BUDGET TRAVEL TIPS

Upgrade Secrets from the Experts!

C'mon. You know you want one. You've seen other folks ushered into first class, given the key to a hotel suite that's a lot bigger than the one they paid for, or peel out of the rental lot in a way hotter car than the one they can afford. What's their secret? Read on to learn how our top travel experts get upgraded.

The time of day matters, too. It helps to check in later, once the hotel has a better handle on its occupancy for the night. If you arrive at 8 p.m. and their suites still aren't full, they may upgrade you for free or for very little, since few new guests are likely to come and pay for them.

Another strategy DiScala says has worked for him: Befriend the bellman. "I visited Vegas at a not-busy time once and tipped the bellman well," he says, "so he gave me a free upgrade." The same tactic may work with the concierge.

What about rental cars? Is it true you're most likely to get upgraded if you book the cheapest car at first?

Yes, and here's why: The cheapest rental cars tend to sell out first, leaving the company no choice but to upgrade you. That said, the check-in clerk may try to sell you an upgrade for a discounted fee. Say no. If they don't have the car you reserved, they usually give you a better model at no extra charge. Arrive early in the day, before most people return their cars, for the best shot.

Loyalty also counts. Join a car-rental company's membership program, and you may get special offers for upgrades. You should also search online for coupons. The site carrentalupgrade.com is worth bookmarking, in particular. Some car-rental firms also run their own promotions for upgrades through organizations such as AARP and AAA. And always remember to ask: Politely requesting an upgrade is often the best, easiest bet.

Reader's Best Upgrade Strategies

What's it take to get out of the cheap seats? We asked BT readers to share their favorite upgrade strategies.

Volunteer to Get Bumped: My flight from JFK to Amsterdam was over-booked and someone was in my seat. He was adamant: He wouldn't move. I was so embarrassed by his behavior that I told the flight attendant if I could catch my plane from Amsterdam to Glasgow I'd be OK getting bumped. After 15 minutes she said "follow me" and turned up a flight of stairs. I had never even seen first class before! —Cyndi Armstrong, South St. Paul, Minn.

Speak in Romance Language: My hubby and I got upgraded to business class to Ireland for our honeymoon. We just mentioned the purpose of the trip during check-in and the flight attendant did it-no questions asked. Another time, we got upgraded to a suite at a Crowne Plaza because we mentioned we were there for Valentine's Day. It was a nice surprise, since we'd scored the hotel on Priceline for a song. —Caroline Dover Wilson, Greer, S.C.

Rent at the End of the Week: Most compact and midsize cars are rented out early in the week to business travelers, so if you try to rent closer to the weekend, you have a good chance of getting upgraded because they are out of "business" cars by then. —Megan Cushman Dezendegui, Miami

You Get What You Pay For

Click on the image above to pop up the chart

Should you cough up extra cash for a better seat in coach? That depends on how tall you are, how long the flight lasts—and how badly you covet a speedy exit. Click on the image above to pop up our guide to mini-upgrades.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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