One of the most valuable benefits of earning elite status with hotel loyalty programs is the ability to receive complimentary room and suite upgrades when you stay with a hotel.
Although most elite status benefits apply automatically to your stay without any action on your part, that isn’t necessarily the case when it comes to the particular benefit of complimentary upgrades.
Instead, with upgrades, putting in a little bit of legwork on your end – otherwise known as the art of “suite-talking” – can significantly improve your chances of securing an upgrade, while also giving you the chance to score unbelievable upgrades to a hotel’s biggest and best suites.
What Is Suite-Talking?
Suite-talking is the practice of proactively reaching out to your hotel after making a reservation and before arriving for your stay, in order to request a suite upgrade as an elite member who’s eligible for one.
Suite-talking can be conducted via email, phone, text message, or the dedicated chat service on the hotel chain’s mobile app. It can also happen as part of the check-in interaction itself on your day of arrival, which is typically your final chance to work some suite-talking magic.
It might surprise you just how effective suite-talking can be to significantly elevate your hotel stays when you travel.
Why Is Suite-Talking Necessary?
You might be wondering: if elite status members are entitled to suite upgrades as part of their benefits, why would they need to explicitly ask for them? Shouldn’t suite upgrades be granted automatically?
Sadly, the answer is no. To understand why, it’s important to realize a key fact about how hotel loyalty programs work: even though members are rewarded for their loyalty to a specific hotel chain, the actual benefits are delivered by individual hotels, which are usually a separate entity from the hotel chain itself.
As a result, incentives are not always aligned. The loyalty program very much intends to reward members with suite upgrades every time, but the hotel itself may prefer to keep the suites unoccupied so that they have a chance of selling it for cash later that day.
Therefore, you’ll find that hotels tend to offer upgrades with varying degrees of proactivity. Some hotels will be more generous with upgrades, while others will be more stingy.
This uneven landscape is why suite-talking is necessary to give you the best odds of securing the upgrade that you’re entitled to as an elite member.
Common Reasons Why You Might Want an Upgrade
For best results when pursuing a suite upgrade, your communications with the hotel should emphasize either an enthusiastic desire for enhancing your upcoming experience, or a genuine need for the upgrade, or even both.
The most obvious reason of a desire for an upgrade would be if you’re celebrating a special occasion of some sort: a honeymoon, birthday, anniversary, holiday, graduation, work milestone, or any other major life event.
For special occasions, not only will the hotel do their best to extend an upgrade, but they might even offer a complimentary welcome drink or amenity to enhance your celebrations.
If you aren’t celebrating anything, there are still many good reasons that you might want to make a hotel stay special.
For example, you might say that you’re excited to be staying at one of the city’s best hotels on your first visit to a new place, or you might mention that you’re looking forward to checking out the property based on a friend’s glowing recommendation.
Feel free to think outside the box here, and try to communicate unique personal reasons why you’d like to pursue a particular upgrade.
One of my favourite examples from our Prince of Travel membership group is when someone secured a notoriously hard-to-get premium suite upgrade by mentioning that they were a big fan of the designer who worked on the room’s interiors.
Need for an upgrade
You might also offer up some practical reasons why an upgrade would be immensely useful for your stay.
For example, you might say that you’d prefer to have more space so that your partner can sleep in in the mornings while you work in a separate room (or vice versa).
Alternatively, you could mention that you’re travelling with a larger group and would love to have the extra square footage to spread out.
Because you’re entitled to one
Finally, always remember to mention your elite status, which is what entitles you to the upgrade in the first place. An offhand remark like “…as a Platinum Elite member” should do the trick.
The hotel should know this anyway, but you’d be surprised how often individual hotels aren’t fully aware of elite benefits and the rules of the program.
There’s one important point to remember, though: while suite-talking can be very effective, it’s never a guarantee of an upgrade.
Demonstrating enthusiasm and a genuine need will help your chances of a successful upgrade, but if you do want to be absolutely certain that you’re getting a particular room or suite, then the only way is to pay for that room or suite directly rather than relying on the hotel’s generosity.
How to Communicate with the Hotel
There are many opportunities between the time of making a reservation and the time of the actual stay that you can engage the hotel with some of your suite-talking charm.
Feel free to take advantage of some or all of these opportunities, depending on how keen you are to be upgraded.
Email or phone
The first opportunity to request for a suite upgrade is by getting in touch with the hotel anytime after making a reservation. This is typically easiest done via email, although the old-school folks among you may also prefer to pick up the phone and give the hotel front desk a call.
Hotel’s phone numbers are typically widely available through a Google search. Email addresses might require some more sleuthing, or you can follow this method of finding email addresses for Marriott properties.
The objective of your conversation here is simply to let the hotel know that you’d be extremely grateful if they’re able to extend a suite upgrade for your stay.
If you’re speaking to the front desk over the phone, by all means pull out your natural charms in getting the front desk agent over on your side. On the other hand, email might call for more formal language.
Either way, always remember to be polite and respectful, while clearly letting the hotel know about your desire for an upgrade.
While suite upgrades can be granted at this advanced stage, the most common outcome is that the hotel will reply and let you know that your request has been noted, and will be subject to availability on the day of arrival.
The hotel may also extend an offer for a paid upgrade if you absolutely wish to lock in your upgrade now. You can always consider the offer, though it’s also never as fun as scoring a killer upgrade for free!
Chat or text message
That brings us to the few days leading up to your arrival, when suite-talking can have a major impact.
In this period, hotels will have a better sense of their occupancy patterns during the nights of the guest’s stay. That means that they may be more willing to confirm an upgrade in advance for a valued guest if they predict that the suite wouldn’t otherwise sell for cash.
You should make the most of this situation to reiterate your suite upgrade request in the days before your stay (or make your request for the first time if you haven’t already).
Some hotel chains, most notably Marriott Bonvoy, offer a chat service that’s particularly useful for this purpose. Use the Marriott app to chat with your hotel’s front desk agent starting two days before your stay.
Meanwhile, Hyatt doesn’t appear to offer a chat service directly with the front desk, although they often allow you to communicate with the front desk via text message.
The Hilton app also supports a chat service for select brands, such as full-service Hilton hotels. For other Hilton brands, as well as most other independent hotels (say, a hotel you booked with Amex FHR), you might have to stick with email or phone.
Either way, now is another opportunity (and arguably the best opportunity at any point before your stay) to make sure the hotel knows how appreciative you’d be for a suite upgrade.
Again, sometimes the hotel will go ahead and confirm the upgrade at this stage, but other times they may let you know that it remains subject to availability on the day of check-in.
On the day of arrival
For that reason, I personally like to send the front desk a quick note again on the morning of my arrival, even if I’m only arriving later in the day. By this point, the hotel should have a very clear idea of their predicted occupancy that evening.
Let the hotel know your estimated arrival time as a courtesy, and take the opportunity to also inquire if your preferred suite looks available for the evening.
A front desk agent who looks favourably on your proactive communications might be able to confirm your upgrade right then and there.
At the check-in desk
If all else fails, the check-in interaction itself gives you a final chance to request a suite upgrade in person.
Typically, the front desk agent helping you with check-in procedures will be aware of your previous suite upgrade requests. If a suite is indeed available, they’ll be happy to let you know.
If they don’t say anything, or if they mention that your reservation is confirmed in the room that you had originally booked, or if they mention that they’re delighted to have upgraded you to a better room, but not a suite – then it’s now or never to make your case for the suite upgrade that you want.
You might simply ask: “Were there any suites available for tonight?” before reiterating some of the reasons you wanted an upgrade.
Don’t forget to name-drop your elite status too. Plus, a bit of extra colour describing how much business you’ve given to the hotel chain over the last few years wouldn’t hurt either.
One more tactic might help your chances: you could pull up your app and check whether there are any suites available for sale that night, and if so, ask the front desk associate whether that particular suite might be available for your upgrade.
However, this is by no means a guarantee. Just because a suite is available for sale, doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s available for an upgrade. Still, the act of asking the question might just move the needle for the hotel to decide to extend the upgrade.
During your stay
I had mentioned that the check-in interaction is the final opportunity for a suite upgrade. Well, that’s not 100% true.
The terms and conditions of most loyalty programs only entitle guests to an upgrade at the time of check-in. However, some hotels do go above and beyond from time to time, and it is indeed possible to upgrade in the middle of your stay.
One of the more common reasons this might happen is if the hotel was very receptive to your suite upgrade requests at the start, but genuinely were not able to extend an upgrade due to their full occupancy at the time.
If this happens, and a suite opens up later on during your stay (which you can monitor by doing a sample search for a new booking), you could approach the front desk again to see if they might be willing to move you to an upgraded suite.
Another possibility for asking for a mid-stay upgrade would be as a measure of compensation for something that has gone wrong during the stay.
If you were inconvenienced or your experience was soured in a meaningful way, then you could let the hotel know that being upgraded to better living quarters for the rest of your stay would go a long way towards resolving the issue.
These conversations are typically best had with the hotel’s general manager, rather than the front desk associate, for the best chances of success.
Which Suite Should You Request?
So far, we’ve only talked about asking the hotel for any suite upgrade. However, you also have the possibility of putting in a request for a particular suite – including the hotel’s best suites.
While Hyatt hotels tend to have stricter rules as to which suites are eligible for free elite upgrades and which aren’t (using a distinction between “standard suites” and “premium suites”, with the latter subject to additional payment in cash or points), I’ve found that Marriott and Hilton hotels can be much more flexible in this regard.
You can run a sample search for the hotel’s rooms on your stay dates to see which suites remain unoccupied for the duration of your stay. If a suite is unsold, you can try your luck asking to be upgraded to it.
As you’d imagine, higher-tier and more expensive suites are more difficult to suite-talk your way into – but by no means impossible.
You’ll certainly need to pull out all the stops if you’re aiming for a vice-presidential or presidential suite. This might be the time to go heavy on emphasizing a once-in-a-lifetime celebration, like a milestone birthday or anniversary.
Alternatively, if you have a meaningful online following or some other type of prominent influence, it wouldn’t hurt to mention that either.
As with many things in this game we play, you’ll never get anything if you never ask. Worst case scenario, if your request for a top-tier suite is deemed outlandish and shot down, you can suite-talk your way to a regular suite as usual.
What About Suite Upgrade Instruments?
Some hotel loyalty programs offer suite upgrade instruments among their loyalty benefits.
For example, World of Hyatt offers Suite Upgrade Awards as part of their Milestone Awards, which can be used to confirm and guarantee a suite upgrade at the time of booking a hotel.
Meanwhile, Marriott Bonvoy offers Suite Night Awards as part of their Annual Choice Benefits. These can be used to request a confirmed upgrade up to five days in advance of the stay, although the request isn’t guaranteed and can sometimes be denied.
If you use a suite upgrade instrument to lock in a suite that you’d be happy with before your arrival, that can save you the energy of engaging the hotel in suite-talking.
However, suite-talking can still potentially be effective on top of the confirmed suite upgrade. If you’ve locked in a regular suite, you might be able to charm your way into a larger premium suite if you can tell a compelling story and they’re otherwise unoccupied.
Therefore, you can think of upgrade instruments as useful tools in your overall hotel upgrade strategy, whether it’s for saving yourself the energy of organic suite-talking or to eventually build on it with further suite-talking.
At the end of the day, since you’re always dealing with individual hotels with their own preferences when it comes to upgrading elite members, nothing beats the “human element” of communicating directly with the hotel to get what you want out of the stay.
Examples of Successful Suite-Talking
A few years ago, I documented my suite-talking efforts at every hotel I patronized on some of my trips in order to prove the effectiveness of these strategies. You can review those “suite-talking diaries” below:
More recently, suite-talking has continued to prove successful along my travels, giving me some very memorable upgrades to unique hotel suites around the world.
However, even though it’s highly effective, over the years I’ve come to appreciate suite-talking as something that’s best practiced in moderation, rather than for every single hotel I stay at.
For one, often times I simply don’t need an upgrade, like if I’m staying at a limited-service property or being on the property for a limited amount of time.
If I’m travelling solo at a run-of-the-mill hotel, I often won’t bother with the email or even chat process, and I might casually inquire about an upgrade at the front desk if I’m feeling like it.
I typically put more effort into suite-talking when I’m travelling with my partner, and when we’re staying at an upscale property where I’d like to experience the best of what the hotel has to offer.
After all, there’s no doubt a bit of the “tragedy of the commons” at play with this strategy. If any single hotel consistently receives suite upgrade requests all the time from elite members, then there’s simply not enough suites to make everyone happy.
Therefore, save your suite-talking efforts for when they truly matter to you: those favourite cities of yours, those special trips with loved ones, those celebrations that will last long in the memory.
Because of the unique way that hotel loyalty programs operate, elite members don’t always automatically receive hotel suite upgrades even though they’re entitled to them.
The art of suite-talking – putting in a bit of legwork and communicating your upgrade wishes with the hotel in advance of your stay – will give you vastly superior hotel upgrade experiences compared to just waiting and hoping to receive upgrades.
You can get in touch with the hotel via email, phone, or chat, or simply speak to the front desk associate upon checking in. There’s a variety of reasons why you might value an upgrade, so feel free to get creative along your suite-talking efforts.
I’m sure that Prince of Travel readers have some incredible suite-talking success stories under your belts. Feel free to share your best upgrade experiences in the comments below.