Let’s face it: hotels favor certain guests over others. Some will always be offered the biggest rooms with the best views, the extra attention, and all the perks (welcome gifts, on-site credit) that make staying at a hotel a little bit nicer.
So how do you get VIP service if you’re not a big spender and haven’t racked up a million loyalty points? Unlike finding cut-rate deals, there’s no app for that—so here are a few strategies.
Work with a top agent
The luxury-hotel industry is built on relationships, many of them formalized agreements between hospitality companies and travel agencies. Travel advisors get preferred rates and better commissions when booking clients into partner hotels—along with special amenities like room upgrades, early check-in and late checkout, and often spa or restaurant credits. Two of the biggest agency groups, Virtuoso and Signature, each work with thousands of top hotels. At Bermuda’s Elbow Beach Resort, for example, guests who book with either a Signature or Virtuoso advisor will automatically get daily breakfast (worth $35) and $100 in resort credit, along with a space-available room upgrade and priority requests for early check-in/late checkout. Many advisors have deeper, personal relationships with hotel managers, which means still more benefits for their clients. Don’t be shy about asking a potential advisor what he or she can do for you.
Use your card
One of the perks of ponying up the $450 annual fee for an American Express Platinum Card is access to American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, a collection of luxury properties that offer benefits to cardholders who book through the website or an affiliated travel specialist. The perks are nearly identical to those offered by Virtuoso and Signature (resort credit, free breakfast, space-available upgrades), with one crucial difference: you get a guaranteed 4 p.m. checkout. The website also lists cardholder deals, like a fifth night free at Aspen’s Hotel Jerome during ski season.
Join the club
Loyalty pays off even at the most basic level. Starwood, Marriott, InterContinental, and Fairmont all offer free Wi-Fi just for signing up. Often those at higher levels can check in early, depart late, get free breakfast, and be prioritized for upgrades—while also doubling their points and racking up free stays. And your request for a better room is more likely to fall on sympathetic ears if you can flash a membership card. There are also benefits to joining the programs of independent hotel collections like Preferred Hotel Group, Leading Hotels of the World, and Small Luxury Hotels of the World. Preferred Hotels gives free Internet to all its iPrefer members, while Small Luxury Hotels offers space-available room upgrades to all members, regardless of status. The Leaders Club from Leading Hotels costs $150 annually, but guarantees daily breakfast, Internet access, and room upgrades when available.
Get into the lounge
Many hotels—especially those geared toward business travelers—offer executive- or club-level rooms that come with access to a private lounge serving complimentary breakfast, snacks, cocktails, and more. These rooms often have additional perks, too, including better views (on higher floors), dedicated concierges, and free Wi-Fi and laundry services. Club rooms can cost between 10 and 60 percent more than standard rooms. Some of the best are in Asian cities, where the offerings are more developed. At the new Rosewood Beijing, club rooms have access to a private pool table and bar. The sophisticated, residential-style executive lounge at the Shilla Seoul serves excellent food and has sweeping city views. You can also find great club floors in North America at the Langham Chicago and the Ritz-Carlton Toronto. The amenities (and quality) vary by hotel, but if you’re planning to spend a lot of time at the property, free breakfast and cocktails alone can pay off.