We all have that friend who travels frequently for work or leisure and always seems to get free upgrades, consumer vouchers and other perks when he checks into a hotel.
But they are not the only ones to benefit from small bonuses and other appreciable advantages during a stay at the hotel. In fact, there are several ways to get more for your money in the world of hospitality.
Below, travel experts share their tips for getting hotel perks without spending a ton of money.
Try to book directly with the hotel…
“Book direct with the hotel,” advised the budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “You will be surprised that sometimes you can get a better deal by booking directly with the hotel because [they’d] do not lose payment for booking on a third-party booking site. They will also be more likely to give you free amenities in that booking, as it may come with a special offer on their site.
Once you have received your confirmation, consider emailing the hotel with your stay details and let them know how much you are looking forward to your stay there. This personal touch could mark your visit to the hotel for special attention.
…But do a comparison with third-party sites first
"Look for hotels that offer perks up front, like a hotel with free breakfast and free parking," Woroch said. "I like using a site like Hotels.com to see what hotels are available in the area I’m traveling to and see what free perks are included as they do a good job of promoting these on the site.”
Third-party booking sites are great for reviewing various options and comparing prices and amenities included in rates. Woroch recommended comparing your preferred option from Hotels.com search with the booking price listed directly on the hotel’s website.
If it’s the same price and you’re trying to retain the hotel, you might as well go ahead and book directly with the brand. Still, there can be advantages to booking on a third-party website.
"Hotels.com has cheaper options, and when you book 10 nights on the site, you get one night free, so it’s a great way to get free hotel reservations in the future," noted Woroch.
"Sometimes I just need something quick or easy and I’ll use Booking.com," she explained. "This year I became a level three genius and noticed a huge upside and benefit from their loyalty program. I saved hundreds of dollars in the last month alone because I automatically get at least 20 % off if not more on most hotel stays booked through them, I’ve also upgraded almost every time at no extra cost because of it.”
Tell the hotel you’re celebrating
Chris Hutchins, a "financial optimizer" and podcast host "All hacks", approves the reservation directly with the hotel and sends a personal email. In fact, he recommends going further.
"Tell them if you’re celebrating something special," he said. "So follow Again [a] little days before arrival to confirm that you are still coming. I’ve seen this work so many times I’ve stopped counting, and people have gotten upgrades, free breakfast, a bottle of champagne, and once the hotel actually monogrammed the client’s initials on their pillows.
Remember that hotels are in the hospitality business, so most will do their best to earn your loyalty.
"So many hotels want to make sure you have the most memorable experience and will make your stay that much more special, whether it’s a birthday or anniversary, etc.," Susag said. "And it’s a bonus for them if you also post the kind gesture they are doing on social media."
Join the hotel loyalty program
"Becoming a loyal member of a hotel through credit cards, or simply signing up for its membership, is the best way to earn additional benefits," Susag said, pointing to popular hotel rewards programs like Marriott. Bonvoy, World of Hyatt and Hilton Honors. "It allows you to accumulate points that can be redeemed for room upgrades, free stays, etc. Also, they tend to come with other perks the more you use these hotels, like free breakfast , free parking, late check-out times, etc.
Susag also thinks the hotel staff are very accommodating when you are a member of the loyalty program. Still, when it comes to sticking with one brand, there can be downsides as well as upsides.
"It’s great if you don’t mind staying at the same hotel chain each time, but you’re giving up a lot of flexibility on where you might stay each trip," Hutchins said. "That said, I always recommend signing up for hotel loyalty programs and earning points with every trip."
If you decide to earn more points toward loyalty status by getting a hotel-branded credit card, be sure to compare rates and benefits among different options. Woroch recommends checking out sites like CardRates.com.
Do your research
“Tripadvisor reviews are a great resource for answering any questions you have about the hotel or resort you’re staying at,” Hutchins said. “You can search them for all sorts of topics, like whether you need to make advance reservations at hotel restaurants, whether the hotel offers free sunscreen at the pool (some do) or how much they charge for parking (and if they do, if you can park nearby for less).
If you see a tourist tax on your reservation, try to familiarize yourself with all that it includes before your trip.
"Often there may be free fitness classes or free rentals of snorkel gear, kayaks, or bikes," Hutchins said. “Or if you want to avoid resort fees, Hyatt and Hilton are waiving resort fees when you book with points.”
Hotels may also offer specific benefits depending on their location.
"Staying close to airports can be extremely beneficial for anyone with early or late flights, as hotels in this area tend to be very accommodating in allowing you to have very early check-in or check-out times or late," Susag said. “I just got a hotel in Abu Dhabi that allows me to check in at 8:30 am at no extra charge, as they pride themselves on being accommodating to guests arriving early or leaving very late due to flights.”
Sometimes hotels in larger cities partner with nearby restaurants, gyms, or other vendors to offer discounts to guests. They may have on-site happy hours, shows, or special fitness classes. The concierge can advise you on these options.
"I don’t think people take advantage of their hotel concierge as much as they should," Hutchins said. “They’re on hand as soon as you’ve booked your room, and they can be incredibly helpful in arranging just about anything you need – planning activities, making restaurant reservations, arranging babysitting and everything what you might need during your stay.”
“They are also good at asking questions about the hotel,” he continued. “For example, we’re going on a family trip to Hawaii this fall, and the hotel already has a Pack 'n Play and a crib for our room at no extra cost.”
Just ask for upgrades
"Perhaps the easiest way to get hotel perks is to ask when you check in," said one travel blogger. Sean Lau. “Depending on hotel occupancy, length of stay and other factors, reception may offer you a free upgrade. After all, they want every guest to be happy. And if it doesn’t affect how they run their business, the hotel is usually more than happy to accommodate your request.
It’s always worth seeing if you can get a room upgrade, free parking, or other amenities. If you don’t ask, you’ll never know.
"It doesn’t hurt to ask," said Stephanie Be, travel blogger and founder of the travel website. Buena. "I never expect anything ― try phrases like 'Is there a way…' 'I know the odds are low, but I was wondering if…' Also include the reason for the request ― a friend’s birthday, a big celebration, hard work, you really want to make the most of this stay.”
Use a travel agency
"If you think travel agents are a thing of the past, you may be missing out on another great way to get perks and upgrades, as many luxury hotels offer a bundle of special perks such as the free breakfast, upgrades and resort credits they give to customers of travel agencies they work with,” Hutchins said.
This tip may not apply to your average trip, but keep these connections in mind if you’re looking to splurge a bit.
"If you’re taking a luxury vacation, it’s definitely worth contacting an agent, especially because you generally won’t have to pay a higher rate," Hutchins said.
“Build that personal connection,” Susag advised. “I really prefer to call the hotel itself as it gives voice to a name and hotel staff are much more likely to help. Finally, just be nice and polite. You never know how far a little kindness can go!
Hutchins offered similar advice.
"If all else fails," he said, "I found that being nice to the person checking you in and just asking if there’s anything special they can do for your stay can sometimes lead to an unexpected surprise during your stay."