Living the suite life: How to get a free hotel upgrade

Emma Beaumont
Join a loyalty programme and you might find yourself upgraded at hotels such as Raffles Singapore

A pause, the tip-tapping of a keyboard and then the immortal words: ‘Ahh, we are able to upgrade your room today’. It’s what every weary traveller wants to hear upon checking in to a hotel. The mind floods with images of freestanding tubs, separate seating areas and, not forgetting, big fruit baskets. Yes, nothing beats the thrill of spreading out in a plush suite, or even just a slightly-better-than-standard room where you don’t trip over your suitcase every time you move - at no extra cost.

But what makes the elusive upgrade more likely? From small tweaks to the way you book and travel, to top loyalty programmes to join, here are some tricks that may well make your next hotel stay that little bit more luxurious.

Just ask 

An obvious point perhaps, but there is certainly no harm in a polite enquiry upon check-in. Even if the request falls flat, you may well be offered an upgrade at a heavily discounted price. An even better tactic is to contact the hotel ahead of time to let them know if you are celebrating a birthday, anniversary or other special event. It's in the hotel’s interest to ensure you have a memorable time and it may encourage upgrades. At the very least, you’ll likely secure some added treats in your room. 

Brand loyalty is rewarded at Rocco Forte Hotels such as Brown's Credit: Adrian Houston Limited/Adrian Houston

Book smart

Small tweaks to the way you travel can help secure an upgrade. Simply arriving later in the day has worked for some travellers, as by that point reception staff have a clearer idea of which rooms are available for that night and you aren’t simply directed to whichever room is readily available at change-over time. Travelling in shoulder or low season when occupancy is lower also ups your chances for obvious reasons. 

Hotels tend to reward higher-spending customers, so it follows that you would have more success if you haven’t booked the lowest-category room. Booking directly with hotels rather than third parties could also help as hotels are keen to encourage this practice to avoid paying commission. 

Booking brand new hotels can be a risk, but if you don’t mind potential teething problems, you could well be rewarded. Not only are they less likely to be fully booked, but these hotels (especially lesser-known brands or independents) want to build a good reputation and will likely treat their first few customers where possible.

Be loyal

Loyalty is king in the hotel business, with brands always looking to encourage repeat visitors. Phillip Haller, Vice President of Brand Marketing at Rocco Forte Hotels says: "We never overlook guest loyalty and like to reward it where possible, so making Rocco Forte your go-to certainly stands you in good stead for a complimentary room upgrade." 

Joining loyalty programmes is the surest way to secure an upgrade, with each major hotel group offering a different scheme. Accor Hotels' (with more than 30 brands including Raffles and Fairmont) current system offers a range of perks for members such as late check-out, welcome drinks and discounts, though you’ll have to reach Gold or Platinum status for an automatic upgrade to the next room category (subject to availability). The group’s new scheme ‘Accor Live Limitless’, which is being rolled out in November, looks set to make upgrades more likely as points can be earned in the group’s bars and restaurants as well as when booking rooms.

Secret deals 

Sometimes you might have to part with some money to secure a more premium room. New website Upgradus acts as a middle man between you and the hotel you’ve booked with to see if they can offer a room upgrade for a heavily discounted rate. The site is free to use, the only condition being that you must already have an existing booking to see potential prices. And you might have to be patient: upgrades are only presented when rooms are available, so they may be offered immediately, at any time up to as late as the day of check-in, or not at all.