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How to Get Free Hotel Room Upgrades

How to Snag That Room Upgrade and More: Top Tips From a Hotel Expert

Always wish you could score a free hotel room upgrade? LearnVest talks to an expert who gives some insider tips.

The holy grail: A free hotel upgrade. A hotel room at almost half off the regular price. Champagne on the house.

People all over the internet love to talk about landing free upgrades and special hotel deals, but sometimes it seems less like a science than witchcraft.

After all, it's easy to say you've got a better chance of getting an upgrade if you're celebrating a special event like an engagement, but how do you drop that hint? How do you avoid being tacky? Did you know you can actually negotiate for a hotel room price? That most hotels have amazing, unpublished rates?

RELATED: 27 Ways to Save on Summer Travel

We got advice straight from the source by talking to Freddie Floyd, who goes by "The Consummate Concierge" on his blog, Can You Get Me In?. Floyd has served as concierge at many high-end hotels in Houston and now works as the concierge at a hotel in Times Square in New York City.

Floyd shared his insider secrets to scoring deals at hotels—from finding secret, unpublished room rates to nabbing a free upgrade and complimentary swag.

Here's what he told us:

Know the Hotel You're Dealing With

If you're planning to stay at a budget hotel like the Days Inn, you're going to have a harder time getting an upgrade to a sweet room, because there might not be many more tiers to upgrade to. It's helpful to learn the difference between a "hotel of necessity," where travelers stay because they need somewhere to stay, and higher-end hotels where people go because they want a great time.

Read on for how to score awesome hotel perks.

Think of this advice as falling into two buckets:

  1. Getting rooms for less
  2. Getting free perks

Almost anywhere you stay, you can try to get rooms for less. But you're likelier to succeed at getting fun, free perks at higher-end hotels. If the hotel has a restaurant, bar and room service, it's generally considered "full service." If you see a lot of personnel like bell hops and a concierge, consider it a sign that our free perk tips are likely to work.

That said, here are eight tips for scoring the very room you want—and more—for less:

Speak the Language of the Person You're Talking to

Luxury and higher end hotels want to provide you with an experience, so communicate that your stay is an experience. This can be as simple as gushing, "We're so excited for our girls' weekend! It's our once-a-year getaway when we get to leave our husbands and pamper ourselves!" Merely making it known that you're excited for the experience of your trip drops the hint that you're the kind of person to excitedly share your amazing upgrade experience with your social circle afterward.

Make Your Reservation Over the Phone

Make your reservation over the phone rather than on the internet. For example, you could call and say, "We saw this rate online but we really were hoping we could get a room for less. Is there any way we can make that work at your hotel?"

In particular, start your research on the hotel's own website, because it will almost always feature specials that don't appear on third-party sites. Most hotels have an unadvertised daily special; you can literally ask over the phone, "Do you have a daily special?" Floyd has seen rooms that normally go for $235 to $265 drop down to $189 or $170 as a "special daily rate" to help sell all the available rooms.

Get a Better Rate in Person

Whether you're looking to stay at a budget or a luxury property, you can often get a better rate in person on the day-of, even if you don't have reservations. This is a gamble, in case the hotel fills up, but you can call that day and say, "I'd like to check your availability this evening." They should be able to tell you if they have plenty of rooms available, or only two or three.

The closer the hotel is to being occupied, the lower the rate you'll be able to negotiate. Hotels aim to be at 100% capacity, and that's something staff love to be able to brag about internally. If you bring them closer to achieving that goal, they'll be willing to give you a sharp discount. "When they're close to selling out," Floyd says, "the revenue manager is like, 'Let's get rid of that inventory!'"

Try showing up in person and simply saying, "I'd like a room, but my budget is $150. Do you have any options for me?" Even if that's below their normal rate, there's a good chance they won't let you walk out the door.

If the hotel is pretty empty, however, they're less likely to budge on price because they're probably not going to reach the goal regardless.

Talk to the Right People

Gain a sense for who's who at your hotel—the concierge, for example, can pull strings that ordinary desk attendants can't, since it's his or her job to bend over backward to personalize your experience. Try to identify the concierge and start making friends.

This process of befriending can start even before you arrive. If you want stellar service, Floyd suggests shooting an email to the general manager after you've booked: "I've made a reservation, read reviews online and am super excited to visit your hotel!" If you're looking for the manager's contact info: Often, hotel confirmations that you've booked includes an email address and phone number to contact if you have any questions. You can simply ask for the manager's email address when you're on the phone. Just say, "I'd love to shoot the general manager an email to say how excited I am to stay here."

The more people you get acquainted with, the more likely the personalized treatment. You may discount the bellman taking your luggage, but if you mention how excited you are to celebrate your engagement at this hotel, he can still return to the lobby and tell the staff you need an upgrade.

It's Not Just if You Tip, but When

According to Floyd, if you tip up front, you're saying, "I'm excited for whatever surprises you throw my way!"

You'll get good service regardless, but that discreet handshake at the beginning of your stay solidifies your chances of getting upgrades, great service and free perks. A tip expresses your appreciation, which is why many people would rather wait to see if the service is good before tipping. But to Floyd's mind, tipping at the beginning is appreciation in advance, and comes close to guaranteeing you get that good service. Think of it as a way of setting up positive expectations.

Don't forget that you can tip your housekeeper, too, and leave notes saying thank you—especially since you'll probably have the same person cleaning your room every day. Tipping after the first night means you might end up with special treatment like extra soap, coffee, snacks, etc. Not to mention, it's nice.

You Don't Need to Beat Around the Bush

Can you outright ask for an upgrade? "The question isn't perceived as tacky … only your approach," says Floyd. His #1 tip is that you get much more by being nice than you do by complaining. A lot of times, he says, people think that if they complain they'll get an upgrade, but that's the exact wrong way to do it.

"Never name drop. Never say where else you've stayed, celebs you know, how much money you have, etc. Hotel staff will always say you can get more being nice than being important," he explains. Instead of complaining that your room is too small and they do it so much better at the Hilton, show that you're happy and excited.

Start with positivity: "We love this hotel, are so excited to hang out here for happy hour and our room is so comfortable … though it is a little smaller than we had been hoping, since it's our first time here. We would love a little more room than we initially thought …"

"If you complain," Floyd says, "it's our job to help. But everyone is scared to take a guest who starts the experience complaining. They don't know if you'll make them the scapegoat at the end of your stay. We're way more willing to help and offer you things when you're nice and it seems like the upgrade will satisfy you."

Tout Your Special Events

Talking up celebrations like birthdays and engagements really does help people get upgrades. The best way to communicate a special event is in advance. Hotel staffers usually go through arrivals in advance, anywhere from a day to a week before you arrive. They pull out all relevant emails, and the special guests they know about in advance get priority.

For example, Floyd says, "If a guest tells us they're here for their honeymoon and they booked a queen room, we know they'll be cramped because they'll have luggage. Before they even arrive, we know they'll rather be upgraded."

He suggests shooting an email to hotel staff when you book over the phone, or leaving notes in the comment box when you book online, saying you're excited for your special occasion and that this trip is important to you. "If you want to be more explicit," he suggests, "you can even say you would love an upgrade if possible. If it's a slow day and we want to wow our guests, we'll upgrade people randomly. But if you asked already, you're at the front of the line."

Try a New Property

You're likely to get especially impressive deals at a newer hotel. Even if the hotel is celebrating the opening of its incredibly expensive restaurant with a celebrity chef, it might not matter that it's out of your budget: The first few opening nights, they'll often seat people for free, to fill tables and get the word out. When choosing a hotel, research brand new properties that are still spreading the word. "At one of the properties where I worked, people could easily get a room for $150 with total luxury amenities because they were new and trying to compete in the market."

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