Most of us are by now resigned to travel being a budget experience all the way from no-frills flights to cheap hotels. However, the existence of business class on flights and executive suites in hotels is a constant reminder that, for some, travel is all about luxury.
So how about a taste of five-star living on your next trip? Getting a room upgrade is not easy, but who wouldn't want a beautiful view across a city, a separate sitting room, or a bathroom that's bigger than your own home.
These are all things on offer in most big hotels. Here's how you can try to get yourself into an extra special space.
1. Get a loyalty card
The more you spend with one hotel chain, the more you will get in return. Loyalty programmes are fairly common, and mostly they're aimed at business travellers and other frequent visitors to the hotel.
Upgrades are normally part of the deal; though some promise to give you the best available room at check-in, others include suite upgrades as part of the scheme. If you travel a lot with work, and have any kind of influence over your corporate travel arrangements, make sure you stay in the same hotel chain every time it's possible – and get a loyalty card that you can then use for personal trips.
2. Request a room with a view
Exactly what an upgraded room really means to you depends on the hotel you're staying in. Many big chain hotels do have executive suites and presidential suites, but when you arrive at a hotel that faces the mountains on one side, and some ugly shopping mall on the other, it's going to be pretty obvious what you really want; a room with a view. So ask for exactly that when you check-in instead of leaving it to chance.
3. Tell the staff if it's a special occasion
If you're taking a loved one away to celebrate a birthday, wedding anniversary, and absolutely if you're actually on your honeymoon, it's always worth asking for an upgrade.
However, although you can try this when you check-in, it’s wise to ring ahead and ask if there's anything they can do to help you make the trip really special. If you're lucky, they may upgrade you, empty rooms allowing, or perhaps you'll find something nice in your room. Either way, if you don't ask, you don't get.
4. Alert staff to problems
Sometimes a room just isn't quite right. Have you ever checked into a hotel late at night, completely exhausted, only to find that the shower isn't working properly? If that happens, don't unpack, and phone reception. The chances are that they will put you in another room – especially if it is late at night – which might mean an easy upgrade depending on which rooms are empty.
Even if you notice something much more trivial, such as a broken lamp, or a plug that doesn't work properly, it's worth informing reception soon after you arrive. Keep your tone advisory. After all, if you come across as helpful rather than demanding, you may get a room upgrade out of politeness. What’s certain is that if you don’t say anything, you won’t get anything.
5. Tweet about your room on arrival
This may not actually get you a room upgrade as such, but it could get you the next best thing; free stuff. Take some time to find the hotel's usernames on Twitter and Instagram, and make sure you include them in a positive post that bigs-up the hotel, includes a nice photo, and perhaps uses a couple of hashtags like #luxuryhotel and #awesomeplaces.
If the hotel is social media-savvy, they will see your tweets and posts, and may send something nice – chocolates, Champagne, flowers – to your room. It happens more than you think.
And here are five ways you can upgrade your hotel room yourself:
1. Bring a Bluetooth speaker
If you do get to stay in a luxury executive or presidential suite, it's likely that you'll find some kind of sound system in the room, typically a Sonos Play:1 or similar.
However, you can replicate that kind of sound quality by taking along your own wireless Bluetooth speaker. There are tons of them around; the Anker SoundCore mini is good value, the Sony SRS-XB10 is more bassy, and the JBL Flip 3 is handy in the bathroom.
- Check out T3's list of the best bluetooth speakers
2. Take a travel adapter
If you're travelling with a phone, a tablet, a laptop, and a camera, recharging your gadgets is going to have to be at the top of your daily maintenance list when you're in your hotel room. So make sure you choose an international travel adapter that not only works in several countries (remembering that some countries use more than one plug type), but has plenty of USB slots.
A couple of USBs will do, at a push, but these days it's possible to find one with four USB slots, like the Syncwire Travel Wall Charger, the MLPC Accessories Universal Travel Adapter, or the AmazonBasics 4-Port USB Wall Charger. Just don't forget to bring the various Apple Lightning, micro USB and USB-C cables.
- Here is T3's list of the best travel adapters
3. Bring your own entertainment
Whatever room you stay in these days, it’s likely to have some kind of flatscreen TV. Some are designed exclusively for hotels, so have almost all external HDMI and USB slots disabled.
Your only choice then is to watch your videos on your laptop or phone. However, some hotel TVs do have working HDMI and USB slots, so can take either a USB thumb-drive stuffed full of TV and video, or a USB dongle like Google ChromeCast or the Amazon Fire TV Stick to let you stream (WiFi speeds allowing). You could also bring along a HDMI cable to attach to a laptop.
Such setups will appeal mostly to business travellers looking to kill some time between jobs; if you're out on a short vacation, you're probably not going to be spending much time in your room.
4. Plan your power-play
Every hotel room should have a bedside table on each side of the bed, both with USB slots or, at the very least, power outlets for connecting a universal travel adapter. Does every hotel room have such things? Absolutely not, and for those of us who need to recharge our phones overnight and have them close by for when your phone’s alarm goes off the next morning, it's a problem.
There are two ways to approach this. The first is to pack an ultra-long USB cable like the Syncwire Apple Lightning Cable (6.5ft/2m) or CSL 5m Premium micro USB cable, so you can make sure your phone is as close to you as possible while it recharges. The alternative is to pack a very small portable battery – preferably with built-in cables – like the iWalk 3300mAh with built-in Apple Lightning docking or Iceworks 3000 with built-in micro USB, to use exclusively for recharging your phone overnight. Just bear in mind that it will be flat by morning and need to be recharged, so will be no good for taking out and about during the day.
5. Pack a travel mug
Thanks to David Attenborough's Blue Planet TV series, we've all become much more aware of how single-use plastic is drastically affecting the environment. Unfortunately, hotels are not eco-friendly places; think water bottles left in your hotel room every day, and the endless plastic paraphernalia next to your in-room kettle and free toiletries. There's not much you can do about those little coffee and sugar sachets, but you can help cut down on cups by taking something like the BODUM Vacuum Travel Mug or Thermos ThermoCafé.