Go Where There are Empty Rooms
During the economic downturn, certain destinations have had lower occupancy rates, particularly those with high room counts: Las Vegas, San Francisco, New York, Hawaii, and Orlando, Florida. “Hotels that can’t sell expensive suites bump people up so they can resell the standard rooms, which are in higher demand,” explains Nicole Hockin, a spokesperson for Hotels.com. Likewise, look to resorts in the off- and shoulder seasons, when fewer suites are booked.
Book the Right Way
A luxury travel agent who’s affiliated with a network such as Virtuoso or Ensemble Travel can sometimes get you bumped up to the next room category.
Hyatt recently partnered with E-standby to allow guests booking on Hyatt.com to pay a small fee—as little as $30—for the chance at a space-available upgrade. Hilton Worldwide has a similar program.
Be Card Savvy
At many hotels, booking with a Centurion or Platinum card from American Express (Travel + Leisure’s parent company) can get you a better room, in some cases automatically. Charging everyday purchases on a hotel-affiliated credit card can help you earn upgrades, too—regardless of whether you’re actually staying at the hotel.
Use Your Connections
Look beyond AAA and AARP memberships to affiliations you might not expect. Lexus and Saks First cardholders are sometimes eligible for upgrades at Fairmont hotels. If you bank with Merrill Lynch, UBS, or HSBC, you can often book an upgraded Ritz-Carlton package though the banks’ member benefits programs. Occasionally, hotels partner with airlines in ways that benefit you, too. Business- and first-class passengers on Singapore Airlines flights, for example, get automatic upgrades at Raffles hotels.
Check in Later
The later you check in after noon (when most hotels require guests to check out), the better your chances for securing an upgrade, especially if you’re staying only one night. “Later in the day, rooms aren’t likely to be sold anyway,” says travel guru John E. DiScala, founder of JohnnyJet.com. Plus, it’s more likely that housekeeping has turned over rooms.
Many hotel chains give priority to their loyalty program members based on how often they stay at their hotels. Make sure you use your loyalty member number every time you book, particularly at large chains such as Starwood, Omni, and Loews. (See “Great Hotel Loyalty Programs” for more on loyalty programs.)