How I Screwed Up The Las Vegas $20 Trick

Filed Under: Hotels

I’m sure almost everyone has heard of the “$20 trick.” It’s most common in Las Vegas, but I’m sure happens elsewhere as well. There’s even a website dedicated to it, which describes it as follows:

The twenty dollar bill trick is sweeping the travel industry and becoming extremely popular, especially in Las Vegas. When you check into a hotel you simply slip the front desk clerk a $20 bill with your credit card, while asking “Do you have any complimentary upgrades available?” The general rule of thumb is that the front desk clerk will check for upgrades and if they cannot find anything they will return the $20 tip, making it risk free!

Now before I explain how I’m a freaking idiot, let me start by saying two things:

  • I love understanding how systems work. For example, I’ll intentionally fall for scams that aren’t dangerous just to see how they’re executed, because I find that interesting. Not that the $20 trick is a scam, but…
  • I tend to think there are two ways you can approach things in life. You can try to be smooth like most people would, or you can actually be honest and innocent about it (“we both know what’s going on, so let’s cut to the chase”). There’s merit to both ways of doing things, and based on where you are it’s interesting to observe how results differ.

I’m staying at the brand new Delano Las Vegas for two nights, which is an all suite hotel. Now perhaps this is the wrong hotel at which to try the “$20 trick,” given that all rooms are suites to begin with. It’s an absolutely gorgeous hotel, thanks to how “fresh” and spacious the rooms are.



I checked in last night and wasn’t going to try for an upgrade, but I had a very nice check-in agent. We had some banter back and forth.

I actually didn’t think of trying for an upgrade until she asked me if I had a preferred room type or if I cared if I were on a high floor or low floor.

Then the conversation went something like this:

Me: “Do you have any paid upgrades available, by chance?”
Agent: “Of course, let me see what we have here. For $100 per night I can upgrade you to [I forgot the room type].”
Me: “Now you could give me my credit card back and I could try to be smooth and slip money under it and hand it back to you, but in all honesty do you prefer an official or unofficial paid upgrade?”
Agent: “It’s totally up to you.”

I don’t carry a lot of cash around with me, so I had three $20s, for a total of $60. I think the “$20 trick” as such doesn’t get you far anymore — it’s 2014, and everyone tries it. Not that $60 gets you far either, but hopefully it gets you further. So I slipped her the $60. $30 per night for an upgrade isn’t bad, to whatever it might be…

Me: “Okay, well just give me whatever you’d like.”
Agent: “I probably shouldn’t do this, but I’ll give you this upgrade because I like you. You’ll really like this room.”

And it was indeed a gorgeous room with great views. And then I went online to look up the room types.

I had booked a Delano Suite King for $129…


And I had paid $30 per day to upgrade to a room that goes for… $20 more per day.



Bottom line

I thought the whole situation was hilarious and was laughing about it after the fact. Next time if I have a multiple night stay I might slip the agent $100 and try the “smooth” approach.

What has been your experience with tipping at check-in for better rooms? What would you have done differently?

  1. Ben, I admire your willingness to admit it when you’ve done something, well, dumb. I’m looking forward to hearing more about this stay.

  2. One of the keys that’s always said about the $20 trick is to research AHEAD OF TIME which room type you want and specifically ask for that. Implicit in the research is knowing its face pricing.

  3. Your exchange just sounds awkward personally. Research the hotel and adjust accordingly – if all the rooms are priced similar, a single 20 for the stay is more than sufficient. If the hotel has substantial price spread for the nicer suites, only then give me.

  4. I’ll preface by saying I’m one of those people too scared of the possible awkwardness in trying the “$20 trick.”

    Your story of the trick is just too funny. The only way it is funnier is if you actually got downgraded.

    Love these stories.


  5. Sometimes when you do this, they’ll also waive the resort fees or throw in other comps (without necessarily telling you about it). If they do, it’s more than worth it. Did you still have to pay resort fees?

  6. I was in Vegas 10 days ago and wanted to try the $20 trick at the MGM Grand, but had no cash. Instead I just asked politely for a complimentary upgrade and surprisingly the agent upgraded me for free from a 2Q grand premier view to an Exec king suite! I am MLife Platinum (courtesy of Hyatt) which may have helped.

  7. Sometimes using these trick can get you other things than just room upgrades (drink coupons, resort credit, etc). If you see the same check-in agent and she isn’t busy you may want to pay him/her a visit and ask if there are any perks associated with your room. Perhaps the person will feel guilty for having sort of screwed you.

  8. Stories like these are a big part of why I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for willing to admit when travel plans go awry and for willing to poke fun at yourself.

  9. I don’t get it. Why do Las Vegas hotels allow these shenanigans? Sounds to me like yet another reason to avoid LV, as if I needed one.

  10. Just stayed for one night and left this morning. Great rooms! And service was good too….this is what happened. I could hear some music from their club on top and I called ….since I had a morning flight to catch and they told me over the phone that they would call the club to close terrace windows and asked if I need earplugs
    I replied…I have them already and it’s really too late to move to a quiter side.

    This morning upon check out, the sweet desk agent asked me if I had a great stay. I replied with “I love the design but don’t like the noise from the hotel that kept me awake.” She aplologised and waived the resort fee and removed my lunch bill in the hotel……I didn’t even ask for compensation. Now that’s impressive

  11. wow, the whole thing sounds super tacky but it’s vegas so i guess that’s to be expected. i suspect if you tried the “$20 trick” here in new york you’d be laughed at in most of the better hotels.

  12. My first thought at seeing the headline was that Ben better be careful not to catch anything from a $20 trick. đŸ˜‰

    Thanks for sharing the story. So funny!

  13. Lucky, while I enjoyed your telling of the story, I’d really rather have heard the desk clerk’s version of how she stuck it to the poor sap who tried the $20 trick.

  14. @Pavel: Agreed, which is why its typically specifically called the Las Vegas $20 Trick. Doubt it would work really much of anywhere else.

    @snic: Considering the sheer number of rooms most of these hotels have, it really costs the hotels very little. Not sure what ‘shenanigans’ you’re really referring to or why that’d be a reason not to visit Las Vegas.

  15. That is exactly why it’s called the “Las Vegas $20 trick”. The $20 for an upgrade on the website tricked you to pay an extra $30 per day to get the same thing. đŸ˜‰ Maybe we just had been interpreting the trick wrong the whole time.

  16. If you received this room on a high floor with a strip view then it worked. That is way it works nowadays. Prime view rooms go to their elites and high rollers. Regular folks get low floor rooms with a “mountain view.”

  17. Ben…..dude! Seriously? This post would have been a lot more useful before I checked into the Park Hyatt New York!

  18. You win some and you lose some. In Vegas, most lose and end up losing a lot more than $20. Hopefully this makes you feel a bit better! An enjoyable read – Thanks for sharing.

  19. $50.00 at the bellagio got me a room on the 2rd from top floor dead center overlooking the fountain
    $56.00 in resort fee’s credited back
    1 box of chocolates

  20. If I were a hotel owner/manager I’d fire any employee on the spot for accepting personal bribes and implicitly diminishing my cashflow/profit.

  21. Been at every single one of the nice and expensive Vegas strip hotels. Have been upgraded every single time without doing the $20 trick. How? Just by asking nicely and being a decent human being about it. Most of the time if you’re just nice, smile, ask them how they are, etc….you know, just be a nice, normal, decent person….that gets you pretty far in life. And everytime except once (,when it was a big fight night), I was upgraded into a much nicer room…sometimes a huge suite (at the Mirage and MGM), sometimes just one step up (Wynn and Encore), sometimes a couple steps up (Aria, Cosmopolitan, TI).

  22. @Mike: “Considering the sheer number of rooms most of these hotels have, it really costs the hotels very little. Not sure what ‘shenanigans’ you’re really referring to or why that’d be a reason not to visit Las Vegas.”

    By not stopping this, the hotels are condoning bribery. It may not be a crime, but it is sleazy and dishonest.

    Would you fly an airline that lets flight attendants accept $20 to let passengers self-upgrade?

    Would you patronize a movie theater in which all you have to do to get to the front of a long line is give an employee $20? (Well, not that there are long lines at movie theaters anymore, but you get the point.)

    Would you eat at a restaurant where you have to slip the maitre d’ $20 to get a decent table? Yes, there are plenty of examples of this in the movies, but I doubt it happens that much in reality. Why? Because it angers customers. Like it angers me.

  23. Did you notice what the agent did with the money? Usually in Vegas, because the casinos are very strict about employees moving cash around, the agents actually have to clearly demonstrate to the cameras that they are taking cash from you. So it’s not even really “under the table” and it’s not clear if the employees even get to keep it.

  24. Thanks for the laugh because it is something that would have totally happen to me! You took it with the best attitude too đŸ™‚

  25. Makes sense… although it has worked in Cabo. Resort fees and parking on Maui add significantly to the bill. Thought I’d test the waters here.

  26. Sleazy, plain and simple. I am constantly amazed at how slimy people involved in this game are. Bloggers especially. This place is a moral sewer.

  27. Does anyone have any idea whether employees get to keep the money or if they have to give a certain cut to management?

  28. Micro-Inefficiencies are a common occurrence, either due to imperfect information or situational dependencies.

    I recently paid for 3 hours on a parking meter only to find out that metering stopped at 7PM two hours later.

    The $20 to $100 trick definitely plays by the rule of YMMV.

    I was once given a suite with 3 bathrooms (one with a bidet), sauna, an over sized shower with three shower heads, living room with fireplace , dining room, full bar, and jacuzzi over looking the Las Vegas strip.


  29. front desk agents have a lot of leeway in choosing your room (so comparisons to upgrading on a flight don’t really work here) – i’ve given clerks more like 30 euros, and said i would appreciate anything they can do to make my stay more special – sometimes they say with a smile that i’ve already been upgraded (and make sure i take my money back), sometimes they take the money and i get a better room than last time, but nothing specific is said – remarks re: management getting pissed off about this don’t really obtain here, since again, part of a front desk clerk’s job is to assign rooms and they have a lot of discretion

  30. @Taylor – If it’s a big upgrade, they often have to check with their manager on duty and get it approved. If it’s a small upgrade, or room selection with a category, that’s probably within the desk agent’s power and discretion.

    From what I understand from having read that $20 trick website, the key takeaways are to ask for complimentary upgrades, not paid upgrades; to adjust the $20 upward depending on how big an upgrade you’re going for, how much the room is, how long you’re staying; and know what you want and either ask for it directly or be prepared to answer if the desk clerk asks. Also to pick the friendliest looking check-in person. That said, with all this in mind, I tried the $20 trick at Bellagio not so long ago. I had my preferred person picked out, since they let you choose who to line up in front of. Of course, the people this guy was helping took forever, so eventually, I caved when the woman next door had no one in her line, and I moved over to her. Probably a mistake, like I knew it would be. Tried the smooth version, but it was pretty akward as the $20 sat there between us the whole time we are discussing everything else. Asked for a comp. upgrade, preferably to fountain view (from cheapo package deal with flight mountain view). Right away she didn’t seem like she was going to put much effort into it or it just wasn’t a realistic possibility due to occupancy levels. She eventually got us a high floor mountain view in the tower in the back – not exactly the upgrade I was looking for – possibly not an upgrade at all – except when you’re able to obtain an obvious great upgrade, there’s no guarantee your $20 did anything – like in this case – so, as befits Vegas, it’s always a bit of a gamble.

  31. Oh I just lol’d out loud in a public place at the story. I didn’t even try the $20 trick last time I was in LV, the lady at the desk at the MGM grand had no interest in me as a guest whatsoever.

  32. I research availability at the hotels and cost of the availability. That’s why when I went to Mandalay Bay, I slipped $20 and asked for the best view they had vs. the $100 I’ve slipped before.

    Also, you can tell them that upgrade isn’t good enough and they’ll give you the tip back proactively. It’s a silent code.

  33. hahaha You suck. $60 is crazy money. Looks like she pulled a trick on you. You should have told on her. hahaha That would have upgraded you. hahaha You have no reason to keep your mouth shut now. You can stay at an awesome hotel for like $20 a night in Las Vegas. I think that room looks gross, and all I can see is Vegas hooker in there. I don’t know how you can stand being in hotels all the time. Everything is gross in there. The room is not that nice looking either. Hooters hotel was like $20 a night.
    Really, if you can’t charm your way to get an upgrade you are just getting a hooker like a lazy, dirty, old guy like thing. You think you can just get there with your money! hah!
    Your people skills are far from what you think they are.

  34. Ivan Y- As Fog Horn Leg Horn used to say, “You probably think a Mexican boarder pays rent.”

  35. The $20 trick isn’t just for Vegas, it works everywhere. However, there is a line for that amount. If you’re going to a 5 star hotel and staying in their entry level room, then you need $50. If you do this correctly, you don’t just get a higher floor. You can get many other perks from suites to comped resort fees. Most people do not realize how much pull the front desk clerk has.

    And for the people screaming about morals, get off your soap box and go fight the battle on drugs, Ponzi schemes or any of the actual ILLEGAL things in the world. Improving the odds of getting a better available room or suite isn’t.

  36. Lucky Lucky Lucky lol still learning?! đŸ™‚
    I don’t write a blog but even if I did I don’t think I would share all my strategies
    Wouldn’t want to devalue or end what works for me the vast majority of the time all over the world
    I’m simply to selfish and I like to help only those I know personally and or care about in my circles
    I’d ask for big bucks to share that information publically and eventually that would die
    once everyone was doing it.
    What I will share is that if I were to do what you did I wouldn’t compensate until after the upgrade was cinched and I was satisfied with the upgraded accommodations in or out of Vegas
    And in Vegas there is a whole other pecking order to getting the mission accomplished to super premium rooms and VIP suites being a non gambler here.
    The other thing I can add is that agents at MGM properties do not have authorization to do great upgrades at all to the real VIP accommodations
    So essentially you are asking the wrong individual in this case a mere check in agent who needs permission/authorization to get access to the best luxurious, spacious premium room inventory .
    As Gary stated you have to know somewhat in advance what you are after and then the right individual can even exceed your expectations
    So the amount of money one offers is typically going into the toilet essentially at MGM group properties
    There may be some exceptions to what I share but I have studied the system and to the best of my knowledge came up with a work around with front desk lack of empowerment .
    I do tip but only once the satisfaction is there and then even more generously then 60 if its an extraordinary accommodation as my last stay which was bigger then my house
    Occasionally they even waive my resort fees as a regular which more then takes care of any gratuities I have had to dole out. On the flip side I spend heavily during my stay on Food and beverage primarily within the MGM group of hotels not that many others don’t do the same thing
    Traveling and making great decisions is an art form and we all have various strengths but we all learn every day what to do and what not to do!

  37. We tried it this weekend at the SLS in Las Vegas and it worked for us. Gorgeous suite with a gray view. Not of the stripe but none the less great view. The clerk was super nice and we did exactly like the tip asked us to do it.

  38. Hi, is this wise to try 20 usd trick in Vegas during early 2017 trip? Or has the price increased since then (most messages are from 2014), like 30 dollars now perhaps? Or is this still 20? Thanks for suggestions.
    Regarding your story, I think you did it all wrong, you shouldn’t be asking if they want it paid official or unofficial way and making that sound like something slightly illegal, also you seemed to give too much money and you made it into an awkward situation altogether. Keep it smooth and simple, that’s what I’d do anyway ha.

  39. You wonder why CET & other casino’s are loosing money and are now charging for parking and installing “drink lights” to justify a free drink?..The money lost on upgrades is going into the pockets of the agents

    I would sack any front desk agent on the spot for accepting this bribe…and that’s what it is!

  40. I have always found the best way to get an upgrade, especially on a busy weekend or special Vegas event is to be nice to the agent. Smile, talk, let theme dom their thing. Don’t be demanding. I always make a comment about the people before me who demanded better service and telling the agent “we always get (blank).

    Let the agent have some space and time. Not be in a hurry or fear you will report them.. And they tend to give me or my party a very nice upgrade just for being helpful and courteous.

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