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How to score a hotel upgrade

There are a few measures you can take to put yourself in a more favorable position for a hotel upgrade.
/ Source: Forbes

When 24/7 Real Media chairman and founder David J. Moore arrived at Caesar's Palace in Las Vegas, it could have been one of the worst travel experiences of his life. His flight had been repeatedly delayed, it was 4 a.m. and he had to wake up early the next morning for a conference. Instead, he scored an upgrade to the best room in the hotel: the top executive suite, replete with mirrored ceilings and an enormous hot tub.

That was 15 years ago. These days, with fewer reservations on the books and less money changing hands, hotel upgrades are harder than ever to come by. But that doesn't mean they're impossible. Many seasoned travelers attribute their most impressive upgrades to a combination of luck and overbooking, but our insider, a front desk manager at a luxury Atlanta hotel, says there are a few measures you can take to put yourself in a more favorable position to be upgraded.

"Staying only one night, coming in late and traveling when there's a conference in town make it easier to give someone an upgrade," he says. That's because short stays and late arrivals free up the staff to move people around, and traveling during major events makes it more likely all of the smaller rooms will be occupied, allowing the management to offer the top suites as an alternative to relocating guests to another hotel. And while our insider concedes that the best upgrades are partially a function of luck, he says the front desk staff has more control than most patrons realize.

"We want to keep people happy," he says. "We could be under-booked, and if someone comes up and is really pleasant, but obviously exhausted, I'll give him a nicer view, or a bigger bed."

Even if you're well-rested, just starting a brief conversation with the staff about events you have planned on your vacation can confer benefits. Guests who are celebrating birthdays or anniversaries, or who just need extra room to work can often procure an upgrade by mentioning their situation to the front desk managers, says former Opus hotel manager Daniel Edward Craig.

Playing nice with the management is important for another reason as well: It will make them more likely to remember you, and hotels are big on loyalty. Quintin Payton, a New York City-based freelance stylist, has experienced the benefits of customer loyalty firsthand at the Savoy Hotel in Miami, where he regularly stays for both business and pleasure. "I've stayed there so often, even the maid recognizes me," he says. "Now, when I go, they always give me the same room, no matter what I booked; I never have to pay for parking, which is supposed to be $30 a day; and they never charge me for the mini-bar."

So, what if you've booked your favorite hotel during the 31,000-strong Society for Neuroscience conference, and have arrived haggard-looking in the middle of the night, but no upgrades seem forthcoming? "Just ask," says our informant. "If you're nice and you act important, we'll probably give you something."