7 Insider Hotel Upgrade Tricks from a Former Hotel Manager

Whenever I walk into a hotel, anywhere in the world, I always notice a select few “special” guests who seem to know some sort of secret about the hotel that I don’t. They seem perfectly comfortable, and at home. They’ve scored a free room upgrade, and maybe a few other freebies, or benefits are thrown in.

What is their secret? I decided to do some digging and hit up a former hotel manager of one of Sydney's top luxury hotels for his behind the scenes intel.

So, before you book your next hotel stay, and pay on your credit card (I see you point players) get across these 7 upgrade tips from someone who knows how 5-star luxury hotels really work.

Hotel Lobby
The lobby and reception area at the 5-star Sofitel Darling Hotel in Sydney.
David Boyd, Credit Card Compare

1. Negotiate before you pay

We understand that negotiation is not always the easiest thing to do, and for the shy, or less assuming among us, it can be downright terrifying to negotiate. However, a negotiation doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and done well, it can work out in your favour. Our Hotel Insider says that the best opportunity for negotiation is at the hotel counter.

“If you are staying at a hotel for a few nights, let the staff member at the counter know, and ask them directly, is there anything you can do for me? Even make a suggestion, or ask if they can reduce your room rate, or if they can offer you an upgraded room,” our Hotel Insider said.

Importantly though, if you are going to negotiate, it must be done before you pay: “Do all of your negotiating before you pay, because once you’ve handed the money over, it’s too late.”

2. What to do if you arrive late at night

According to our Hotel Insider, 3 am is the time when most hotels "roll their systems", which means 3 am marks the start of a new day.

“For someone travelling internationally, who arrives at an international airport really late in the evening, or early in the morning, a 3 am check-in provides a bit of extra time for them to take a break at a hotel. Check out is usually sometime between 10 am and 12 pm, so by arriving and checking in at 3 am, following the rollover, a one-night stay can turn into around 30 hours or so, if you do find yourself stranded, but near a hotel around 3 am, it’s always worth calling ahead and asking if they have rooms available now,” said our Hotel Insider.

“If you do get in at 3 am, to be on the safe side, just ask, ‘if I check in now, do I get the room until tomorrow?’. That way, you can be confident.”

3. Be specific in your request

If you are going to negotiate an upgrade at any hotel, being specific can really help your cause. According to our Hotel Insider, the more specific your information, the better your chances are.

“If you want sofa beds or interconnected bedrooms, or if you’d like opening windows, or whatever you need, ask for it. Hotel staff aren’t mind readers, but it is their job to make your stay enjoyable, so if it is in their power to offer you additional comforts that you’d like, they will likely do it,” said our Hotel Insider.

Another reason to be specific in your request might come after being disturbed.

“If, for example, there is an awards ceremony or a conference at the hotel you are staying at, and there is noise that is actually disturbing you, you should let the hotel staff know. One thing we hear a lot is that people have a bad experience when they are disturbed and not able to get a good night’s rest but don’t let the hotel know until after. After you are gone, there is very little we can do to resolve the issue, but if you tell us when you are at the hotel, staff can, when possible organise a new room, and it is no hassle,” said our insider.

If you would like an upgrade to junior suite or even the presidential suite, let the staff know.

“If you are at a hotel and ask directly if the presidential suite is taken, and if it’s not, ask if you can pay a little extra to stay in it. I know that hotels regularly sell an unoccupied presidential suite that might usually go for $1,500 per night for an additional $250 to $300 when asked.”

4. Ask them to waive any credit card surcharges

As of September 1, 2017, all Australian businesses were banned from charging excessive fees to use credit cards. Under the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) guidelines, a business can only charge what it costs them to process payments.

“If a hotel tells you it will cost an additional 3.5 per cent to use your credit card, you are well within your rights to ask them to waive the fee, and if they refuse, ask to speak to the manager,” said our Hotel Insider.

This tip is a little bit more about being educated, but if you are staying somewhere more expensive for a few nights, that additional 3.5 per cent can add up.

5. Be nice, seriously

“It’s important to remember that the person you are dealing with behind the counter is a person, so it’s important to be polite, and avoid any aggression. Getting aggressive isn’t going to help you out in any way.”

Wise advice from our Hotel Insider.

Today, hotels are reviewed on so many different platforms, and for many of us a bad review on TripAdvisor can be enough to turn us off a hotel, however, our Hotel Insider has seen poor reviews designed to attack or blackmail a hotel removed from TripAdvisor on a number of occasions.

“I’ve seen people blacklisted from TripAdvisor and reviews taken down on a number of occasions because someone has tried to blackmail a hotel I worked in, attacked a staff member or something like that, and we’ve had to call and honestly explain the situation,” our Hotel Insider said.

"Remember that hotel staff work long—often unsociable—hours and will try their best to cater to all of the guests. But I can tell you from an insider's point of view that if someone is nice, and treats you well, they are much more likely to get an upgrade, and will get better service across the board.”

6. Book through the hotel directly

Jumping online and looking at the best rates for a hotel room will direct you to many websites today. They all purport to deliver the best value for money and offer the biggest discounts on rooms that a hotel just can’t match.

However, while getting a cheap room online can seem like an easy win, if you make an error like booking a room with a shared bathroom or with a single bed when there are two of you staying over, a hotel cannot change a pre-paid booking made through an online travel agency.

Booking online through a provider site could have you thinking you are getting the best rate, but the truth is you might not be.

“If you’ve made an error in your booking, a hotel might be able to upgrade your room or change your room for you if they have a spare room available, but they can’t cancel a booking made through a provider. So if you have your dates wrong or something like that, there is nothing the hotel can do,” our Hotel Insider said.

“My advice is to book directly with the hotel, and if you do see a better price than they are advertising, let them know that. They should always have the lowest prices."

Here at Credit Card Compare, we would strongly advocate this approach too, but for a slightly different reason.

This is why.

Booking direct is not only cheaper, but you also earn points and build status.

Want to save money? Book direct.

Visit any of the hotel groups' websites and you'll see the same message over and over again: "Best Rate Guaranteed". And they take it seriously. Before you buy from an online travel agency, price up your stay directly. You'll be surprised.

Want to earn points? Book direct.

If you book through an online travel agency, it's much more likely that your stay will not earn any points in the hotel's reward program. You may be lucky to earn points on a non-direct booking, but it's risky.

Let's imagine you get a decent rate from an online travel agency. Looks great, right?

Actually, probably not.

If you had booked that trip directly, you would have earned points for every dollar spent there, including on drinks by the pool, evening meals, and anything else you buy from the hotel during your stay.

Here's why you should care.

Those points add up really quickly. Before you know it, you've got enough for a free night.

Want to get status? Book direct.

If you aren't familiar with status, it's the difference between paying for internet access or getting it for free, the standard room and the corner room, between checking out at 11am or 4pm.

In other words, status is what gets you tangible benefits you can't quite put a value on until you've experienced them for yourself.

So do yourself a favour. Book. Direct.

7. If you are a regular, ask for a better rate

This one is for corporate or business travellers, or those who like stay in the same hotel, or hotel chain regularly. By regular we mean 20 days per year.

“If you do a lot of travel for work, and regularly stay in the same hotel, or hotel chain, ask about corporate rates. A hotel can usually offer corporate rates that are better, sometimes much better than even the cheapest rates they can sell to a once off guest,” said our Hotel Insider.

For the most part, hotel staff want to make you feel comfortable and to enjoy your stay when you are visiting with them.

To summarise...

“If I had to summarise all of my tips into one, I’d say ask the question. If asking for an upgrade, or requesting something special to make your stay more enjoyable, a good hotel will very likely help you out.”

Give these tricks a go before your next hotel booking.