Level up your next hotel stay with VIP treatment & perks – for free – with this insider travel hack.
Last updated: November 2023
How did you book your last hotel stay? Most likely, through a third party booking site like Expedia, Agoda or HotelTonight, or perhaps directly through the hotel’s own website. Maybe you booked through a credit card travel program, like Chase Travel or Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts (FHR). But what if I told you there’s a better way? An insider hotel booking hack unlocking VIP treatment, perks and priority room upgrades at thousands of hotels around the world – no status or loyalty points needed – for free?
A hotel industry secret.
Welcome to the hotel industry’s insider secret: booking your stay not through an online booking platform, but through a human travel advisor (TA) like me. Read: a modern day, way cool, way magical travel agent armed with insider access to level up your next hotel stay – anywhere in the world – with VIP treatment, fabulous perks and priority room upgrades. For free.
Sound too good to be true? I can personally assure you this hotel wizardry not only exists, but is a veritable travel game-changer.
Here’s how it works.
Because of the high reach and reservation volume of online booking sites (known collectively as OTAs – online travel agencies), these platforms are able to command high payouts (commissions) from hotels. Think: up to 30% per booking. Meanwhile, hotels pay human travel advisors like me a much more reasonable commission: typically 10% per booking.
As you can see, this leaves quite a large cushion. One affording hotels flexibility in offering fabulous perks to you, the guest. This explains why travel advisors are able to hook up your stay with things like priority room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in/late check-out, food & beverage credits, spa credits, welcome amenities and more VIP perks. What’s more, it doesn’t cost you anything to book through a travel advisor as we’re paid directly from the hotel – at no additional cost to you.
The unspoken hotel guest hierarchy.
Spoiler: hotels don’t particularly love OTAs. They much prefer to work with travel advisors. Not only because they’re saving money on reservations booked by us, but because they consider our clients higher quality guests vs. those who book through online platforms.
Believe it or not, there is a secret hotel guest hierarchy and how you book your stay directly affects where you land. As in, who’s first in line for that room upgrade, who can enjoy the room a little longer with late check-out, etc. Guests booked through travel advisors like me? You land at the top – above guests booking directly through a hotel’s website, and even those booking through Amex FHR.
Travel advisors: a secret weapon that booking sites and blogs don’t want you to know about.
I know what you must be thinking. If working with a travel advisor is so amazing, why haven’t you heard of us before? Simply put, because online booking platforms don’t want you to know about us. Neither do online magazines, blogs and other digital publishers.
OTAs don’t want you to know about travel advisors because we create competition. Meanwhile, you’ll be hard-pressed to find much written on a blog or online magazine about the advantages of travel advisors. Why is that? Because of another insider secret I’m about to let you in on: affiliate links.
These days, all online magazines and blogs (Under the Palm included) use affiliate links. These are partnerships established between a digital publisher and an online retailer, brand or service resulting in unique, trackable links that have the potential to earn commission. Read: if you click on such a link and make a purchase, the online magazine or blog from where you clicked will earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. (By law, all publishers must disclose use of affiliate links in any article where they appear.)
As it turns out, OTAs like Expedia, Hotels and Booking are among the most popular affiliate partnerships for publishers of travel-related content. Read any article about a hotel – whether on the smallest travel blog or a large online magazine like Condé Nast Traveler – and chances are, you won’t be clicking-out to the hotel’s own website. Rather, you’ll almost always click-out to an OTA. This is because establishing affiliate partnerships with hotels one-by-one is time intensive, and in many cases, isn’t even offered by the property. Meanwhile, OTAs are one stop shops that provide a seamless partnership, link and payout experience for travel publishers.
So – why don’t you see more blogs and online magazines raving about the benefits of working with a travel advisor? Because if these digital publishers shared with readers that there’s a better way to book, they would be putting their own commissionable affiliate links, and hence earning potential, in jeopardy.
Travel advisors: a few common Q’s.
But wait – several online booking platforms, like Expedia and Amex FHR, offer their own perks programs. How is booking through a travel advisor better?
It all comes down to the hotel guest hierarchy. Yes – online booking platforms like Amex FHR, and most recently Expedia and Hotels, offer perks programs. These include some of the same perks offered through travel advisors: room upgrades, free breakfast, resort credits. The critical difference is that just because you have VIP status on Expedia doesn’t mean the hotel thinks you’re VIP. You may indeed be eligible for perks, but you’re still at the bottom of the list. (Read: last in line for that room upgrade.) Amex FHR ranks above Expedia, but TA guests rank above Amex FHR.
What’s more, customer service offered by online booking platforms – even Amex FHR – is lackluster at best. Hold times, call centers and customer service agents who don’t know you or your hotel can make for a frustrating, time-consuming experience. The last thing you need while traveling. Travel advisors on other hand know your travel style and preferences, know your hotel (including a direct line to your hotel’s general manager) and are a mere text message away for any pre or mid-travel troubleshooting.
Do I need to pay a travel advisor to book my hotel?
The vast majority of travel advisors – myself included – don’t charge a single thing to book a hotel through us. This is because we earn commission (typically 10%) which is paid to us directly by the hotel – at no additional cost to you. In rare cases, some travel advisors may charge a flat booking fee. I am not one of them.
Can travel advisors get me the cheapest rate and perks?
Oftentimes, but not always. The biggest value of working with a travel advisor is just that – maximizing value in your hotel stay. Though travel advisors can pull magic in glowing-up your stay with upgrades and perks, and though this glow-up may in fact be in tandem with the lowest price available, this isn’t always the case. You may, for example, spot a flash deal on an OTA that travel advisors simply can’t match. Or maybe we can match it, but we can’t add perks.
Remember: cheapest price isn’t always best price. If you’re spotting a dirt cheap deal, double check the fine print. Most of the time, the cheapest rate is non-refundable, doesn’t include any perks and may even come with surprise hidden fees that you’ll need to pay on-site. Sometimes, paying a little more at time of booking can more than pay off by the end of your stay.
Can you book my hotel stay with my points-earning loyalty membership and/or credit card?
Yes, and yes! Travel advisors can absolutely book your hotel stay with any points-earning hotel loyalty program (think: Marriott, Hilton, IHG) and/or points-earning credit card. You do not need to sacrifice either of these to book through a TA.
I already have an upcoming hotel stay booked. Can you add perks to my existing reservation?
So glad you asked, because oftentimes – yes! If you booked your upcoming stay directly through the hotel’s website, there is good chance we can takeover and level up your stay. To find out, we simply need your booking confirmation.
Why would a hotel pay an advisor commission, plus add perks, to a reservation that’s already booked, you may wonder? It all goes back to relationships and that secret hotel guest hierarchy. Because hotels value working with travel advisors and the quality guests we bring them, they’re incentivized to scratch our back so we scratch theirs – as in, bring them more guests in the future. Note that not all hotels will agree to a booking takeover, but many will.
Booked your hotel through an OTA? It’s still possible – but only by canceling your original reservation and rebooking through the advisor. This, of course, will only be worth it for you if you a) have free cancellation and b) our new rate quote matches, is lower than, or marginally above your original rate.
Ready to book better? Find out more and contact me here!