Some hotel chains offer room upgrades of varying levels to their elite guests. These are typically listed as “if available upon checkin” but often moving up from a double queen room to a coveted suite seems like hard work. But really, if the room is available, why are status hotel upgrades so tough to execute?
Statuses That Offer Upgrades
With the recent change from Hyatt Gold Passport to World of Hyatt, the chain came up to par with what Marriott, SPG, Hilton, IHG and other already offer for their top-tier elite guests – free upgrades at checkin. With Marriott and IHG, this perk comes in at 75 nights/year with each chain. Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG – now owned by Marriott but run independently… for now) offers the perk – but better – at 50 nights. Hyatt (like Hilton) makes you wait until 60 nights/year unless you were a top-tier guest last year, in which case they want 55 nights from you for free upgrades.
Why Hotel Status Upgrades Are Tough
Individual hotels properties are more or less franchise locations each with a separate owner. Each of those owners run their business a certain way and some of them are more generous while others are stingier when it comes to frequent guests. With each hotelier deciding how strictly or loosely to follow the policies of the brand, consistency is not as strong as advertised.
Every suite given away for the price of a regular room is a potential loss of revenue for the hotelier. While the inventory is perishable (you can’t ever sell a room night once the night has passed) the real problem is checkin time – some guests book later at night. If a top-tier guest wants to checkin at 3PM and there are two suites available, giving that upgrade potentially takes money out of the owner’s pocket later that night.
Another issue is the definition of what qualifies as an upgrade. For Platinum SPG members they made it as clear as possible, “Best Room Available” which made the process pretty simple. At checkin, you could ask for an upgrade and if they said no, it would be fairly easy to validate by opening the SPG app and attempting to book a better room. But when Marriott and IHG says, “room upgrade” that leaves it far too open to interpretation. Is a corner room with a better view an upgrade over the room next to the ice machine? Sure. What about a King when you booked two twins and you’re traveling alone? Maybe. Hilton says, “space-available upgrade to a preferred room”. I prefer a suite, is space available?
“Sir, we have upgraded you to a high floor”
Great. What does that do for me? Is the room actually better or is it the same as one on a lower floor? And if it is, does the upgrade really count as an upgrade?
Corporate rates also muddy the waters. If a guest works for IBM and books three nights for $89/nt while other guests are paying $150/nt it makes sense why the hotel management is annoyed. Those higher revenue guests are spending more with the hotel and require less. The single night guest booking standard rates are not the ones getting a free breakfast or drinking booze in the lounge – they should be the ones getting upgraded if anyone, right?
Management also has to charge for their products and enforce pricing and value standards. No one will ever pay for a suite if it’s always given away for free.
My reaction and that of most of my frequent flying peers, is to just accept the “no” when I am told that there are no suites available or that my room has already been upgraded (though not a suite). At checkin I really don’t want to have an argument or talk to a manager – I don’t want to have to mention my status at checkin. At all costs I want to avoid the DYKWIA (Do You Know Who I Am?) approach of insistence and ‘suite by force’ but sometimes it feels like that’s the only way to get the point across.
Up until last week I would ask for a suite while stating status at checkin and wouldn’t challenge them on a no, I almost felt bad about asking for one even though I was entitled through my benefits. It seems that with the exception of SPG, the perk is really a passive one, difficult to interpret and should not be expected to actually come through.
How Is This Different Though?
Frequent flyers and frequent hotel guests often say things like,
“If you wanted a seat in first class, you should have booked one.”
Or “If you wanted a suite, why did you book a double twin?”
However, let’s pretend for a second that you’re a United 1K, a Delta Diamond, or American Executive Platinum. You’re at the top of the upgrade list but don’t clear. From your seat at the bulkhead, the door closes, and there are three seats empty in first class. Are you pissed? Do you press your call button, complain on the website, tweet an image to the social media team? I don’t know a top-tier elite that would site in the back without a peep and if you are such a mild-mannered top-tier flyer, I’m sure you’ll humbly let me know in the comments.
What if the airline awarded you only base miles with no status bonus? Would you just let it go or would you call them up and sort it out? Or maybe you’re flying on an international coach ticket but have lounge access through your status. You stop at the lounge and are denied entry. Do you shrug your shoulders, turn around and find an airport Chili’s?
For the longest time I saw the benefit as a nice to have like extra fries in the bag from Five Guys. But those days are gone for me. I wouldn’t turn a blind eye to a first class seat going empty, I wouldn’t accept fewer miles than what I am owed, suites and upgrades are no longer the forgiven exception for me.
The biggest problem is the elites have a culture to change. If it is promised and the conditions are met, the benefits should be applied. I have often heard checkin staff underscore the “if available” portion of these upgrade rules. Underscore all you want, if it says upgrade and doesn’t define what that is, I will get out my phone and demonstrate that there are plenty of upgrade options available on that night, and if there are not, then fine – I should have booked the suite in the first instance. But I am no longer accepting that crutch, management is going to have to dig a little deeper.
I missed out on an upgrade on my last stay at the Hilton Mexico City Airport Hotel – even though I asked for one in Spanish – she simply breezed past it as she gave me my other benefits. It might have been a simple oversight, but I am going to start challenging that.
Like everyone else, I was kind of going along with the status quo, if I get an upgrade great, and if I don’t then I don’t. Those days are over. I hate having to ask for a benefit that I know is included with my room or status but if that’s the way it has to be then so be it.
Being “That Guy”
I am sure the commenters are getting their keyboards all fired up, ready to tell me how entitled I am. That’s fine. That’s literally what I am. I am entitled to these benefits as a result of my status. Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, and all the rest have made a deal with me, if I stay at their hotels an awful lot, and spend an awful lot of money with them, I am entitled to these benefits. I am staying at their hotels because of these benefits and often spending more money than I absolutely have to (instead of staying at cheaper hotels).
If that makes me “That Guy”, at this point I am comfortable with that. This is a blog for those that maximize their points, miles and status and what good is status without benefits? And what good are the benefits if they aren’t given?
What about you? Are you going to expect and ask for status hotel upgrades?