We all have that friend who frequently travels for work or leisure and always seems to get free upgrades, drink vouchers and other perks when they check into a hotel.
But they’re not the only one who can get little bonus amenities and other nice benefits during a hotel stay. In fact, there are several ways to get more bang for your buck in the hospitality world.
Below, travel experts share their tips for getting hotel perks without spending a ton of money.
Try booking with the hotel directly...
“Book directly with the hotel,” advised budgeting expert Andrea Woroch. “You will be surprised that sometimes you can get a better deal when you book directly with the hotel because [they’d] rather not lose any of the reservation payment to a third-party booking site. They will also be more likely to give you some free amenities in that booking, as it may come with a special on their site.”
Once you’ve received your confirmation, consider sending an email to the hotel with the details of your stay, and tell them how much you’re looking forward to your time there. That personal touch might flag your visit to the hotel for special attention.
...But first do a comparison with third-party sites
“Look for hotels that offer perks upfront, like a hotel with free breakfast and free parking,” Woroch said. “I like using a site like Hotels.com to see which hotels are available in the area I’m traveling to and seeing which free perks are included, since they do a good job at promoting them on the site.”
Third-party booking sites are great for reviewing various options and comparing the prices and amenities included in the rates. Woroch recommended comparing your preferred option from the Hotels.com search with the booking price that’s listed on the hotel website directly.
If it’s the same price and you’re trying to build up hotel loyalty, you might as well go ahead and book right with the brand. Still, there can be perks to booking on a third-party website.
“Hotels.com will price-match cheaper options, and when you book 10 nights with the site, you get a free night, so that’s a great way to get free hotel bookings in the future,” Woroch noted.
“Sometimes I just need something quick or easy and will use Booking.com,” she explained. “This year I became a genius level three and I have noticed a huge advantage and benefit of their loyalty program. I have saved hundreds of dollars just in the last month alone because I automatically get at least 20% off, if not more, for most hotel stays booked through them. I also get upgraded almost every time for no extra charge because of that.”
Tell the hotel you’re celebrating
Chris Hutchins, a “financial optimizer” and host of the podcast “All the Hacks,” endorses booking directly with the hotel and sending a personal email. In fact, he recommends going a step further.
“Tell them if you’re celebrating anything special,” he said. “Then follow up again [a] few days before arrival to confirm you’re still coming. I’ve seen this work so many times I stopped counting, and people have gotten upgrades, free breakfast, a bottle of champagne and, one time, the hotel actually monogrammed the guest’s initials on their pillows.”
Remember that hotels are in the hospitality business, so most will try their best to earn your loyalty.
“So many hotels want to make sure you have the most memorable experience and will make your stay extra-special, whether it’s for a birthday or anniversary, etc.,” Susag said. “And it’s a bonus for them if you post the kind gesture that they do on social media, too.”
Join the hotel loyalty program
“Becoming a loyal member of a hotel via credit cards, or just signing up for their membership, is the best way to get extra perks,” 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, and more. Also, they tend to come with other perks the more that you use those hotels, like free breakfast, free parking, later checkout times, etc.”
Susag also believes hotel staff are extra accommodating when you’re a member of the loyalty program. Still, when it comes to sticking with one brand, there can be downsides as well as upsides.
“This is great if you don’t mind staying in the same hotel chain every time, but you give up a lot of flexibility on where you might stay every trip,” Hutchins said. “That said, I always recommend signing up for the hotel loyalty programs and earning points on every trip.”
If you decide to earn more points toward loyalty status by getting a hotel-branded credit card, be sure to compare the rates and benefits among the various options. Woroch recommends checking sites like CardRates.com.
Do your research
“A great resource when it comes to answering all your questions about the hotel or resort you’re staying at is Tripadvisor reviews,” Hutchins said. “You can search them for all kinds of topics, like whether you need to make reservations in advance at the hotel restaurants, whether the hotel offers free sunscreen at the pool (some do) or how much they charge for parking (and if they do, whether you can park nearby for less).”
If you see a resort fee on your reservation, try to familiarize yourself with everything it includes before your trip.
“Oftentimes there might be free fitness classes or free rentals for snorkel gear, kayaks or bicycles,” Hutchins said. “Or if you want to avoid the resort fee, Hyatt and Hilton waive resort fees when you book with points.”
Hotels may also offer specific perks based on their locations.
“Staying near airports can be extremely beneficial for anyone who has either early or late flights, because the hotels in that area tend to be extra accommodating in terms of allowing you to have extra-early or late check-in or checkout times,” Susag said. “I just had a hotel in Abu Dhabi allow me to check in at no extra cost at 8:30 a.m. because they pride themselves on being accommodating to guests arriving early or leaving very late due to flights.”
Sometimes hotels in big cities partner with nearby restaurants, gyms or other vendors to offer discounts to guests. They may have on-site happy hours, performances or special fitness classes. The concierge can fill you in on any such options.
“I don’t think people take advantage of their hotel concierge as much as they should,” Hutchins said. “They’re available to you as soon as you’ve booked your room, and they can be incredibly helpful at organizing just about anything you need ― planning activities, making restaurant reservations, organizing child care and anything else you might need during your stay.”
“They’re also great at asking questions about the hotel,” he went on. “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 held for our room at no extra cost.”
Just ask for upgrades
“Perhaps the easiest way to get hotel perks is by asking when you check in,” said travel blogger Sean Lau. “Depending on the hotel’s occupancy rate, how long you are staying, and other factors, the reception might just give you an upgrade free of charge. 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 a shot to see 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, a travel blogger and founder of the travel website Buena. “I never expect anything ― try phrases like ‘Is there any way...’ ‘I know the chance is low, but I was wondering if...’ Also, state the reason for the request ― a friend’s birthday, a big celebration, work has been hard, you really want to make the most out of this stay.”
Use a travel agent
“If you think travel agents are a thing of the past, you might be overlooking another great way to get perks and upgrades, because many luxury hotels have a set of special perks like free breakfast, upgrades and resort credits that they offer to clients of travel agencies they work with,” Hutchins said.
This tip might not apply to your average trip, but keep those connections in mind if you’re looking to splurge a little.
“If you’re taking a luxury vacation, it’s absolutely worth reaching out to an agent, especially because you usually won’t have to pay a higher rate,” Hutchins said.
“Build that personal connection,” Susag advised. “I really prefer calling the hotel itself, because it puts a voice to a name and hotel staff are much more likely to help you out. Finally, just be kind and polite. You never know how far a little kindness can go!”
Hutchins offered similar advice.
“If all else fails,” he said, “I’ve 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 result in an unexpected surprise during your stay.”