Strategies for getting free resort upgrades

St BarthsWhen we spend thousands of dollars on a resort vacation, things can feel pretty expensive even if we are booked into a good-value hotel. At the point of check-in, who doesn’t love to hear that magic phrase, “We’ve upgraded you to a better room,” or something along those lines? Well, even though getting upgraded to First Class on a flight is now almost impossible if you aren’t a high status frequent flier, you can actually get upgraded to better rooms at resorts if you know a few tricks.

Some of these techniques take more research than others, but fortunately all of them should be quick enough if you’ve got a bit of time on your hands and you are really hoping for an extra nice room.

What is a room upgrade?

In the normal hotel world, there tends to be “rooms” and “suites” so getting upgraded meant paying for a room and getting a suite. But in the resort world there tends to be many classes of rooms, even at some resorts where every room is called a suite.

So an upgrade is often paying for a Garden View Room and getting an Ocean View Room. Or it can be paying for a Standard and getting a Deluxe. In some cases it will mean actually getting a proper suite, but that’s only likely if you’ve already paid for a premium room type.

Best ways of getting a free resort upgrade

1 – Email the hotel if it’s a special occasion

I get a lot of emails from honeymooners looking for special rooms, particularly overwater bungalows. One thing that surprises some of them is that if they contact a resort after they’ve booked and tell them it’s a honeymoon trip, they have a good chance of getting an upgrade. Sometimes it’s a better room or a free romantic meal, or other times it’s a bottle of champagne waiting for them.

You might think that resorts hear “it’s our honeymoon!” so often that they just ignore it, but most try to make it more special. Of course, in certain kinds of hotels where half the rooms are honeymooners it might be tough, but it’s worth an email. It might be a special anniversary or something else romantic you are celebrating instead. Lying isn’t a good idea, but if there’s legitimately something going on, email them at least a week ahead of your arrival.

2 – Google to find who gives out upgrades a lot

Here’s a trick I only recently discovered on my own, and it seems like a good one. Let’s say you are planning on going to Cancun. Now, Google “Tripadvisor Cancun upgraded” without the quotation marks and you’ll get a list of hotel reviews where people mention being upgraded. In some cases they’ll be mentioning that they upgraded themselves to a better room, but very often it will be that the resort upgraded them upon check-in. If a hotel seems to be doing it a lot, you’ve got a good chance too.

3 – Look for hotels with a small number of cheap rooms

This one I’ve mentioned before, but it belongs on this list as well. Obviously most people who stay at any hotel don’t write a review, but you can figure out hotels that are likely to upgrade people by looking at room types. The trick is, if a resort has, say, 10 Garden View rooms and 80 Ocean View rooms, they will often sell far more than 10 of the cheap rooms if they have plenty of the others available.

This is sort of an industry secret, but many hotels keep a small number of cheap rooms so they come up higher when people are searching by price. For example, a big hotel in the Dominican Republic might have 10 rooms at US$199 per night, and 200 rooms at US$279 per night. If they sell the 10 cheap ones, the whole listing is pushed down the page so most people won’t see it. For this reason, many hotels will just keep selling the cheap rooms until the whole hotel is sold out, and all but 10 of those people will be upgraded for free.