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How Josh Flagg Works It for a Room Upgrade

June 21, 2011 at 3:54 PM | by | ()

Our own Eloise, Josh Flagg returns to divulge one of his closely-guarded hotel booking tips. While Amex is his main booking MO, this is a good tip to try on a lark but especially when you book packages that say, "Upgrade if available." Enjoy!

Do you ever feel as I do, that when you check into a hotel, you get the run around? Let me explain what I mean.

If you are an American Express platinum or Black card holder, or even if you are a Centurion card holder, there are certain advantages you get when booking through Amex's Fine Hotels and Resorts. For one, you get complimentary breakfast. Two, you get an added amenity with the hotel such as a massage or a facial or maybe a dining credit. But most important is number three and this is what matters most to me.

Say you are traveling and you book a one-bedroom suite. Assuming the occupancy in the hotel is not at 100 percent, then the hotel will upgrade you to a larger suite, just for booking through Amex. Sometimes, they will even upgrade you to a two-bedroom suite!

The same goes for a standard room. If you book a nice room, they will upgrade you to a junior suite, or if you book a not so nice room, they will upgrade you to a nice one.

Usually you will pay a little bit of a higher rate when you book through American Express Platinum or Centurion, however the added benefits make it well worth it.

Now you ask yourself, "Well what happens if the hotel is full and cannot upgrade me?" Sometimes this does happen. But unless you are traveling during peak season, most of the time there will be room for an upgrade.

However, I came up with a sure fire genius way to be absolutely sure the hotel can upgrade you and that they aren't just giving you the dreaded run-around so that they can sell the room to another customer (who is willing to pay full price for the nicer room.)

What I do is I call ahead of time, and in a very friendly way I ask the front desk person what the occupancy in the hotel is like at the moment. I will do it the day I am checking in. When I check in and present my Amex card, the hotel may try and tell me that there is no room for an upgrade, but then I will just say something to the effect of "Maybe you could check one more time, you see I happen to know what your occupancy is this evening." Believe me, you won't get the run around, and miraculously they will find a better room or suite for you.

I hope my tip is helpful but I fear I may have just screwed myself over because I really think I am the only one who does this now.

Hotel guests--what are your tricks for getting room upgrades? (But no folded up $20 bill stories please!) Share them in comments below!

Archived Comments:

Not Necessarily

As someone who works in the Hospitality Industry, I have several problems with this method of getting an upgrade.  First, hotel staff are trained to not reveal their occupancy numbers to any callers--any staff member who does is doing their company a disservice, and probably breaking the rules.

Second, where is the correlation between occupancy and the number of upgrades available?  What if all of the better rooms actually are reserved and only lower category rooms available?  Are you suggesting that we "check one more time" to downgrade someone else so that you can receive their room? (Yes, I have had people tell me that).

Third, the upgrade you want may be available tonight, but not for the rest of your stay (because someone else is paying to have that room later in the week).  Do you want to upgrade for one night and then move to another room, or would you prefer to stay in the same room for the duration of your stay (even if it's not an upgrade)?

I could go on about the realities of organizing reservations in a hotel and the misconceptions that abound, but I think you get the point--it's not as simple as it seems, and you should not assume they are "giving you the run-around."  Trust me, we weren't.

What V Said...

"Sure fire" method? Not always.

As someone who also works in hospitality, more specifically in Rooms & Reservations, I have to mirror the above. While it may sometimes be the case that a hotel is not fully committed, there is little correlation between the percent of rooms occupied and number of upper-tier rooms available. It's not uncommon (especially in high-demand cities or high-compression dates) for inventory to skew towards top-tier category rooms and suites, and it is obviously bad practice to ever downgrade a guest who indeed is paying rack rate for these coveted rooms. So, yes, there may be times when a hotel is running, for example, 80% occupancy, with the available 20% remaining being run-of-house/lower-tier rooms.

Another excellent point... The desired room may be available tonight, but is it available throughout the duration of your stay? If it isn't, do not pass GO; do not collect $200.

Now, I'm a fan of Josh. Have been for a while. I watch the show, find him entertaining, enjoy his HC contributions, but I will just put it out there: any guest who demands an associate "check inventory again because they 'happen to know' the occupancy" comes off as arrogant and entitled, qualities that seldom lead to getting the desired end-result. (Well, depending on the hotel brand and staff, anyway)

That's not to say Josh doesn't have the right idea, though. Instead of asking for a hotel's overall occupancy (a poor metric to go by), figure out which room type you want and find out if that particular room type(s) are available, and go from there.

V is right, hotels are much more complicated than most people think they are, but given the availability and the right attitude from a guest, you'd be surprised how simple and seamless it can all become. Remember, in hospitality, kindness is key (and goes both ways).

Virtuoso..where it's at.

With certain specific Master Card cards you get Virtuoso travel benefits and they're the best.  Much like the Amex cards, you get certain amenities, including upgrades.  I have never stayed at a Virtuoso participating hotel and NOT gotten an upgrade.  They give great (normally discounted) rates as well.  Other tip is to become a loyal customer of a single brand.  As a Diamond VIP HHonors member, I always get upgraded...so when traveling to the "less luxurious" properties, brand loyalty is a must (regardless of the brand).

Free Upgrade

Although I can appreciate getting an upgrade, to make the front desk feel awkward and uncomfortable seems wrong.  It starts the whole stay off on a bad note and who wants that?

Wouldn't it be easier

To pretend to make a last-minute reservation online and see what sort of room categories they offer?  If anyone can come in and book a one-bedroom suite at 3pm on your day of arrival, why can't they offer you one as an upgrade?

I use the AmEx Fine Hotels and Resorts program all the time - it's true that if a hotel is running a super-cheap Pricelinish special, AmEx won't offer it with the FHR benefits.  But on my last reservation, I got a rate of $260 through the hotel web site, $279 through Travelocity, and $200 through AmEx with all the benefits.  

The lunch/dinner/spa treatment/hotel credit is offered once per stay, so if you're only staying for one night this can turn your deal into something surreal - an off-peak night at a good rate could net you more free stuff than you're paying for the room.

(And Mr. Flagg forgot the fourth FHR benefit - 4pm checkout.)

wheelchair users get cheated out of upgrades

most hotels do not have a full range of rooms available for wheelchair users, they just have one type of room. so despite the fact that im a preferred guest/frequent stayer at many hotels and use and Amex to reserve, i cannot get an upgrade. it really is disappointing

Dont' Forget..

I too work for a leading 5 star hotel and know the in's and out's of the front desk and as discussed, upgrades are 'based on availability' and not on 'occupancy'.

Has anyone heard of the 'Andrew Harper' program, which has basically similar amenities as AMFH but without the guaranteed 4pm c/out?

A tip on asking for upgrades, be gracious when you check in, and dont demand or enquire for an upgrade at the time of check-in, when you get to the room and you dont like what you see, come back down and ask the same receptionist if they had any better rooms as you think the room is "noisy:dark:smelly:small:or anything that doesn't sound goofy". Most hotels want their guests to feel comfortable and happy with their stay and they may upgrade your room without charge.

But a caution for those AMFH card holders, don't think you have an all access pass when you check in, be nice and we will treat you well, be demanding and we will be less inclined to assist.

Here is how to find out

In the cab/car going to the hotel, call the property and get connected to the front desk. Know in advance what category you want to upgrade to. Say you are just arriving in town with your boss and a client and forgot to book rooms.  Ask if they have 3 junior suites (or whatever the category you're seeking is) available for the next _ days.

If they say yes, ask the rate, then say it's a bit too high....so they don't hold them hoping you'll turn up for them.  Be polite.

Then when you arrive, you'll know there are a few rooms open in the category you want. If they give you the run around, simply say you checked the website an hour ago and saw aailability.