Unlocking the Ultimate Hotel Experience: Insider Tips for Upgrades and Freebies

Hotels can offer comfort, convenience, and sometimes even a touch of luxury when we are on the road. Yet, the price tag can often leave us questioning if we’re truly getting our money’s worth. Travel experts share secrets to maximizing your hotel stay, including how to snag those elusive upgrades and unlock a treasure trove of complimentary perks, from pillows to condoms, humidifiers to bicycles.

the Power of Polite Inquiry: The Art of Asking

woman checking in to hotel in green dress.
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When it comes to elevating your hotel experience from standard to extraordinary, there are two basic approaches: straightforward requests and leveraging loyalty rewards. Bryant Soriano, the general manager of Miami Beach’s Circa 39 boutique hotel, advocates for the power of honesty and a warm smile. “A simple inquiry coupled with sincerity can often work wonders,” Soriano affirms. 

On the other hand, harnessing the strength of hotel loyalty programs and strategic point accumulation presents another avenue to unlock coveted upgrades without breaking the bank.

A Guide to Free Perks

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First, if you haven’t already, acquaint yourself with what perks there are, so you know where to start with your straightforward asks.

Early Check-in and Late Check-out: The Gift of Time

woman checking into hotel.
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Check-in and check-out times are not as rigid as you might think. Whether your adventure demands an early arrival or a leisurely departure, hotels are often accommodating, especially for loyal patrons. Just ask!

Indulge in Local Experiences: 

Making chocolate in Belize.
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Take advantage of local offerings curated by your hotel. From culinary experiences to cultural immersions, don’t hesitate to express your interests and uncover hidden gems. 

When I was in Belize, local contacts arranged a private chocolate making lessonwith the Belize Chocolate Company, from grinding the beans to making a chocolate bar! These experiences can become highlights of your trip.

Don’t Leave Your Wellness Routine At Home

woman working out on hotel balcony outside.
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Beyond standard gym amenities, more hotels are upping their wellness offerings ranging from yoga classes, jogging route guides, bike rentals or weights and workout equipment delivered to your room. Rejuvenate both mind and body during your stay. In-room gym amenities are becoming more common.

Stay Connected: International Calling and Transportation

Fancy car at hotel. Doorman.
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Stay connected with loved ones across the globe with complimentary long-distance calls or explore your destination hassle-free with complimentary transportation services often overlooked by travelers.

Many hotels offer free phone calls, and have their own “house cars”, bikes, vans, busses – even limousines or classic cars.

Happy Hour Bliss: Sip, Savor, and Socialize

Female bartender making drink.
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Check to see if your hotel offers happy hours. Those that do include drinks, nibbles and time to socialize – with traveling partners or with new friends. 

Or buy a local bottle of wine and ring up room service for a bucket of ice and glasses, which hotels will typically provide gratis.

Let’s Get Clean & Beautiful

Woman using lip balm.
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Many of us have forgotten shampoo or toothbrushes, and expect those to be available, but how about lip balm, or even a flat iron for hair? Ring up the front desk.


Woman disgusted.
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Forget an international power adapter? Want to borrow a selfie-stick? Headphones? You’ll never know unless you inquire.

At the Wynn Los Vegas your room comes with Alexa. Using your voice, ask Alexa to set room temperature, lights and control the drapes.

Many hotels will provide humidifiers, which can really help with those dry rooms. We found this DIY tip on Trip Adviser from someone named Hunt: “What I do is boil my underwear in the coffeemaker, and if there is not one, I use my rice cooker. Works just like a humidifier.” So many things…they travel with a rice cooker? And how does one even come up with the underwear idea?

Moving on…

Sign Up For Text Messaging

woman texting while at hotel.
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Many hotels, from lower end to higher, are using apps and text messaging to communicate with guests. Ask if there is a system or app to sign up for upon check-in.

I experienced this recently at a very inexpensive motel resort. They texted me to ask if there was anything I needed. I texted back that I would love another blanket. I was surprised at the text and wasn’t sure what would happen next. Not even 10 minutes later, there was a knock on the door with housekeeping bringing me a blanket. It was the most effortless housekeeping request ever. Later in the trip we requested water, and it was delivered quickly.

Condoms? Yes, Condoms

woman holding condom in package.
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Condoms are typically not openly advertised, and hotel staff won’t mention them unprompted. However, it’s worth noting that many hotels provide free condoms upon request. If you find yourself in need, don’t hesitate to contact the front desk and request a few condoms to be sent to your room. While it may feel a bit awkward the first time, it’s a simple and discreet way to ensure your peace of mind during your stay.

Unique Offerings

Hotel breakfast with fresh orange juice.
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Hotels around the world have come up with unique amenities. You’ll have to stay at these specific hotels to take advantage, but if you are there, certainly do so:

  • The Rancho Valencia Resort and Spa San Diego, CA property is 45 acres of gardens, including orange groves, so fresh-pressed orange juice every day makes sense!
  • Visitors staying at Gili Lankanfushi, a high-end resort nestled in the Maldives, can enjoy the luxury of a 45-foot Riviera yacht at their disposal. This exclusive amenity allows guests to organize thrilling activities such as whale shark viewing, deep sea fishing expeditions, or serene sunset dolphin-watching cruises. For those seeking adventure, why not embark on a journey across the atolls or surprise your special someone with a romantic private picnic on a secluded island?
  • At Zadún, A Ritz-Carlton Reserve in San José del Cabo, Mexico, guests are treated to freshly baked artisanal bread each morning. Delivered by El Panadero, who peddles around the resort on his bicycle, these delectable treats are available daily from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. Listen for the ringing bell – like the ice cream truck! But warm bread.
  • How about butler-delivered popcorn? You will find this at the Lanesborough in London. Indulge in a selection of sweet and savory popcorn varieties delivered directly to your room on a gleaming silver tray.
  • The Hyatt Alila Napa Valley offers a custom aromatherapy blending service. Stressed? Looking for more mental clarity? Better sleep? They can help.
  • Speaking of better sleep, The Royal Sonesta Benjamin New York takes this seriously, with their Rest & Renew program, led by a medical doctor who is a sleep expert. It begins with your choice of pillows, from anti-snore options, buckwheat pillows, body cushions, cooling pillows, choices for side/stomach and back sleepers, and more. Sleep masks, ear plugs, blackout curtains and noise machines are available as well. They even have a guided on-demand 10-minute meditation.

Pushing What Free Means, But Still Cool

Plants in bathroom.
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Catbird is an independent boutique hotel in Denver, CO that has taken amenities to new heights.

They have a “Playroom” where you can find many items for rent, from cameras to scooters, picnic kits, fly fishing rods, skateboards, and musical instruments, like ukuleles and record players. They even have Vitamix blenders, panini presses, air-fryers and Instant Pots.

But let’s get to the other amenities, which are available to guests via a built-in fee during your stay. Free? Not really, but you don’t shell out “extra” for:

  • Rooftop terrace with stage (perfect for impromptu stand-up)
  • Fire pits
  • Yard games
  • Rooftop hot tubs
  • Take a lobby plant to your room
  • Hydration stations on every floor
  • Laundry on every floor
  • Peloton bikes
  • Water rowers

The Takeaway

Asian woman using phone in hotel. Hotel robe.
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Enhance your trip by making requests. Perhaps the old adage holds true: “Ask, and you shall receive.” Armed with our insider advice, you can access upgrades and free perks on your next hotel stay.


  • Dede Wilson

    Dédé Wilson is a journalist with over 17 cookbooks to her name and is the co-founder and managing partner of the digital media partnership Shift Works Partners LLC, currently publishing through two online media brands, FODMAP Everyday® and The Queen Zone.

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