but I’m lucky if 10 people ever read them (5 of which are probably on my team!) And in my field, people tip-toe around, never wanting to offend anyone, so you never know what they really think. It’s pretty awesome (ok, and sometimes scary) to get honest and real feedback. I appreciate it.

    I can’t promise you’ll like everything I write, but I’d be thrilled if you keep telling me what you think of it.

    And Dax, thanks for pointing out that I have a (!) fetish. I wonder if it has to do with the fact that I write technical papers and never get to use one? So maybe I have years of pent-up frustration and its coming out….

    I’ll try to keep my excitement in check. No promises though!

  19. I’ve been enjoying your posts–a really fresh perspective and I can definitely relate more now that we have a little one. I totally understand wanting/needing two separate rooms so the baby can go down and adults have some relative peace. I Initially thought it would be cost prohibitive for us but this post gave me some hope! Thanks!

  20. The idea to email the hotel with the premise of arranging ground transportation was smart. Did you ask about pricing before sending an authorization email?

  21. Good post Travis. Fwiw, i stay at CP Changi a few times a year and always get suite upgrade as an IHG Plat. No lounge access, but get a drink coupon at check-in. Nice suites and great hotel.

  22. Christian —

    The hotels generally told me their pricing in their response. I then replied to confirm.

    I honestly did not think that using the hotel transportation from the airport (for a fee) was a means of increasing my upgrade chances, but multiple comments here seem to think it does. Would be interested to hear more thoughts on this from folks.

  23. Obnoxious, grasping, entitled. Why not pay for the two rooms you so obviously need? Others should be dispossessed because you travel with your brats in tow?

  24. Travis, great post. We actually find our Platinum IHG status to be among the most upgradeable. We also find a lot of luck getting upgrades in the Middle East and Asia (where we live) because people seem flattered by our little blonde son and are very kind when we ask for extra room for the baby.

    Question, when you email the hotel, who do you email? Main generic hotel email? GM? Director of rooms? Front office?

    @ Jackie Coakley. Hotels can always say no to an upgrade. No one is being coerced…

  25. I took this post as an encouragement. I’ll definitely start asking. I don’t considered it entitlement.

  26. Jamie — I generally use whatever email I can find, but usually it’s the main hotel email. If I find more than one for a property, I’ll just include them all and trust that it’ll get forwarded to the right person.

  27. Putting this into practice as we speak. I actually find a lot more success if you can find a specific person’s email (preferable the senior most GM/manager) rather than the generic email. I usually google “manager” or “GM” and the property name and usually will find the right person in Tripadvisor review responses or press releases from the hotel. I just experiment with [email protected] until I get to the right combo (you can BCC multiple permutations in the same email). Fired off my standard suite request email last night for a Westin next week so we will see what happens. I am using SNAs too so I guess I’m not as unentitled as I could be, but I’ve had mixed results confirming SNAs in the past. I also asked about airport transfers to experiment with whether that might help my probability of upgrade. Well, the GM offered me free transfers! So, thanks Travis!! We have a 6 mo old so loving your posts (and Lucky’s!). Fingers still crossed on the upgrade…

  28. I’m a bit confused on one thing: you mention needing to be able to put the kids in one room of the suite and yourselves in another, and later on you say “that door is key.” But you are usually upgraded into a junior suite, right? And what makes a suite “junior” is that it is just one large room with no door separating the sitting area from the sleeping area, right?

  29. Randy — If it doesn’t have at least two rooms and a door between them, then it’s just a big room, and not a suite. At least that’s how I define it!

    I don’t know what the accepted definition of junior suite is, but I’ve always just assumed it’s the entry-level suite at the property.

  30. Travis, in my experience with hotels in major chains (Hilton, Conrad, Doubletree, Hyatt, Westin, Sheraton) plus independent properties, a junior suite never has an internal door separating the areas. That’s what makes it a “junior” suite: separate areas (usually one for sitting and one for sleeping) without a physical door separating them.

    You were upgraded into a junior suite at the Sheraton Bandera and the Four Points by Sheraton Penang. The pictures you posted don’t seem to show an internal door. Did these rooms have an internal door separating the areas? Do you have pictures? If some properties are using a different definition of junior suite, I’d like to know for reference. Thanks.

  31. Travis, we are travelling with our 4 and 7 year olds in a couple of months. was looking at the 2 x double bed family rooms but as Plat Amb would love a suite if they give us one. just want to check how that works with beds for the kids – is there a sofabed or rollaway? thanks

  32. Hi Travis, just came across this thread. With your two kids, was wondering what your hotel strategy is in Europe or Australia where rooms are smaller or maximum occupancies more strictly enforced. In Asia, hotels are more flexible with four people sharing a room. How often do you request (and pay) for a rollaway bed, for example? Thanks

  33. Thank you for your insight on how to get your hotel room upgraded for free! Specifically, you talk about how with the Sheraton Penang hotel, you were able to simply email them and ask for the upgrade, and they accommodated. It seems that if you are honest and upfront with the hotel, they will most likely comply with your request. Do you think that this is true? Thank you for your insight!

  34. @Lauren Woodley, it depends very much on which hotel, and how full they are. In general, some hotels are much more willing to grant upgrade requests than others. Also in general, hotels that are mostly full are less likely to do so, while hotels that are fully booked may need to grant upgrades so they have rooms available, and hotels that are lightly booked may be more willing to grant upgrades.

  35. Room upgrades don’t cost the hotel any revenue provided they’re not forecast to sell out. This is because the cost to maintain each room in the hotel is the same with the only exceptions being the super exclusive luxury style penthouse suites. The only reason these would cost more to maintain is that they might need more than one housekeeper.
    Generally if you know the hotel won’t sell out then there’s always the possibility of an upgrade.

  36. Hi Travis, my husband and I will be going to Hawaii on our honeymoon in March. Do you have any tips for Moana Surfrider, A Westin Resort & Spa, Waikiki Beach and an upgrade? I’m an SPG gold member and would like a club level room but would need Plat status for that upgrade. Thoughts?

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