Imagine a scenario in which somebody makes a hotel booking, but actually doesn’t intend to stay there themselves, and instead intends for a friend or family member to stay in the room.
Sounds pretty straightforward, right?
Well, the topic can be a little more complex than it first appears, and what might seem like a pretty commonplace situation among friends and family looking to do each other a favour actually brings up some interesting questions about what is and isn’t allowed, both by the terms and conditions and in practice.
In this article, then – which should be treated as purely informational in nature, rather than an endorsement of any practices – let’s talk a little bit about the “second guest trick”.
The Proper Way of Booking Hotels for Another Guest
There are many situations why someone would want to book a hotel room for someone else to stay in, and accordingly, there are a few different approaches to making it happen.
The most proper and above-board way to make such bookings is when the account holder either makes the booking in the other guest’s name directly, or, upon completing the reservation, reaches out to the hotel to modify the primary guest’s name on the booking from their own name to the name of the actual guest.
For example, let’s say you had a sizeable balance of points in a certain hotel loyalty program. You have no immediate plans to use these points, but would love to treat your son or daughter to a memorable Reading Week getaway with their friends.
You could make the booking using your points, and then contact the hotel to change the name on the booking from your own name to your son or daughter’s, thus resulting in a booking where it’s abundantly clear that they will be staying, rather than yourself, even though the points payment for the booking came out of your account.
Most hotels will be able to modify the name on a booking in this way quite easily, and this is probably the safest way to do things that is entirely above-board within the terms and conditions.
(Note that while this practice is almost always feasible when paying with points, there can sometimes be restrictions around the usage of free night certificates issued from a certain member’s credit card, which can typically only be used as a reward in that member’s name only.)
What Is the Second Guest Trick?
However, there are a few downsides to this approach, such as the fact that the account holder won’t be able to earn elite qualifying nights or rewards points on the stay, nor will the staying guest be able to enjoy any of the elite perks associated with the account that made the reservation.
That’s why there’s also a more subtle way of arranging things, which is where the account holder notifies the hotel that a “second guest” will actually be arriving at the hotel before they will, and will therefore be the one who checks in to the room.
The understanding is that the account holder will then arrive at the hotel afterwards, but hey, maybe they missed their flight and changed their plans as a result.
Most hotels will be happy to note down the name of the second guest and allow them to check-in upon arrival. Many hotels also don’t bother following up about the arrival of the “first guest”, and even if they do, they usually only ask that the first guest shows up at the front desk as a courtesy.
So in almost all cases, the second guest (who is actually the person who will be staying in the room) can go ahead and use the room without any further complications. But when it comes to whether or not the elite nights, points, and benefits are granted, things can be a little less straightforward.
Based on most of the anecdotal evidence out there, it seems that in a majority of cases, the hotel is happy to grant any elite privileges associated with the account that made the booking upon check-in, even if it’s a “second guest” who completes the check-in formalities. This may include upgrading to a nicer room or a suite, programming the keycard with access to the Executive Lounge, or handing out daily breakfast vouchers.
However, there are also several examples of hotels that are more by-the-book in these situations, and they’ll ask for the actual elite member to present themselves at the front desk upon their arrival in order to grant the elite benefits associated with the account. Of course, if the primary guest never intended to show up in the first place, this means that the elite benefits won’t be granted at all throughout the stay.
In general, it seems that there’s a reasonably good chance of receiving elite points, nights, and benefits when using the second guest trick, but that it’s never a sure thing and depends entirely on the hotel’s enforcement of the loyalty program’s rules in the end.
Another complication during the check-in process may relate to the credit card that’s used for incidentals. Many hotels are happy to put a hold on the second guest’s credit card for the incidentals; however, although I’ve never personally encountered this, some hotels are not willing to charge the credit card of a guest other than the primary guest, and would need an “credit card authorization form” of some sort from the primary guest in order to do so.
If that’s the case, the hotel will most likely bring it up when you notify them that the second guest will be checking in early, so you can fill in the form beforehand if you do intend for the second guest to present a credit card when they arrive.
Finally, one very important caveat that I must point out about using the second guest trick is that many hotels are in fact bound by local regulations to keep accurate records of guests who are staying with them every night, and that leaving your name as the primary guest with no intention of actually staying naturally interferes with the hotel’s record-keeping efforts. In this sense, travellers using the second guest trick are doing so at their own risk.
Why Might Someone Use the Second Guest Trick?
And yet, there are quite a few reasons why travellers might decide to accept that risk and use the second guest trick anyway.
Think back to the example of redeeming your hotel points to treat your family members to a memorable hotel stay. That’s a very natural way for a member to be rewarded for their loyalty to the hotel chain, since they’d get to share their positive experiences with the hotel brand with their loved ones.
Alas, if the member had elite status, then it’s reasonable for them to want their family members to enjoy the same elite perks that they do. However, they would not be able to confer the status benefits to their family members if they went about it the “proper” way and made the booking in their family members’ name, even if the points were redeemed out of the member’s account.
Instead, by invoking the second guest trick and simply letting the hotel know that their family members would be arriving first, the member has a higher chance of allowing their family members to enjoy their elite benefits – although again, it’s never a sure thing.
(The one exception to this rule is World of Hyatt’s Guest of Honour benefit for their top-tier Globalist members. When Globalist members redeem points out of their own account for another guest to stay, that guest will enjoy all of the member’s Globalist perks under the Guest of Honour benefit. I can’t help but wish that the other major hotel programs would implement something like this as well, which would go a long way towards rewarding top-tier elite members by allowing them to share the benefits of their hard-earned status with their loved ones.)
As you can imagine, there are many other scenarios in which the second guest trick creates various win-win situations.
For example, if you’ve earned elite status with a loyalty program, and most of your circle of friends don’t care for hotel points or status at all (i.e., they’d go on Hotels.com or Expedia to book hotels without a second thought about loyalty), then you could offer to make their hotel bookings out of your account for the same price that they’d otherwise pay.
Your friends would benefit from your elite perks throughout their stay, while you would benefit from earning additional points and nights that could help you re-qualify for your elite tier for the following year (keeping in mind, of course, the caveat that these outcomes are never guaranteed).
Yet another application of the second guest trick might be to use it for cheap “mattress runs” in faraway locations in order to qualify for a certain status level.
Seeing as it is necessary to check-in for the hotel stay in order for it to count as valid elite qualifying nights, if you knew someone who lived near a very cheap hotel (in terms of points or cash), you could book the hotel and then notify them that your friend would be arriving earlier for your stay and checking in first.
All your friend needs to do is show up at the hotel, check in, and maybe put up the Do Not Disturb sign on the room – and if all goes well, your elite qualifying nights should flow through in a few days’ time, once the stay officially “ends”.
The second guest trick is one of those grey areas in Miles & Points, where enterprising travellers have generally been able to leverage it to achieve a variety of ends – from sharing their hotel elite benefits with their loved ones to mattress-running in distant locations – even though there’s always the risk that it might not work out every time.
Despite its effectiveness, it’s important to be aware that the second guest trick may well be against the spirit, if not the letter, of the hotel programs’ terms and conditions, and may also create difficulties for the hotel in following local regulations, so it’s probably best not to overdo it.
I just booked a stay at a Sheraton in Frankfurt for my mother-in-law. Did it over the phone, explained the situation, they booked her as the secondary guest and I was told she can check in on her own no problem. I don’t have over Gold benefits and just wanted to use points to book. So far no problem. Now I check the reservation in the bonvoy app and her name has one letter misspelled – what should be an m is an n in her last name. Will my mother in law be able to check in despite her name being misspelled on the reservation? Thanks
Question about another use case:
I have Hyatt Globalist + Bonvoy Platinum in my name.
When my partner & I travel, sometimes she needs to be the main guest with the bill in her name. She can add me as the guest, and have my membership # the sole membership number assigned.
Does anyone have experience with the best way to continue getting upgraded + using status benefits, and acquiring EQN in these situations?
My recent experience with a Four Points hotel in Edmonton (I have booked a cash booking for a friend).
I have used my credit card and he would interac me later whatever the folio would show.
I have added him to the room as a 2nd guest a week before the stay.
Upon checking in he has secured the room with his room (my credit card showed a pending amount for the stay starting about 1 day before the stay).
At the end – the hotel charged the whole room to his card (I was assured that it should all be charged to the original card used online to book the room).
My pending charge didn’t disappear.
The hotel has created 4 separate folios for the 4 nights he has stayed there.
It took me 7 phone calls to have the hotel create one single folio and have my pending transaction go away.
My friend didn’t expect his credit card to be billed 4!!! times (as per the number of the folios).
I did get my elite nights though.
Bottom line – not an easy ride. As Ricky has mentioned – know the risks.
Yeah. I really wouldn’t recommend doing this with casual acquaintances. You gotta have an understanding of "weird stuff may happen, but we’ll sort it out later" with your friend or family member.
Could that work with two guests? (let’s call it the "second and third guest trick"). For example my Platinum friend books an hotel in his name then email the hotel saying that there will be 2 more persons checking in before him.
In this situation, I think a more surreptitious way of going about it would be to still say that you are checking in first (as the second guest), and have your companion hang back a little bit from the check-in counter and then join you in the room later.
And what about the third guest (the Platinum friend who never intended to be there in the first place)? Should he contact the front desk about not being present or my companion (guest #2) just sneaks in and end of the story?
Platinum friend: Makes the booking, tells them Guest #1 will be checking in first.
Guest #1: Checks in first.
Guest #2: Lays low, goes to the room later.
Again, I would never say that anyone "should" do this, but it appears to be something that people have done in the past.
Just want to follow up, and suggest you maybe do a post about the programs I just listed, as it may be beneficial to your readers. Hitting 50+ nights a year is tough for the average Canadian with limited vacation time, and these programs are especially useful to someone who doesn’t have a set loyalty with a hotel chain.
Great suggestion. I myself have been finding more and more value in these programs as of late, and I do plan to write a post about them soon.
Pretty sure most of these give you your loyalty points and nights too, so it almost always makes sense to book through these programs whenever booking a cash rate, especially on one or two night stays where you get a nice $100 credit 🙂
I once booked one night at the Andaz West Hollywood for $279 through Prive. I ended up only using $20 of the $100. Even though the front desk agent wasn’t meant to, she applied the $80 remaining against my room charges. Score!
Most people on FlyerTalk are quite against this, and even view it as "fraud". T’s and C’s are pretty clear that the elite member must occupy the room, so you’re essentially stealing money from the hotel by forcing them to give your buddies free breakfast, etc.
Ordinary guests score perks they don’t deserve, and that may come at the expense of a true elite (such as a hotel with a limited number of suites upgrading someone using the second-guest trick at the expense of an actual elite member who’s earned the upgrade).
While I do agree that those who engage in it are blatantly violating the terms and conditions, I myself have a more relaxed conscience than those on FT and do it from time to time. Hey, I need my elite nights, and sharing (elite status perks) is caring.
But anyone with more of a conscience than me should look into things like Virtuoso, Hyatt Prive, Marriot Stars, Amex Fine Hotels Collection, etc. With these programs, you get what the elites get, plus a $50-$100 credit, and it costs you nothing extra.
Sorry for the rant.
You raise some great points. As with all things of this nature, one person’s fraud is another person’s guile, and everyone’s gotta make their own decision as to where to draw the line. Like you said, anyone who’s doing the second guest trick needs to keep in mind that they may be encroaching on other elites’ benefits, and may therefore be contributing to the dilution and eventual devaluation of the elite program.