Free room upgrades are one of the biggest perks of having a hotel’s elite status for a loyalty program. Though the first priority is paying for a hotel room using points, I always enjoy receiving a room upgrade upon check-in by having either gold or platinum status with the hotel. Most hotels offer complimentary room upgrades for their upper tier elite status members, but most upgrades depend on availability upon check-in.
There are three basic strategies that I use or recommend to receive free room upgrades at hotels and some are more successful than others. There’s a lot of varied success of receiving an upgrade, but hopefully these guidelines will help. The bottom line is that the receptionist at the front desk is often what is between you and a key to a corner suite.
Free Upgrade with Elite Status & Credit Card Membership
Often elite status may be required to get free room upgrades at these hotels, but in many cases a co-branded credit card gives you automatic elite status or upgrade certificates. I’ve compiled a list of what hotel elite status and credit cards give you room upgrades.
Free preferred room upgrade for Platinum Gold Passport members, which takes 15 nights or 5 stays. Free upgrade to the best available room (excluding suites) for Diamond members, which takes 50 nights or 25 stays. Diamond members also get 4 suite upgrade certificates per year that can be used at the time of reservation on paid stays. Note: upgrades depend on availability upon arrival and are not available at Hyatt Place properties, Hyatt House properties, or Hyatt Residence Club resorts. You can get automatic Platinum status with a United MileagePlus Club credit card or Hyatt Credit Card from Chase.
Gold and Platinum members of Hilton HHonors get free room upgrades with availability upon check-in. To earn Gold status you have to stay 40 nights or a total of 20 stays, and 60 nights or 30 stays to earn Platinum status. You can get automatic Gold status with a Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve Card, Citi Hilton HHonors Visa Signature, and the Hilton HHonors Surpass Card from American Express.
Platinum members of Starwood Preferred Guest get free room upgrades for the best available room upon check-in, as well as 10 confirmed suite upgrades per year. To earn Platinum status it takes 50 nights or 25 stays. Gold status membership, which takes 25 nights or 10 stays, can upgrade to a preferred room or suite for 1,000 to 3,000 points. You can get automatic Gold status with a Platinum Card or Business Platinum Card from American Express, or if you spend $30,000 each year using the SPG American Express card.
Gold and Platinum members of Marriott Rewards or Ritz-Carlton Rewards get free room upgrades upon availability at check-in. Gold status takes 50 nights and Platinum takes 75 nights for either program. You can get automatic Gold status with Ritz-Carlton for the first year with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards credit card from Chase. Some United elites also are able to get Marriott Gold status through United’s RewardsPlus partnership.
Silver, Gold, and Concierge members of Club Carlson get free room upgrades upon availability at check-in. It takes 15 nights or 10 stays to earn Silver status, 35 nights or 20 stays to earn Gold Status, and 75 nights or 30 stays to earn Concierge status. You can get automatic Gold status with the Club Carlson Visa (both personal and business cards).
IHG Rewards Club
Free room upgrades upon availability for Platinum Elite members of IHG Rewards Club, which takes 50 nights or 60,000 points. You can get automatic Platinum Elite status with the IHG Rewards Club Visa from Chase.
Ambassador members get a guaranteed free one category higher room upgrade for each stay and Royal Ambassador members of InterContinental’s Ambassador program get guaranteed free room upgrades to executive, club, suite rooms each stay. InterContinental Ambassador benefits do not cross over to all IHG hotel brands, but IHG Rewards Club member status and benefits apply to all hotels within the brand. It costs $200 or 32,000 IHG points to join InterContinental Hotels Ambassador program and Royal Ambassador status is extended by invitation only.
Kimpton In Touch
Inner Circle members of Kimpton In Touch get free room upgrades to the next room category upon availability at check-in. It takes 45 nights or 15 stays to earn Inner Circle status with Kimpton In Touch. Sorry, no credit card for automatic status :-(.
Gold and Platinum members of Ritz-Carlton get free room upgrades (excluded Club Level and Suites) upon availability at check-in. It takes 50 nights to earn Gold status and 75 nights to earn Platinum status. Membership status levels crossover with Marriott Rewards program. You can get automatic Gold status and 3 Club Level upgrades annually with the Ritz-Carlton Rewards Credit Card with Chase.
Premier and Platinum members of Fairmont President’s Club get 2 complimentary room upgrades and 1 complimentary suite upgrades. It takes 10 nights or 5 stays to earn Premier status, and 30 nights or 10 stays to earn Platinum status. You can get automatic Premier status with the Fairmont Visa Signature Card with Chase.
Gold and Platinum members of Le Club Accorhotels get free room upgrades upon availability at check-in. It takes 30 nights or 10,000 points to earn Gold status, and 60 nights or 25,000 points for Platinum status.
Platinum and Diamond members of Best Western Rewards get free upgrades to the best available room upon check-in. It takes 15 nights of 15,000 points to earn Platinum status, and 30 nights or 30,000 points for Diamond status. You can get automatic Gold status with the Best Western Rewards World MasterCard with Barclays.
Send a Personal Email to the Hotel
Another strategy that might not work as well without elite status is to send a personal email to the hotel mentioning you are looking forward to your stay. If your stay is for a special occasion be sure to mention that. It never hurts to ask if it would be possible for a surprise room upgrade upon arrival. You don’t have to have elite status with the hotel, but being a gold or platinum member likely holds much more weight if they notice you’re an elite status member.
On my last trip to Europe, I emailed each hotel I made an award reservation about a month prior to my arrival and in the end received a room upgrade at all hotels. Who knows if they took this into account, but I always received a personalized response back from a hotel manager.
Be Friendly and Smile
Being polite and smiling can go a long way and ultimately the front desk representative is what stands between you and an upgrade to a corner suite. Be polite, smile, etc. At check-in it never hurts to ask nicely for a room upgrade if available, sometimes the receptionist may have forgot to check or didn’t even notice your elite status.
The $20 Bill Slide
As a last resort and more risky proposition you can slide a $20+ on the counter and casually ask of the possibility of a room upgrade. The receptionist should get your drift, and will either: a) accept the tip and look into a room upgrade, b) refuse the tip, or c) accept the tip and still never give you a room upgrade. It doesn’t have to be said, but don’t count on this every time, however if you’re daring this obviously can (and has) worked out.
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