How To Complain To Get A Free Hotel Room And Room Upgrade

If you travel often enough, unless you are the luckiest person on the planet, sooner or later, you will have a close encounter with one of the traveler’s worst nightmares – the dreaded hotel room horror story. It’s a long litany of woes that can make you squirm, groan, or roll your eyes with the remembrance of them.

Bedbugs, roaches, and spiders galore; the smell of smoke, mold, and must that won’t go away; stained, soiled, or wet bedsheets or mattresses; loud noises from next door or from outdoors; and you haven’t even opened your bathroom door yet. Peering into the bathroom, you’re shocked to find an overflowing toilet bowl and a flooded floor.

If a hotel wants to keep its good reputation, it will fix the major and minor problems without further ado. If it wants to rise above its competition and stand out, it will go the extra mile and upgrade your room or give you free breakfast or free vouchers, or complimentary gifts that will take your experience to the next level.

So how do you complain about a hotel room’s sub-par and unlivable conditions?

In general, in order to get a room upgrade, follow the Good Book’s Golden Rule: Ask and it shall be given to you. Be nice. Be respectful. Be calm and cool. You reap what you sow.

Not all problems are on the same level of cringe-inducing awfulness deserving the same kind of rage from you. Some stresses are non-negotiable for most travelers, and there are minor problems that most of us can tolerate.

But we should handle both categories of problems in the same even-handed manner if we want a positive response from the hotel’s staff.

Consider how Michael Sharnett dealt with a “leaking fire sprinkler” in his room, which he shared in Quora:

“…at first I didn’t notice it because it was dripping into a garbage can and eventually soaked the carpet. It looked like the trash can was set under the leak on purpose. I didn’t have to demand a new room. I woke up at 3 am and walked into the wet carpet.

I got my shoes on and went downstairs and the desk clerk sent up the maintenance guy and followed us up to the room with another key. She gathered up all of my stuff and had me follow her to a room just down the hall. The maintenance guy apologized because he signed off that the leak had been fixed but the fix must have failed.

I got home from my trip and found the charges for all four nights of my stay had been refunded and I received an apology card from the manager in the mail. The Hilton Garden In(n) in North Alpharetta GA provides and (sic) excellent stay.”

Not all of us can be as lucky as Mr. Sharnett was in the aftermath of an enormous problem with his hotel room. Not all hotel personnel would have responded equally in the same calm manner in handling the stressful event; nor would all hotel management have acted as graciously as The Hilton Garden Inn by way of apology.

Although Mr. Sharnett did not explicitly state how he explained the situation to the desk clerk, it would be safe to assume that he did not rake her over the coals for it.

That the hotel had refunded all his nights may mean that he was gracious and polite about the unfortunate situation, which made the hotel eager to reciprocate in kind. That he “didn’t have to demand a new room” but was promptly given one would also indicate that each party treated the other with respect.

But the same calmness and decorous behavior may not be enough in some cases. In a notoriously ill-reputed budget chain hotel, many guests who report major problems are greeted with a glassy-eyed “is-that-so?” stare from the hotel manager who may or may not see fit to address the problem as he should.

It’s a take-it-or-leave-it situation for the most part because the alternative rooms aren’t any better.

In between these two extremes are situations where you have requested a new room, but the desk clerk is hedging and hoping that you would back down. Apart from persisting and standing your ground, what else can you do? 

A Little Arm Twisting May Help

Eric Houg over at Quora shared how he was able to demand a new room.

Given a nasty one with a door that let in the freezing cold and highway noise, a broken TV, a cable and phone that were ripped apart from the wall, and a wet mattress, he went down “and demanded another room, the clerk told me he didn’t know if he could accommodate me.

‘That’s fine, I said, We passed 3 nicer hotels driving in here.’ So, he found me a room.”

Marty Ferguson also used his smarts to get what he deserved:

“I flushed the toilet (plain number one no paper) it backed up and flooded the room which had old worn carpet. Maintenance fixed it and wet vac’d the room and declared it all good. Asked to change rooms and desk agent said no we are full. I saw name and number of general manager on the wall so I pulled out my phone and said maybe I need to talk to Mr Manager.

“Clerk said why would you do that? I’ve almost got you’re (sic) new ready and here’s two drink vouchers and breakfast vouchers and discovered their suite room were very nice,” was his story at Quora.

Ferguson’s, Houg’s, and Sharnett’s hotel room problems are major predicaments that demand substantial solutions. These may include a room transfer, a room upgrade, a partial refund, or a full refund if no other rooms are available.

But while the onus is on the hotel staff and management to solve the problem, and while you, as the guest, may have every right to demand a new room, there are ways to ask for it without cursing or threatening, or wishing hell on everyone.

Other significant problems that deserve the same response are:

  • Insect infestation and insect droppings
  • Unclean and unmade beds and sheets
  • Loud noises that interrupt sleep
  • Leaking faucets and inoperable toilets and showers
  • Toilet overflows
  • Bad smell and strong odors
  • Major stains
  • Non-working air conditioner or fan or heater
  • Broken locks
  • Room type not as advertised or not what you paid for
  • Minor Room Problems

Most guests are willing to overlook minor room issues like being given the wrong room keys, minor stains on the walls, broken fixtures, or slow WiFi if the staff immediately and correctly addresses them.

Not everyone’s tolerance level is the same, but most guests can be forgiving if the housekeeping meets their concerns with the proper response.

How To Request For A New Room Due to Major or Minor Problems

  1. First, think about what you want and how you’re going to say it;
  2. Go to the Front Desk and state your problem;
  3. Be firm but polite;
  4. If you have a solution, offer it;
  5. If they can’t handle the problem, ask to speak directly to the person in charge.
  6. Keep calm and keep in mind that the people behind the Front Desk want to help you fix the problem.

Even if your problems have only to do with a general dissatisfaction with the room itself because it has not met your standards nor was it what you expected, it is still your right to complain. Hoteliers don’t mind a kind complaint if you are genuinely dissatisfied with your assigned room, filing it under the “the customer is always right” rule.

Follow the same steps as outlined above and make a direct but polite request for a room change. You need not go down to the Front Desk; you can also call from your room. As a precautionary measure, be sure to ask for the name of the hotel staff that will be assisting you and check their IDs.

Another step that you may want to take, albeit with due consideration, is social media. Many hotels have staff that monitors social posts, and they may reach out to you sooner rather than later.

There are no guarantees that hotels can transfer you to a new room, especially if this happens during peak season, but this shouldn’t stop you from trying anyway because it may just be your lucky day, and a room suddenly becomes available.

How to Get a Room Upgrade in Hotel

What about getting a room upgrade instead of just a room transfer? How do you go about requesting one before your trip or during your check-in, and successfully getting one?

Before we go to our list, bear in mind that you are just one in a very long line of guests that day who all have asked for the same thing, and the Front Desk staff may have all heard the same tactics in all their permutations at one point or another.

But some guests get their wish while some don’t – and therein lies a lesson that bears repeating. Being considerate, respectful, polite can make all the difference in the world whether they will give you that sought-after upgrade or not.

Just Ask

Know the art of asking directly without forcing the issue and thereby alienating the Front Desk staff. Look the person you are talking to in the eye and use a neutral and friendly tone, and don’t forget to smile.

Don’t feel entitled to any favors as a repeat guest. If you feel intimidated asking straight-up for an upgrade, know that many hotel managers want to impress their guests and give them the experience to share with the world, so try your luck and go for it.

When should you ask?

Do it before the check-in rush or before their shift happens at 6 or 7 P.M., and do it when no other guest is around, or make sure no one hears you if there are other people around. 

Who should you ask? 

Talk to the Desk Clerk or Night Auditor instead of just anyone at the Reservations office who may not be in the position to give you anything.

Join a Loyalty Program

Pick one or two Loyalty Programs of a hotel you frequent and rack up those points. Additionally, pick the ones that your credit card has partnered with for even more points. Sign up during check-in, and your booking may just get promoted on the spot.

Book Room Directly

There is a tug-of-war between the hotel industry and third-party booking platforms, with each option providing pros and cons. If you want a favor from the hotel in the form of an upgrade, it would make sense to book directly with them; it will also allow you to earn loyalty points on their rewards programs.

Booking directly means booking with the specific hotel itself and not through its official brand website or through its 1-800 number where commissions will have to be paid.

You may also come away with a discounted rate for your room. With commissions to Online Travel Agencies coming up to as much as 30%, many hotels would rather accept your offer of 20% less than the online price and come out ahead than pay the OTAs, making it a win-win for both of you.

It is worth noting that many travelers have shared online that booking directly for discounts works better with small or independently-owned hotels rather than the large chain brands, which would prefer that you book through the OTA if their price is cheaper.

Have A Special Occasion

You can make one up, but why take the risk of being found out when you can wait for the right occasion?  And there are plenty of those big and small special ones that you want to celebrate – honeymoons, anniversaries, birthdays, graduations, promotions, to mention the most popular events.

Hotels encourage you to let them know about your special occasion ahead of time to ramp up your chances of getting an upgrade. Letting them know ahead of time allows the staff and management to step up and do something special for you, upgrading your room being just one of them.

It doesn’t have to be your birthday for you to snag a special favor from the hotel. They can also give it to any member of your family or group you are traveling with so let the hotel know about it.

Celebrate Babymoons

Especially if it’s your first!

Trendy hotels that are aware of babymoons may easily be persuaded by a mom-to-be’s rounded belly and may want to help you and your husband celebrate your last moments as a couple before the momentous occasion of the birth of your first-born by giving you a free upgrade.

Book Early, or Last Minute

If you book early, you may get great promo offers. If you book at the last minute, the hotel may give you an upgrade instead of letting the room go unbooked.

Sometimes, walking in without a reservation may also open you to the possibility of hitting an upgrade from a hotel that would take your business rather than give commissions to a third party.

Book Shorter Stay

Booking a one-night or two-night stays increases your chances to ask for an upgrade.

Travel During Off-Season

When spare rooms abound, your chance to get an upgrade is very high.

Praise Genuinely

If the hotel impressed you and you expect to be back, let them remember you as a valued guest by telling the staff about your future visit, on your own or with family, friends, or business associates.

Become A Repeat Guest

Being loyal to a hotel or a brand may pay off with smoother requests for free upgrades. It also lets you develop those all-important relationships with hotel personnel that will make you feel like you are, indeed, in a singular place that’s your home away from home.

Ask for the Top Floor Corner Room

It may not necessarily be an upgrade per se, but it may give you the quiet space you want, plus better views. In addition, don’t ask for an upgrade above one level of quality; for example, don’t request for the executive suite when you booked the lowest standard room.

Show Your Appreciation

Surprise the Front Desk staff with an unexpected gift, and it may help open the doors to an upgrade. If you can pull off doing that with cash discreetly given to the Desk Clerk or Bellman, that may work wonders, too.

Tipping generously will also elevate your status as a valued guest on your next stay.

Get Bumped Off

This is a very risky move, but it’s an option.

When you book the cheapest room in an in-demand hotel during high season, you’re first in line to be bumped off and transferred to another hotel free of charge.

Weigh your options if this is worth doing since there are no guarantees; and if they don’t walk you, getting the cheapest room will kill your chances to ask for an upgrade.

Pay for it

Paying for a more expensive room can redound to more freebies down the line, including, maybe, a free upgrade.

Reed Harris

Reed is a traveler and blogger. He's planning to visit all states in the USA. He's been in 31 states so far.

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