Hotel Elite Room Upgrades: How to Guarantee Your Benefits & Keep a Hotel Honest

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hotel elite status room upgrades
The Grand Wailea is a beautiful property.

Getting Hotel Rooms Upgrades as an Elite

One of the greatest things about this hobby is learning how to obtain elite status which makes traveling a lot more rewarding and often easier. I have previously written about the various hotel statuses I hold and how I earned them.

As a recap I hold:

  • Hyatt Diamond
  • SPG Gold
  • Hilton HHonors Gold
  • Club Carlson Gold
  • Best Western Diamond
  • IHG Rewards Platinum

Among the biggest perks of having hotel status is getting space available upgrades into preferred rooms. In some cases like with Hyatt, as a Diamond the terms say I should get the highest category non-suite room available. I have found this doesn’t always happen and I rarely say anything since it normally isn’t a big deal.

In other programs the terms don’t necessarily guarantee the highest category, but just a one category upgrade. What many hotels have done is split their lower tier categories to both restrict award space and to limit upgrades. The Andaz Maui did this with “Garden” and “Mountain” view rooms and the Grand Wailea has done this with “Terrace” & “Garden” view rooms.

Grand Wailea’s Dishonest Policy

hotel elite status room upgrades
Grand Wailea’s beach.

The other day my family and I checked into the Grand Wailea as HHonors Gold members. Since we used free night certificates, we were booked into Terrace view rooms. They offered to give us a Garden View as an upgrade, even though Garden View rooms most often sell for the same price (or at most $5 more) and used to be the same room category once upon a time.

I asked the check-in agent about an Oceanview room which is the next category up and is not even their top category room. The front desk agent said as a Gold I could get a “special price” of $70 per night to upgrade to an Oceanview room. When I asked why the upgrade wouldn’t be complimentary, she said they had limited space. So they had enough space to sell it to me, but not enough to give it to me. She also explained that they don’t upgrade Golds to Oceanview rooms, although I know of many who have been upgraded including myself in 2013.

So this policy irks me a little bit, but I continued to be polite as we moved through the conversation. I did admittedly press her a bit on why they could sell it and not give it to an elite and then she made a mistake. She told me that Oceanview rooms normally go for $1,000. That was the last straw for me. I always check a hotel’s website before visiting to see what categories are for sale. I happened to know that the rooms were going for less than $400 for the night and I knew the difference in price between my room category and an Oceanview was $45.

While I understand check-in upgrade prices differ from the room rate being charged, for the front desk clerk to say I was getting a special price of $70 as a Gold and then to lie about room rates was too much. I eventually spoke to a manager who defended their policy on upgrades (the rate differential part). Their resolution was to offer me the Oceanview for $45 (the same differential available to anyone on their website) or give me breakfast and the room for $70.

What to Do When Looking for an Upgrade

hotel elite status room upgrades
The view from our room at the Grand Wailea.

If you are checking into a hotel and looking for an upgrade based on your status, you should know what you are entitled to in the program’s terms. You have earned those benefits and shouldn’t feel awkward asking for them. I always suggest checking the hotel’s website ahead of time to see what room categories are being sold, so you know what is available and the prices. In the case of the Grand Wailea that turned out to be a valuable habit.

I also want to stress how important being friendly and polite is. At the Grand Wailea I was polite, but that didn’t get me anywhere. Through our two day stay at the hotel we quickly learned that the staff’s friendliness and service is lacking in many ways at this hotel.  It was a stark contrast to both the Andaz and Hyatt Regency Maui where everything was beyond expectations.

Grand Wailea Resolution

hotel elite status room upgrades
Even the Grand Wailea’s lobby is impressive.

Since I felt that the Grand Wailea was not honoring the terms and at best was being dishonest with customers, I decided to tweet (not from my blog account since I don’t want that to affect how I am treated) to Hilton HHonors instead of trying to escalate things further at the front desk. In my tweet I explained exactly what happened. They had to ask hotel management to contact me twice (another sign of how this hotel is run), but eventually they did contact us and without any hesitation waived the upgrade fee without me even having to ask.

As another sign of just how disorganized this hotel is, the manager never took the upgrade fee off of the bill as agreed, so we had to wait 45 minutes at checkout to get it corrected. On top of that, the original check-in agent gave us dirty looks several times while we were waiting. It was a fitting end to a very mixed stay at a beautiful property with fantastic rooms, but indifferent and stoic service in most areas.

Conclusion

Ultimately I have no issue with elite upgrade policies being enforced as written, but I don’t like it when hotels split award categories, lie about upgrade prices and are dishonest about room rates just to keep an elite member from getting a room that is otherwise unsold. As is the case with most anything, being an informed consumer will help you in the end and twitter once again proved that it can be a powerful tool in getting a resolution.


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19 COMMENTS

  1. Last time I’ve checked with hhonor , their gold was entitled you for a space available preferred room upgrade.
    I don’t think it means next category. Preferred may be corner room, higher floor , away from ice vending..etc
    however they’re obviously being dishonest for catagory difference upgrade in cash and which I find alot properties are doing this, as when I was in corad bali with my free cert and upgrade to lagoon room type, I paid a little over what the difference was would cost me, it wasnt much I ended up paying thinking it may be the room rate change for checking in on the spot.

    • Here are the terms, “At Waldorf Astoria® Hotels & Resorts, Conrad® Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Curio – A Collection by Hilton, and DoubleTree by Hilton™ properties, Gold HHonors guests receive upgrades to preferred rooms, which may include the next-best available room from the room type booked. Upgrades may also include rooms with desirable views, corner rooms, rooms on high floors, rooms with special amenities, or rooms on Executive Floors, as identified by each property.”

      Since this hotel determines rooms categories by view, floor, etc. They read that to mean a one category upgrade and I do as well. Of course they can upgrade further as notated in the terms. My main issue with this was first that the Garden view used to be the base category and then they split that category to restrict awards and upgrades.

      Even that was alright, but I didn’t like being told the room costs $1,000 and then being sold an upgrade that is higher than the actual room cost differential. Again, that is the property’s policy and I wanted to use that as more of an example to show why it can be a good idea to look at what room types and rates are available before checking in.

  2. This hotel is pretty known for this, we were there as Diamonds & had the farthest room from the beach overlooking a depressed children’s playground. They get so many people redeeming points there that they really don’t care. We liked the pool but found the lack of chairs with shade unbearable. Any good real estate was taken up by cabanas that cost big $ & those just mostly sat empty. Loved Maui, but not really interested in going back to this hotel again.

    • I agree with your thoughts 100%. The Andaz and Hyatt Regency hotels are much better overall experiences in my opinion, although the pool at the GW is pretty amazing.

  3. I am a Marriott Gold elite and the very best way to get a room upgrade is to contact the property directly before arrival. Contact either the concierge, front desk manager, GM, whoever you can get contact info for. Politely ask for what you want. Tell them why you want an upgrade and give them the exact details of your stay including confirmation numbers and elite account info. If you email them and say you have an anniversary, spouse birthday, honeymoon/babymoon, etc., they will very often look to get you upgraded. Now during very high travel times like Christmas (especially in Hawaii) it might not be doable but it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask. I have successfully been upgraded as Marriott Gold to great rooms in NYC (executive suite), Napa CA (cottage), Baltimore (Harbor View suite), Pittsburgh (executive suite), and other locations as well. Spend a few minutes with a very polite request, and you will be pleasantly surprise how well you are treated.

    • That is a great point and one I definitely should have made in the post. I always email the hotel ahead of time and did in this case as well. I was told they couldn’t verify anything ahead of time and it was subject to availability at check-in (standard language). Emailing is definitely a great idea and has worked for me many times in the past at other properties though.

      • very interesting post and discussion. similar recent exp. with Holiday Inn Resort in Aruba…. didn’t have luck with advance email communication, and when we arrived, we were given a “back” room, far from the ocean “front.” Chronic design problem with so many of these aging beach front “resorts” is the dysfunctional layout to have rectangular buildings situated perpendicular to the ocean, leaving you with a small percentage of rooms actually “ocean front.” (and the vast majority with the oh so misleading phrase, “ocean view”)

        As ihg plat members, we were advised to check back mid day of our second day to see if any better rooms closer to the ocean had opened up. (which seemed odd to me as I knew from checking the hi web site the just minutes before that ocean front rooms were available for every day of our 4 day stay)

        Alas, nothing worse than being in a resort where jackhammers and concrete cutters were banging away at a nearby restaurant under renovation. (from 7:30 a.m. until 6 pm!) the antithesis of “relaxing.” nor, per se, the hotel’s fault – yet no doubt a sore strain on hotel staff. HIA next day did eventually find us a much better room, and yes, one on the ocean front, and we were grateful for that — yet rattled by the opening day.

        It would indeed be much more “relaxing” in the future to know just what room we can/should be eligible for… In our limited experience, some ihg hotels will treat you so fine, while others will treat those of us staying on reward or annual free nights as “freeloaders” who only deserve the leftovers — the rooms no one else wants….

        • typo — the jackhammer noise & such was “not” the hotel’s fault, and yes, again, we did appreciate the eventual room upgrade. I also concur with your reminders to keep exchanges polite and hopeful. (rather than demanding from a legalistic “entitlement” mindset… Still, advance research helps…. even as we’ll likely have to deal with the “if available” wall of uncertainty) This thread no doubt will resonate with many miles & points travelers, and hope we’ll read more “experiential wisdom.”

  4. how disappointing but im happy the social media team was able to help you. i had an annoying experience in Indio, CA for Coachella earlier this year and it took social media to finally get 15,000 points for the inconvenience. thanks for this informative post….will most definitely do homework before hand going forward.

  5. Hilton has the most inconsistent program for loyalty members. I had a question about an upgrade in Darwin, that got escalated to Corporate level. Was basically told it was left up to the local management as to how they handled upgrades, breakfast, and executive access. So it’s always an adventure when I stay at their properties.

  6. You got your upgrade though? Grand Wailea upgraded you from Terrace to Garden room.

    “used to be the same room category once upon a time” …. okay, but Terrace and Garden rooms are not the same category anymore. Loyalty programs adjust all the time (often for the worse) and you can’t be mad the hotel has now split these room types into two categories and you didn’t get an Ocean view.

    You received an Ocean view in 2013, well it’s 2015 now 😉

    I don’t like that they lied to you and tried to sell you an upgrade to Ocean view for more than what it was selling on the website. However, I think your claim is a bit unjust since you’re basing them on a stay from 2013 that doesn’t pertain to something in 2015.

    I would have cried foul if you didn’t get the upgrade to Garden (even if it’s $5 extra per night.)

    • Actually there are upgrade experiences from people who have stayed much more recently. The agent even said they do upgrades to oceanview, but not always. As per the terms that is up to their discretion. You are right that they were within the terms. The point of this article was to show people why it paid to be informed. The only reason I escalated to a manager was after I was told the $70 upgrade rate was a special as a Gold member. Then I showed the lady the $45 different on their website.

      Also, just because they decided to reclassify half of their base rooms in order to limit upgrades and award bookings doesn’t mean I shouldn’t talk about it. Yes, the Garden is technically an “upgrade”, but only because they created a category that never existed before. Yes that is within the terms, but it is still worth mentioning for people to know.

  7. Thanks for the heads-up, Shawn. We’re planning a family trip to Maui summer ’17, and I was considering the GW. Even though I’m Hilton Gold, we’ll look elsewhere.

    Hope it was a great trip.

    • I, too am planning a trip to Maui with my better half’s family. We’ll be booking three rooms. I was considering the GW due to my Gold status. Thanks for saving me the time – eliminating the GW from consideration based on this post and subsequent comments. I certainly won’t bring revenue business to a hotel that doesn’t treat loyal members properly.

  8. The Andaz is doing that split category thing in order to make it harder to use points at the property. When they were first open I was able to get cash & points plus use a suite upgrade and plenty of rooms were available for points several other times I checked. This year I wanted to use points for part of our stay, but for the upcoming seven months they only had a room available on points for five days in April 2016. Absolutely zero C&P for the upcoming 12 months. When I asked how many rooms were categorized that I could use points for the rep claimed she didn’t know. Do you know if each hotel has a required percentage of rooms that have to be made available for points each night?

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