Some hotel chains offer room upgrades of varying levels to their elite guests. These are typically listed as “if available upon checkin” but often moving up from a double queen room to a coveted suite seems like hard work. But really, if the room is available, why are status hotel upgrades so tough to execute?
If you are considering booking travel or signing up for a new credit card please click here. Both support LiveAndLetsFly.com.
If you haven’t followed us on Facebook or Instagram, add us today.
Statuses That Offer Upgrades
With the recent change from Hyatt Gold Passport to World of Hyatt, the chain came up to par with what Marriott, SPG, Hilton, IHG and other already offer for their top-tier elite guests – free upgrades at checkin. With Marriott and IHG, this perk comes in at 75 nights/year with each chain. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG – now owned by Marriott but run independently… for now) offers the perk – but better – at 50 nights. Hyatt (like Hilton) makes you wait until 60 nights/year unless you were a top-tier guest last year, in which case they want 55 nights from you for free upgrades.
Why Hotel Status Upgrades Are Tough
Individual hotels properties are more or less franchise locations each with a separate owner. Each of those owners run their business a certain way and some of them are more generous while others are stingier when it comes to frequent guests. With each hotelier deciding how strictly or loosely to follow the policies of the brand, consistency is not as strong as advertised.
Every suite given away for the price of a regular room is a potential loss of revenue for the hotelier. While the inventory is perishable (you can’t ever sell a room night once the night has passed) the real problem is checkin time – some guests book later at night. If a top-tier guest wants to checkin at 3PM and there are two suites available, giving that upgrade potentially takes money out of the owner’s pocket later that night.
Another issue is the definition of what qualifies as an upgrade. For Platinum SPG members they made it as clear as possible, “Best Room Available” which made the process pretty simple. At checkin, you could ask for an upgrade and if they said no, it would be fairly easy to validate by opening the SPG app and attempting to book a better room. But when Marriott and IHG says, “room upgrade” that leaves it far too open to interpretation. Is a corner room with a better view an upgrade over the room next to the ice machine? Sure. What about a King when you booked two twins and you’re traveling alone? Maybe. Hilton says, “space-available upgrade to a preferred room”. I prefer a suite, is space available?
“Sir, we have upgraded you to a high floor”
Great. What does that do for me? Is the room actually better or is it the same as one on a lower floor? And if it is, does the upgrade really count as an upgrade?
Corporate rates also muddy the waters. If a guest works for IBM and books three nights for $89/nt while other guests are paying $150/nt it makes sense why the hotel management is annoyed. Those higher revenue guests are spending more with the hotel and require less. The single night guest booking standard rates are not the ones getting a free breakfast or drinking booze in the lounge – they should be the ones getting upgraded if anyone, right?
Management also has to charge for their products and enforce pricing and value standards. No one will ever pay for a suite if it’s always given away for free.
My reaction and that of most of my frequent flying peers, is to just accept the “no” when I am told that there are no suites available or that my room has already been upgraded (though not a suite). At checkin I really don’t want to have an argument or talk to a manager – I don’t want to have to mention my status at checkin. At all costs I want to avoid the DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am?) approach of insistence and ‘suite by force’ but sometimes it feels like that’s the only way to get the point across.
Up until last week I would ask for a suite while stating status at checkin and wouldn’t challenge them on a no, I almost felt bad about asking for one even though I was entitled through my benefits. It seems that with the exception of SPG, the perk is really a passive one, difficult to interpret and should not be expected to actually come through.
How Is This Different Though?
Frequent flyers and frequent hotel guests often say things like,
“If you wanted a seat in first class, you should have booked one.”
Or “If you wanted a suite, why did you book a double twin?”
However, let’s pretend for a second that you’re a United 1K, a Delta Diamond, or American Executive Platinum. You’re at the top of the upgrade list but don’t clear. From your seat at the bulkhead, the door closes, and there are three seats empty in first class. Are you pissed? Do you press your call button, complain on the website, tweet an image to the social media team? I don’t know a top-tier elite that would site in the back without a peep and if you are such a mild-mannered top-tier flyer, I’m sure you’ll humbly let me know in the comments.
What if the airline awarded you only base miles with no status bonus? Would you just let it go or would you call them up and sort it out? Or maybe you’re flying on an international coach ticket but have lounge access through your status. You stop at the lounge and are denied entry. Do you shrug your shoulders, turn around and find an airport Chili’s?
For the longest time I saw the benefit as a nice to have like extra fries in the bag from Five Guys. But those days are gone for me. I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to a first class seat going empty, I wouldn’t accept fewer miles than what I am owed, suites and upgrades are no longer the forgiven exception for me.
The biggest problem is the elites have a culture to change. If it is promised and the conditions are met, the benefits should be applied. I have often heard checkin staff underscore the “if available” portion of these upgrade rules. Underscore all you want, if it says upgrade and doesn’t define what that is, I will get out my phone and demonstrate that there are plenty of upgrade options available on that night, and if there are not, then fine – I should have booked the suite in the first instance. But I am no longer accepting that crutch, management is going to have to dig a little deeper.
I missed out on an upgrade on my last stay at the Hilton Mexico City Airport Hotel – even though I asked for one in Spanish – she simply breezed past it as she gave me my other benefits. It might have been a simple oversight, but I am going to start challenging that.
Like everyone else, I was kind of going along with the status quo, if I get an upgrade great, and if I don’t then I don’t. Those days are over. I hate having to ask for a benefit that I know is included with my room or status but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it.
Being “That Guy”
I am sure the commenters are getting their keyboards all fired up, ready to tell me how entitled I am. That’s fine. That’s literally what I am. I am entitled to these benefits as a result of my status. Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and all the rest have made a deal with me, if I stay at their hotels an awful lot, and spend an awful lot of money with them, I am entitled to these benefits. I am staying at their hotels because of these benefits and often spending more money than I absolutely have to (instead of staying at cheaper hotels).
If that makes me “That Guy”, at this point I am comfortable with that. This is a blog for those that maximize their points, miles and status and what good is status without benefits? And what good are the benefits if they aren’t given?
What about you? Are you going to expect and ask for status hotel upgrades?
What took you so long? I’m a Hilton Honors Gold Member, and I fight for every upgrade. Once , in Miami, I booked a king bedroom at the Double Tree Biscayne Bay. I asked for an upgrade to a suite. They claimed not to have one available (granted, it was a holiday weekend). Then I demanded 10,000 points since they couldn’t accommodate my upgrade per the agreement (I know what the agreement says, but I don’t care). The manager went to the back room and came back with a contract. She upgraded me to a CONDO! 1,100 square feet overlooking the bay — for the price of a one-bedroom king. The contract was a promise not to throw parties in the condo (no problem). It was heaven, and I felt no guilt. I respect owners trying to make a profit, but that’s what suckers are for. Not me. Granted, I don’t always win, but I always fight. In Austin, TX, I had to pay 15 bucks/nt for a suite upgrade — a much better rate than what was on the app. And I got quadruple points because of a promo/2x points package deal. This is the game. I’m just playing it my way. That’s how I win.
@Dre – I am glad to hear others are in the same boat. In total objective fairness I have reviews coming for the Conrad Bangkok, Hilton Hanoi, Garden Inn Hanoi, Conrad Hong Kong and JW Marriott – all of which have granted upgrades without a fight. I am simply no longer willing to accept the simple answer that the upgrade isn’t available when I know that it is. It sounds like I am late to that party, however. Thanks for reading and for your comment, you have reinforced my sentiments.
It’s OK if weak people allow others to deprive them of what they are entitled to. That’s their choice.
But strong people (most of the time – sometimes there are exceptions) will fight for the benefits that were promised to them.
The key is to fight for our privileges in a smart and diplomatic way, not in a rude or obnoxious manner.
How one presents the request also makes a big difference. like most things in life, how we do something is just as important as what we are doing.
A simple rule of thumb that I follow is to make three different attempts before moving on. Whether it is with upgrades or retention offers, I keep trying to get something by making at least 3 different attempts.
It goes without saying that in all areas of life, both persistence and tact go a long way.
@Jason – I am in sales by trade so I certainly agree that tact is most important. However, it can be tough to deliver that message when directly challenging something presented as fact (regardless of the veracity of the information) to the person who just delivered it. I am glad to hear others agree that challenging the “we don’t have any upgrades available” notion is well-received.
Fight the good fight! No justice, no peace! Maybe you should concentrate your stays with Hilton, DCS says he gets suites all the time 😉 But seriously, if a chain doesn’t value your business, then why stay loyal to them?
@Billiken – I don’t think I can stay at Hiltons any more than I currently do, but as I stated in another reply, my upgrade percentage with most Hilton hotels is quite high. I just found myself not challenging the answer and that’s the change I’ll make in my approach.
You did not make up the rules of these programs….the hotels did, and in exchange for your loyalty, you are simply asking that they fulfill their end of the bargain. Entirely fair to expect an upgrade and to receive it, assuming it is indeed available. The portion that you bolded above, “I am entitled to these benefits as a result of my status” is entirely spot-on in my opinion.
@Charlie – It’s funny to me that the term “entitled” has gone away from being an imperial fact regarding benefits given by the hotel chain to a negative notion that everything should be given for free. It’s not free, it’s a benefit as the result of my 75 other nights with the chain. Thanks for reading and for backing me on this.
I always get upgraded by IHG and Starwood. I got upgraded once by Hilton, and I am a Diamond. And I only got that upgrade because on my previous stay, I told the manager I thought the suites with a balcony looked cool. I get upgraded by Fairmont and Hyatt, too. Hilton is horrible! Last night I even got downgraded from the room category I booked! These are things I remember.
@Stephanie – The Hilton Mexico City Airport for me was an exception to the rule for Hilton, but caused me to re-think how I approach my benefits everywhere. I get upgraded at IHG properties on a visit-by-visit basis but there’s a pretty limited ceiling for the Holiday Inns I frequent.
A couple years ago I had and extended trip through SE Asia where I stayed nearly exclusively at IHG InterContinental hotels in nearly a dozen cities over a two month period. I always booked the room right below Club level. I every case except one, the InterContinental Makati Manila, I was upgraded without fuss and treated as a valued customer. But in Manila it was the old, “We’ve given you a pool view.” They would not budge. Nope. No matter who I talked to or what I said, including pulling up their many Club vacancies on my phone in the lobby, they would not upgrade my room level. Well they’ve been closed over a year now, so when I’m back in Manila I don’t have to go through that hassle again–even though I vowed to never use them again. But the dismissive and frankly rude treatment I received certainly put a bad taste in my mouth for my entire stay. And for what? A $5 at-cost breakfast and $10 worth of evening drinks and snacks? Stupid and short-sighted.
@Donald – This is exactly why the chain creates these benefits: you are offering them a ton of business for very little in return (a perishable suite night) – but the properties that administer those benefits see them as much more costly than they really are. A hotelier looks at their rates for suites that night at $250 and compare it to your rate of $100 and feel like they are giving you $150 for free. But they aren’t because that night would go to waste anyway unless they sell it (unlikely at that disparity) and the point that you are in their hotel as a result of that loyalty program benefit in the first place, and perhaps because of that reason alone, often seems lost on them. Short-sighted indeed.
Earning an entitlement is different than being entitled. We are not out there screaming for college debt forgiveness just because the balance is high.
@UnitedEF – I agree that earning an entitlement should not be innately wrong, but tell that to the lady checking me in.
If you want suite upgrades w/regularity, you need to be a SPG Plat. It’s the only program where the INTENT to get you into the best possible room is written into the benefits (and not buried at the bottom of miniscule T&Cs like it is w/Hilton…there is a difference).
FWIW I get upgraded into a jr. suite or better about 1/2 the time as an SPG Plat. And have never had a SNA expire.
@UA-NYC – Unfortunately, I spend most of my business nights in smaller communities and outside of the super major markets, SPG simply doesn’t have the presence. I would love to stay in their hotels exclusively, but I need a hotel partner that offers me broad enough coverage to earn on business stays in smaller communities and burn for aspirational properties for leisure stays. This is one reason why Hyatt Globalist qualification switching from stays to nights was almost a deal breaker for me. They have a similar size footprint to SPG and a similar problem for me as a customer. If your business, however, takes you to large markets exclusively, then I agree that SPG offers the best elite program and delivery of their promises. It is for this reason I am currently on a challenge with Marriott for Platinum Elite with the goal of obtaining the status and then matching over to SPG for my personal stay in awesome properties.
Just…don’t be a dick about it. I’m a front office manager for a hilton and can just imagine the headache you’d cause me kicking up this fuss. Like I said…just be nice and don’t become a$$ when you’re trying
@DCDan – I always start with the approach of waiting for the front desk to proactively upgrade me. When they don’t, then I ask if “there are suites available”. If there are, and they outright lie and choose not to upgrade, is it me that’s creating the problem, or the hotel that chooses which benefits to honor? I’d suggest that really it’s two polite attempts on my part before I even challenge the answer I know to be false before I am going to try to advance the cause with a potential for confrontation.
The exact point of this post and the problem with the thinking around upgrades is exemplified by the last word in your response, “trying”. I shouldn’t have to “try” at all for an upgrade, I have earned them with 75 nights with the brand according to the rules they have set out. Just like I shouldn’t have to “try” to earn all of my points with bonuses from a stay, or “try” to clear an upgrade when there is an open first class seat and I am number one on the upgrade list. If the room upgrade is honored as it should be, then there is no fuss to kick up. But as Yoda, the Hilton Honors Diamond member said, “There is no try, only do [process the upgrade].”
…for the record, my brother was once Night Audit for a Hyatt and I heard the horror stories of over-entitled guests who were unpleasant at checkin and demanded more than they were entitled. I aim to be anything but that, however, I will now be a little more insistent regarding my upgrade benefits.
You’re absolutely right. It of course is all in how you approach it. It’s when people start demanding things is when I hate it.
For some insight, as a front office manager, there are times occasionally when perhaps and upgrade is indeed available for your length of stay, but wouldn’t be wise to upgrade.
For instance, 1) if you’re a 5 nighters and you only have 1 suite to spare on your 3rd night, I wouldn’t want to give it away, as we’d have 2 nights to try to sell it and my revenue team would be upset. 2) we do allocate some suites to up sell at the desk to non elites. So an elite checks at noon and you give that room away, you can’t sell that later in the day for the remaining arrivals. 3) there could be an early arriving guest in to the room the next day, so letting it go unoccupied to get the guest paying for it in early the next day can be beneficial. 4) if a hotel is part of amex fhr, upgrades will likely go to them first over status elites (at least that’s how I did it when I worked at a ritz).
Just trying to give some insight from behind the desk as well. It’s so much easier to upgrade 1 nighters compared to 5 nighters. If you take anything away from this, it’s all about approach…
Now, you will have to do a follow up post after a few stays to see how things go!!!
You bring up some valid points, but my counter to that would be in that case, the hotels need to be more upfront in their T&Cs as to when elite members are eligible for upgrades. “Based on availability” to the average person means “if the system says I can book one, then it must be available”. Not just “available if you check in after 6 pm, for no more than 2 nights, and only if others without higher status aren’t also scheduled to stay here”. If that’s really the conditions Hilton/Hyatt place on upgrades, then they ought to just be honest and officially put more restrictions on when an upgrade can clear – though that would also require all hotels to agree to a consistent policy, which will be tough given the franchise model.
What DCDan has replied with makes a lot of sense. Some of it builds on what I stated before, but I agree that just because it is available the night that you checkin does not mean it will be available all nights.
To that same end, Meanmeosh has a valid point. For example, let’s take Hilton. I have something like 130 nights. If a Diamond (from last year’s activity) has 10 nights with the chain this year but still holds status and snags a suite while I am in a smaller room next to the ice machine, that would frustrate me. But then again, if they have the status (as do I) then I don’t know that I really want them to play favorites. If a guest comes in that booked several conventions with the chain and spent $150k this year with Hilton next to my $20k, I wouldn’t want to miss my suite upgrade solely because that guest stays one night.
I think that Meanmeosh hit it on the head when he said that there should be more clarity. But I also counter that very little of this detailed analysis is really honestly being done. In my experience, it seems to be more of a case that the hotel management simply doesn’t want to honor the benefit. It doesn’t seem to me that they have done some looking in advance of my arrival and have arrived at a conclusion that because of those prevailing circumstances, an upgrade isn’t possible. If that is the case, then at checkin note it to the guest. If the front desk staff explained a little further then I would be totally fine with it. They could say, “We tried to secure you a suite but unfortunately it’s not available for a couple of nights of your stay, so we have put you in this [optimal room given choices] instead. Sorry we couldn’t accommodate your upgrade fully.” That would be as good as an upgrade to me solely because the effort was made. If I had to have a suite, I should have booked one.
“If a guest works for IBM and books three nights for $89/nt while other guests are paying $150/nt it makes sense why the hotel management is annoyed.”
I’m not sure if the word “annoyed” is the most appropriate word to use in this context. The hotel was willing to negotiate that rate and opened inventory for the rate to be bookable for that particular date. Why would they be annoyed?
By the way, here’s a good example of management disdain for hotel status elites:
“The Mark Hopkins in San Francisco, around 2006, got a new General Manager who didn’t like offering Royal Ambassador upgrades and created a new room type… a standard room with a fax machine that he dubbed a ‘business room’ and thus an ‘executive room’.”
@Der – I agree that some hotels have taken an antagonistic approach to elites and I would respond in kind by simply not giving them my business. If there are any savvy web designers that wanted to create a database of hotels that do and don’t upgrade elites and offer the full benefits for which elites are entitled – that would be welcome by me and I would be happy submit my data points and promote on this site.
But to the comment regarding the hoteliers being annoyed, that draws a specific and important distinction. It is the chain (IHG, Marriott, Hilton corporately) who are achieving those rates broadly with the business (IBM) but it’s the individual hoteliers who have to honor those rates. So the local franchisee (if you will) has to honor a “coupon” that they just don’t want to. That’s the annoyance.
I’ll take the contrarian viewpoint. Because hotels play so much shenanigans with upgrades is one of the many reasons I’ve given up on hotel loyalty altogether. I don’t think you’re wrong for fighting for benefits you’re rightly entitled to. But going through the rigamarole of pulling up a bunch of stuff on the app while standing at the front desk, and then expending time and energy to argue with a desk clerk and/or manager, just isn’t something I find a good use of my time. It gets me in a foul mood, which is not the way I want to kick off a vacation.
Personally, I find the money I save from being a free agent and searching for the best deal regardless of chain to outweigh the benefit of a suite I might or might not get, depending on the mood of the particular hotel. And I can use the savings to just outright pay for a suite if a special occasion calls for it.
@Meanmeosh – On this point we differ. By and large I have found tremendous value in my status with the hotel chains, but for most travelers, obtaining top tier status in three hotel chains is not only unlikely, but perhaps close to impossible. Picking just one where you can devote 50-75 nights per year that have availability, fall within budget (either personal or corporate travel policy) and are located in places that are convenient to where you need to be – is really tough to do.
Free agency has its perks and also its drawbacks.
Is Marriott any different or worse than the chains being discussed? In four years as a Plat, I have only been upgraded to a suite three times (I guess my once a year upgrade is due). In fairness, as mentioned in your post, sometimes the room is “upgraded” (“we have you on a higher floor with a pool view”); on the other hand, it has been years since I have even been placed on a club floor. Is it Marriott or me? Should I ask (politely) for a suite a check in? I really only care about a suite when my wife is traveling with me, and would likely save the ask for those occasions. Thanks!
@John – I have heard this about Marriott and hope that my experience is different than yours (and a lot of Marriott loyalists I have heard from). I think Marriott is one chain where the challenge at the front desk is important, but defining the benefit is even more crucial and something they could learn from their SPG associates. I have had two stays with Marriott to-date for the year and have been upgraded 50% of the time, but out of the available nights, just 10% (I was upgraded on a one night stay). As I complete my status challenge with them, I hope to offer more imperial data points that will assist other travelers in making a decision when booking hotels that works for them.
Having done a few dozen nights w/Marriott, half as Gold (via UA match) and half as a Plat (via SPG), I’ve only had a jr. suite or better a couple times.
I find Marriott properties consider a higher floor, a slightly better view, the club floor, etc. to be an “upgrade” (this appears to be similar to Hilton).
Of course, we SPG loyals typically end up doing better, and thus the worry that the bolder, more proactive upgrade language spelled out as a SPG Plat benefit is likely going to go away once they merge the programs.
I have been an spg platinum since i was in my early 20’s (now 34), and in the past the sky was the limjt to upgrades (especially if i called and spoke to the manager the day of or day before asbi used to), but when suite night awards came out i really just kinda lost motivation… when traveling alone i dont really care that much, and more times than not am upgraded into a premium room or low level suite – which is great! But if i really care and want an upgrade i’ll use a suitenight award or in the case of my last two trips just book a suite because they were only $150-$200 more per night and while traveling in europe i can sometimes stretch my suitenight from a room thats €400 to a room thats €1900 euro a night (as i did last easter at the prince de gaulle)… so i guess my strategy or energy falls into the category of “if it matters, give a little
More ($ or suitenight) to get a little more (a confirmed booking)