How to Score Upgrades when Traveling

Learn what to do in order to get upgrades when it comes to airline upgrade, hotel upgrade, and car rental upgrade.
How to Score Upgrades when Traveling

While the old adage “you get what you pay for” often holds true when you travel, a savvy traveler knows that you can often get more than you pay for from hotels, airlines and rental car agencies. The secret? Upgrades. You can book a seat in coach and get upgraded to business when you fly, get a boost from a compact car to a full size one when you drive, or get a view of the pool instead of the parking lot when you check into a hotel.  While upgrades are not guaranteed, there are ways to improve your chances of getting a coveted seat, car or view at no additional charge. While the only way to guarantee you get the room, car or seat you want is to book it, getting an upgrade is relatively easy and free. 

Airline Upgrades:

  • Become a member: If you are a member of an airlines frequent flyer club, or better yet, their VIP club, you may be more likely to be rewarded with an upgrade from one class to another.
  • Look the part: It seems silly, but if you are presentably dressed and look like you belong in first class, you are more likely to score a seat in this coveted section. 
  • Be nice:  The person who checks you in is the one who has the option of awarding an upgrade, if one is available. Storming up to the counter, complaining and demanding an upgrade and some great ways to be passed over. 
  • Be flexible: If the airline has overbooked, and you are not in a great hurry, you may be able to secure an upgrade on a replacement flight simply by giving up your seat. Most airlines will get you on the next flight to your destination – and give you a nice voucher as a thank you as well. 

Hotel Upgrades:

  • Book Direct: While you may not have a choice in the matter if your company is booking the room for you, contacting the hotel directly may increase your chances of receiving an upgrade when you arrive. Why? Because hotels need to pay a commission to large clearinghouses like Orbitz, Expedia and if you use one to reserve your room.  If the hotel is already receiving 100% of your room rate, they will be more likely to want you to come back, making you a prime candidate for an upgrade. 
  • Don’t be afraid to ask: Hotels are often underbooked, and simply asking if there is an available upgrade may secure one for you. If you visit the hotel frequently, mention this as well; you may be rewarded with a larger room or better view that would otherwise sit vacant.
  • Be friendly: Whether you travel for business or fun, if you find yourself visiting the same hotel again and again, make it a point to make friends with the hotel staff. If the front desk staff, concierge or General Manager gets to know and recognize you, you’ll stand a good chance of getting a great room.  
  • Complain in a nice way: If there is something wrong with the room you have been assigned, or you are uncomfortable with the location or condition of the room, say so. If the hotel has some vacancies, you may be moved to a better room; smaller properties are more flexible than large ones when it comes to accommodating requests like this.
  • Be loyal: Many hotel chains, even small independent ones, offer frequent guest rewards programs. These are usually free to sign up for and may entitle you to a room upgrade after a certain number of visits. Simply having the card and presenting it may be enough to reward you with a room upgrade, whether you have used it before or not. 
  • Use a partner card: If you have a credit card that partners with a hotel chain, you may be rewarded with an upgrade when you use your card. Check with your credit card rewards program to learn more. 

Rental Car Upgrades:

  • Book a class below: Book a rental car that is one class below the one you like; many brands will upgrade you automatically if the next level is available. You can always pay the difference if you need to, but the gamble often pays off. 
  • Niceness counts: While politeness pays off any time you are seeking an upgrade, car rental clerks in airports are routinely abused by harried passengers; being nice in this line can pay off with a great upgrade.