Getting a hotel room upgrade can be a real bonus to any trip. A larger room (or even a suite), full-size desk, deep bathtub or access to the hotel's business lounge can make a stay more pleasant and more productive.
Hotels give the most consistent upgrades to guests who participate in hotel groups' frequent traveller programmes.
These programmes -- which include Hilton HHonors, InterContinental Priority Club, Starwood Preferred Guest, Hyatt Gold Passport and Marriott Rewards -- often provide a free upgrade (subject to availability) and a variety of other amenities as a matter of course to their top-level members.
Many hotel groups also partner with airline frequent flyer programmes, allowing exchanges of airline miles and hotel points -- or even the opportunity to earn both at the same time.
If membership of a hotel's frequent guest programme doesn't net you an upgrade, Amy Chan of the Kiwi Collection hotel booking service also has these tips:
If you can, check in later, between 4-6PM as the front desk can see the cancellations and no-shows of that day. Also, if your dates are flexible, don't book on busy holiday times, as upgrades cannot be given if a hotel is at full occupancy.
Book a room in the middle price range
It's not impossible to get upgraded when booking the cheapest room category available, but it doesn't help your odds. Book a room that is in the mid range for better chances.
It's that simple. Front desk staff and hotel managers deal with a lot of people and handle a lot of problems and stress during their day. Sometimes, just being personable, and friendly can go a long way.
It doesn't hurt to ask, and the worst thing that can happen is that you get declined. Ask if an upgrade is available. If it's a special occasion, it doesn't hurt to volunteer that information either.
Sometimes a hotel's mistake can work to your advantage. Perhaps your room wasn't ready upon check-in, construction causing loss of sleep - you can always address a hotel issue with the management in a nice manner and see if they will do something (like provide an upgrade) for the inconvenience.
Where you book matters
If you're booking a standard room, a hotel actually can give you a different room just based on the booking source you made the reservation on. Ever experience a really crappy room right by the hotel's laundry area when booking on Expedia, only to find that your friend who booked elsewhere paid the same price but got a better room?
You'll have better chances of a free upgrade if you are loyal to the hotel and provide repeat business. It doesn't hurt at the time of reservation to let them know that you've stayed there before. Hotels know that it costs a lot less to keep a repeat customer happy then it is to acquire a new one, so often they'll give special treatment to return customers.
There aren't any guarantees, but you may find that title dropping can increase your chances of special treatment and upgrades. Hotels may want to impress you more because they know you're an important businessperson, someone who can refer new business or have blogging or press power.
If you're at the hotel celebrating a special occasion, like a birthday or anniversary, it can only help your case if you share the information with the front desk.