Have You Ever Tried The $20 Hotel Upgrade Trick?

Have You Ever Tried The $20 Hotel Upgrade Trick?
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The $20 trick is something of an urban legend, but many people use it regularly and say it works. If you’ve ever tried it, we want to know what happened.

Money photo by Shutterstock

The idea is this: You slip a $20 note to a hotel agent, they quietly accept and give you an awesome room upgrade. We’ve discussed the tip before. A former hotel employee revealed how it’s done:

Tip up front: Let the agent know you are serious immediately. Here’s how I do it: I walk up, smile without showing teeth, give the agent my CC, drop a 20 on the desk, and say, “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate it.” Boom. If I am after something specific, I will include that as well: “This is for you. Whatever you can do for me, I’d appreciate a room upgrade, late checkout, wine, whatever.”

For many of us, it’s too bold a move, but if you’ve ever done it we want to know about it. It doesn’t matter whether or not you were successful, just tell us what went down. How did you approach it? How did the desk clerk react? It doesn’t have to be at a hotel either. You might have tried it at a restaurant, for example, or any other place else where you’re at the mercy of an employee who can pull strings.

So tell us, have you ever tried the $20 upgrade trick? And if you have any tips for anyone itching to try it, feel free to share those too.


  • So you try to bribe a staff member (that’s what tipping upfront means) to give you a benefit the business would otherwise make money from.

    Yeah nah.

    • On the other hand… if there’s a better room that will be going empty that night… why not?
      I doubt it would work for wine or breakfast but upgrades that don’t cost the hotel anything like a different room, or a better view or late check out doesn’t seem unreasonable.

    • Couldn’t agree with you more @critterseyes. People seem to have this hypocritical love of bribery so long as it works in their favour, it really irritates me.

      • But, y’know, if I slip you this twenty, you’ll say it’s OK, right?

        … couldn’t agree with you more.

    • This is lifehacker, the basic premise of the site is to draw benefits in an unconventional way. Whether that’s right or wrong is something entirely different.

          • 7/11’s pie prices are actually fairly cheap, and have the added advantage of having a nice crunchy crust you can break your teeth on and a filling with all that annoying moisture removed.

            Oh well, without 7/11 who would we have to employ illegal immigrants and students at half the legal minimum hourly wage? Gotta take the bad with the bad, I suppose.

    • That wasn’t the question was it? And yeah, the hotels know they are better off upgrading people to rooms that would otherwise go empty to entice people to return. That’s why they give staff members the ability to upgrade at will. If they didn’t want them doing it, they would not allow it or require a manager to approve the upgrade.

      Yeah, Yeah.

    • Actually TIPS should and were always given first. TIPS (To Insure Prompt Service) was historically paid at the start of service.

  • I’m sure staff will tell you this works, but when you go to do it, they’ll take the money then do nothing.

  • I’d love to know if this works, but at least in Australia, I think most people wouldn’t risk their job for $20. And I reckon upgrading someone for $20 is frowned upon by management. BUT I’d love to know if it does work!

  • I think it depends on the amount of autonomy the agent in question is given. Some hotels allow their receptionists to give out upgrades as they see fit, while others have very strict procedures in place. You’ve also got a better chance during quiet periods, obviously.

  • I find in some countries if you give upfront tips to some government officials you get upgraded access to all sorts of government contracts……………just be careful in China, they are kind of cracking down at the moment.

    • Yes, as you say, in cases like that there’s just the pesky little issue of it being a 10 year offence against Australian Commonwealth law (division 70.2 of the Criminal Code 1995), irrespective of which country you’re operating in. To be clear, that’s only in the circumstances outlined by Boogoose, and not when you slip a hotel staff member $20 for an upgrade.

  • I have had great success minus the $20 in the US, just a smile works wonders. So much that the desk clerk remarked that all Australians seem to be happy. It doesn’t cost a thing to be nice. But I am the kind of person that when the checkout chick robotic-ally asks how you are, I reply and ask how their day has been. Sometimes they are startled but you can see that any real interaction is appreciated. You don’t have to be a gasbag, but sometimes people stuck behind a counter or checkout respond to a chance to break the monotony. If they can they will always try to do something for you.

    • Pretty much this.

      I was concierge for years working in jobs where people with more money than they knew what to do with frequently demanded everything for free.

      When someone was genuine and decent, I would bend over backwards for them. Sometimes they said thanks with a bit of money, sometimes not. I was always happy to help either way.

      Now that I’m no longer in that position, I’ve definitely found it to be true when I interact with people in the service industry. Be genuinely nice to people and they will genuinely appreciate it. And it’s rarely a bad idea to give someone a small gift as a thank you. $5 for the delivery driver means I always get food fast and hot. Sometimes even with a small extra or two.

      • Last time I tipped a delivery driver (In advance – site option) I received my package two days late.

        Considering that what was being delivered was forty dollars worth of gluten free meat pies and bread rolls, and the pies were at that point unsafe to eat and the bread stale, it’s not something I do any more.

        • You had a bad experience. That is unfortunate, but the driver is not responsible. The company who sold it to you is responsible for their poor shipping and handling practices, the shipping company is responsible for their poor infrastructure, and you are responsible for saying ok to shipping perishable food in an inappropriate way. Not one part of that chain of mistakes can be put at the feet of the driver.

          This is literally everyone’s fault except the delivery driver. Don’t shoot the messenger.

          • I forgot to mention that the delivery was at around 5:30pm. The delivery couldn’t have been much later without being the next day.

            I do understand that the driver is probably dropping off packages in an order prescribed by the delivery centre. Also, that the core fault in this case is with the place where I placed the order – they should not have accepted the order on a Friday night if the intention was that the goods would be packaged on the Saturday for delivery on the Monday.

            (I was expecting delivery on the Saturday of goods being packed on the Saturday; they certainly charged enough for that to be the case. Which is why I didn’t think I was OKing “shipping perishable food in an inappropriate way.”)

            I also understand that in part because of these things the driver had essentially no way to affect the delivery time, therefore no way to improve the quality of service to me as a customer (except waiting around a little longer if I was absent) – and therefore tipping provided essentially no incentive to improve service.

            Ergo, I now never, ever tip in advance. In arrears, frequently. Never in advance.

    • Exactly this. I work at a KFC and if for some reason a customer is quite friendly and happy it generally makes me happier whilst working and I’ll tend to make sure they get the best pieces of chicken and other small things like that. Same idea goes for crappy customers.

      • I’ll tend to make sure they get the best pieces of chicken

        You go out and get them chicken from somewhere else? That’s real nice of you.

        • I used to work at KFC as well, and yes, having dealt with hundreds of pieces daily, we know which piece is juiciest and best looking out of each batch.

          • we know which piece is juiciest and best looking out of each batch.

            Otherwise known as ‘the best of a bad bunch’.

          • So your issue here is that you don’t like KFC. That’s nice. Stop being a jerk and missing the point on purpose.

          • No. My issue is that I think there is humour to be found in the combination of ‘best pieces of chicken’ and ‘KFC’ in the same sentence. You seem to disagree. Welcome to the internet.

            Then again, I also delighted in your use of jerk as a pejorative term, when talking about chicken.


          • Jerk chicken is pretty damn good. People being jerks, less so.

            It’s not that there’s an argument about the quality of KFC as a food. Everyone knows it’s fast food. The guy was contributing to the discussion with a personal experience that was directly related and you turned it into a derail with a contest about who likes better food while insulting the man’s job. I guarantee you that anyone who works at KFC wants to work at a better job. No need to insult someone for making an honest living by insinuating that what they do is terrible.

            It’s just a shitty thing to do and on top of that, you derailed one of the few on-point conversations the internet has ever had.

  • Current front office staff member of a reputable 400+ room hotel.

    It completely depends on procedures and authority staff members have to upgrade guests at their discretion, the hotel’s room management software, and the payment method.

    If you give a guest a free upgrade, you will not only have to make your payments balance at the end of your shift, but also hide it from your management, night audit staff and the staff that check the guests out on departure. And that is the behavior that has and will get staff fired.

    Like many have already mentioned, just be polite, courteous and staff will do everything in their power to make you happy. When checking in, just be specific. Mention if you would like a higher room, or a room with a different bed configuration. If it’s for a special occasion, make a note of it in your booking. We will typically give complimentary wine or breakfast to those on special occasions. Those are usually within the power of your check in staff, but full suite upgrades are typically more of a challenge as they traditionally have to be green lighted by a duty manager.y.

    • Slipspace, you pretty much hit on the key issue which is staff discretion (where procedures and situation allow that to exist). The question then becomes what can you do that enables that person to exercise their discretion?

      In my roles here in Oz I always had discretion to help customers but invariably used that discretion to help the nice customers, or those that needed a lift in spirits.

      Being on the receiving end of many different types of customers, I gave customers extra service when they treated me as a fellow human being. Being on the other side now, I have generally found treating customer service people nicely goes many times further than handing over money. Unless the local culture of tipping is such as the US where tips also makes ends meet, then both being human AND tipping are required.

      The other part to understand is not all customer service staff have discretion, so you cannot expect a great result every time. But they might help in other ways. In hotels, if you cannot get a room upgrade, you might instead get a complimentary bottle of wine. On aircraft, you might not get a business class upgrade, but you may be offered a spirit or liqueur, or the choice of the better meal ahead of other customers. I helped a steward repack the overhead lockers once and was treated like a King for that flight.

      Even making tea, coffee and bikkies or muffins for the tradies doing work on my house makes a huge difference to the quality of work they may do. It is a down payment on trust, that when they have a choice, they will make the right choice for me. Besides, it’s nice to see them smile and say very few clients do this for them.

      In contrast, I have found that an a**hole that hands you money, is still an a**hole. If they treat you poorly, look down on you and summon you, you will never get my full and complete help, but yay thanks for the tip for putting up with you.

      One article I read quite some years after my customer service time resonated with my own experiences on both sides of the service equation was this one:


      TLDR: Being understanding and nice has worked 100x better for me than any tip, except in the US when both being nice AND providing a tip is needed.

  • I read this article last week, and tried it in Monterey, CA. I had a priceline room booked at a “4 star” resort and it worked perfectly. When I checked in, I passed my CC, ID, and a $20 bill to the staff member. I told him anything he could do on the room would be appreciated. He said of course. First he told me he was waiving the $23 resort fee for me. Then he upgraded me to a balcony room on the top floor with a view. The $20 paid for it’self and then some with the resort fee, and the upgrade was icing.

  • What a strange article. You can offer anyone money and ask them to do you a “favour”. Some will, some wont. How does that help anyone?

    Probably might work better in the US where bribing er tipping to provide the expected service is accepted but what if everyone did it does it, does the expected bribe then go up in value for it to work?
    Surely it then devalues the higher value offerings that people pay full price for – undermining the owner who loses $$ while the employee sells off product/services on the side for tips.

  • Did it at Excalibur Hotel, in Vegas, 10 days after seeing this post. Arrived, said hi, dropped the money and completed: “if there’s anything you can do for us, I’d really appreciate it”.

    In the end, for 20 bucks I got a 30 dollars upgrade for 3 rooms. The attendant said she did it because I was Brazilian (and she was Brazilian too) and also because it was our first time there. Still I’m pretty sure it was because of the money…

  • Never tried this but I do know in some parts of the third world you need to ask the police etc if you have option to pay an “in-cash on-the-spot fine”, seems similar to me….
    That said I asked for a flight upgrade once, didn’t get it but thanked them anyway… The next leg of the flight when I went to rebook the seats was automatically offered a free upgrade, 15 hour flight in business class. I strongly suspect on the back of trying it on & being polite…

  • I did this at a hotel I was staying at in San Fran. I do not think of it as a ‘trick’ though because I’ve worked in the service industry – I think of it as a tip. Anyway I was upgraded. Whether or not they would have done it if I asked for an upgrade, I dunno. You could say ‘it worked’ or you could say I stayed at a 4 star hotel with intelligent helpful staff.

  • I worked at a really nice hotel on Bourbon Street years ago as a desk clerk, and would upgrade anyone who was nice and polte. I would put the rude people in an undesirable room, next to the elevator. If someone slipped me a $20, I wouldn’t think too highly of them. But a nice person who treated me with respect? They’d get the royal treatment.
    (Also, you usually just have to ask if there’s any chance of an upgrade. It’s mos often no provblem).

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