August 27, 2012 Hotel Upgrades: a primer
It is rare that I write about hotels. I am top tier with Hilton Honors, mostly because their properties tend to be less expensive than Hyatt, SPG, and Marriott and there are more of them. Hilton in addition to Hyatt and SPG provide their top members suite upgrades as an additional benefit. In contrast to airline upgrades hotel upgrades are a bit more inconsistent. This is understandable as generally hotels are not owned by the brand, or flag as it is called in the hotel industry. Hotels are franchise operations own by local companies who pay a franchise fee to their flag. That means each owner has his or her own interpretation of the loyalty program guidelines. This leads to some properties doing a lot upgrading and others not so much.
Let’s talk about how large hotels work, specifically room assignments. About two weeks out from your stay, the hotel’s computer auto-assigns all people who booked in advance a room. This makes sense; it gives the people who have control of the process a place to start from. Then in the three or four days leading up to your stay, rooms control takes over. Rooms control is run by generally a front-office manager. They look at the requests people put in, the guest’s status, the rate paid, and other information to finalize room assignments. People who book only a couple of days in advance are only going to get whatever is left. Then when you arrive on your day of stay your room has been pre-assigned by rooms control.
Using that quick and dirty overview of the rooms assignment process, let’s turn to the upgrade process. Rooms control and the Front-office manager have total control of the upgrade process. Having read some of the Hilton brand standard documents, they mandate that hotels complete the upgrade process 48 hours in advance. Well, that almost never happens. I think hotels mostly run upgrades the morning of the stay in order to maximize the chance that they will sell a more expensive room, rather than giving it to the upgrader. When you, the guest, gets to the check-in desk your upgrade has already been determined. The agent you are speaking to have little to no discretion on your room type. There may be some movement within the class of rooms you booked, IE moving from two queens to a king bed, but they rarely have the ability to upgrade you. That’s not to say they can’t, if for someone reason they have to take a room out of service of upgrade due to overbooking then the agent has control over the process. But that control has been expressly delegated from the front-office manager of the manager-on-duty. Abusing the front-desk agent over upgrades will not only fail to get you the upgrade, it will make you look like a jerk.