7 Ways to Upgrade Your Vacation for $100 or Less

Some of these tricks won't cost you a thing.

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Flying in first class is not without its perks, but you don’t need to splurge to enjoy some of the benefits of elite travel. In addition to those cushy seats, a premium ticket may include a series of other benefits that make the entire travel experience decidedly more luxurious.

And it’s easy to experience small upgrades — just like those travelers at the front of the plane — without depleting your savings account. Hotel guests, too, can get a taste of the VIP experience just like those guests staying in top-tier suites.

For $100 or less, here are the easiest ways to indulge on your next vacation.

Hang out at the lounge.

One of the biggest differences between an economy and a first-class ticket (aside from the seat, of course) is access to the airport lounge. If you’re expecting to spend a significant amount of time at the airport — particularly during a long layover — there’s no better way to pass the time than with a complimentary meal and cocktail at an airport lounge.

Many airlines offer one-day passes to their signature lounges for less than $60. Third-party retailers, like Lounge Buddy, also make it possible to buy access to airport lounges at hubs all around the world, starting at $30.

Take a spa break.

Instead of an airport lounge, travelers can also fritter away the hours before a flight at a nearby gym, pool, or spa. The new Sanctifly app grants access to facilities at fitness centers (like 24 Hour Fitness) and hotels (including Marriott and Radisson properties) for a one-time fee of $25.

In certain locations, airport spas and exercise studios are also included. Frequent fliers can even pay for a membership to get unrestricted access to Sanctifly’s partners.

Get a luxury car transfer.

One of the best perks included with certain business and first class tickets is luxury car transfers to and from the airport. Emirates, for example, offers chauffeured drives in a BMW or Mercedes-Benz. Easily replicate the experience by splurging on an Uber or, even fancier, a black car. It sure beats riding public transportation with your luggage, or jockeying for a taxi outside the airport.

Use Red Cap service.

Train travelers with Amtrak tickets can have a VIP journey without spending a penny more than the standard fare by opting for Red Cap service. Available at major train stations across the country (including New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and D.C.), Red Cap is a little-known amenity that allows travelers to have complimentary assistance with bags. And that means early boarding and better seat selection. Just be sure to tip.

Apply for Global Entry.

Global Entry doesn’t sound glamorous, but splurging on the one-time, $100 fee for Global Entry means enjoying all the perks of this program (skipping passport and customs control lines upon re-entry to the United States; never having to fill out those blue customs forms again) as well as the benefits of TSA PreCheck at participating airports. Just like premium ticket holders, you’ll be able to dash through security with your shoes on.

Ask for an upgrade.

It may sound too easy, but simply asking the front desk for an upgrade on arrival can help you score a superior room. And asking doesn't cost a thing.

This is especially true for guests traveling during the off-season, when there’s typically lower occupancy, or during a special occasion. Guests may expect to pay a small fee for the upgrade — but nothing close to the difference in room rate. It also helps to join the hotel’s loyalty program in advance. Often free to join, these programs give members priority when it comes to upgrades.

Request early check-in and late check-out.

One of the more relaxing benefits of a premium room stay is getting to sleep in, and it’s worth it to negotiate an early arrival or late departure times with the hotel. Make it happen by phoning ahead, flaunting your membership card (just another reason to sign up) or, if all else fails, asking to pay a half-day rate. Many hotels have a fixed — and not exorbitant fee — for precisely this purpose.

Another trick? Book your hotel through the SnapTravel app. In addition to getting excellent rates, the app's customer-service reps will automatically request free upgrades on arrival and negotiate special requests like early check-in and late check-out.

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