Hotel Tricks of the Trade: Getting an Early Check In – When A Downgrade is Actually an Upgrade!

When is a hotel downgrade actually a huge upgrade?

Other bloggers have discussed actively downgrading their rooms when they are seeking a different room layout, or when they are unhappy with an upgrade that is a downgrade in their eyes.  In fact, travelers often file complaints when it comes to being downgraded from the room category they have booked.  Downgrading can even be a last ditch effort to save on travel expenses.

A Farmer’s Insurance Commercial That Sums Up the General Bait and Switch Feeling When You Get a Downgraded Room


A hotel downgrade reminds me of the hilarious Farmer’s Insurance commercials which essentially sums the feeling of most travelers when they see their hotel room, and it is not at all what the hotel website photos looked like.  You were expecting this… when in reality you booked this!  (On a personal aside, I happen to dance a lot like the guy in the Farmer’s Insurance video above!)

However, I am not asking a trick question here.  For me, a downgrade can be an upgrade when being able to check in early matters a whole lot.  So an intentional hotel downgrade actually happens to be one of my favorite tricks of the trade when it comes to increasing my odds of being able to check in early.

This weekend, Annalisa and I were in Chicago for a close friend’s wedding.  It also happened to be the same weekend as the Chicago Air and Water Show.  If you have never attended, it is a spectacular way to spend a day in Chicago.

Chicago Air and Water Show


What this meant for us was that we were competing for hotel rooms with not only normal tourist traffic to Chicago during a summer weekend, but some of the estimated 1.5 million people that attend the Chicago Air and Water Show annually.  Yikes.

We ended up choosing to stay at the Hotel Blake in the Printer’s Row area of Chicago.  Our flights into Midway International Airport arrived at 8AM, meaning that we were in Chicago a full 7 hours before our scheduled check-in time.  We purposefully booked an earlier arrival time because we wanted to have a chance to go to the Lincoln Park Zoo upon our arrival.  The conundrum we now faced was what the heck to do with our luggage for most of the day, which included Annalisa’s beautiful dress that she did not want to casually leave with the hotel porter.

It was time to try out my trick.

First, I examined the room options when booking at the property.

Hotel Room Booking Options


Notice that this property (like many hotels) offers a “Premium” version of the same room.  In this case, it’s the Standard King room.  Also notice that the cost of the rooms only differs by $10 USD.  What’s the difference between the rooms, you ask?

Premium King Difference


For the extra $10 USD/night, you get more space.  But that’s not what is relevant here.  What is relevant is the fact that this room is now a category above the Standard King room, and there are a special set of rooms at this property blocked off for reservations made for Premium King rooms.  Now, Annalisa and I don’t need the extra space, but I did want the room category ace in the hole, so I booked our reservations for a Premium King.

Arriving at the Hotel Blake


Hotel Check In Area


Upon arrival at the property at 9AM, I inquired about the availability of an early check-in.  Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), the answer was a no.  Instead of disappointment, I now pulled the ace out of my back pocket and asked if there is a potential downgrade in our room that would allow for us to check in early.  The agent response was one that I have seen many times before: bewilderment.  What customer pays for a higher class room, and requests a downgrade!?  Dutifully, the agent checked inventory and saw that there were actually 2 Standard King rooms available.  This makes sense seeing as how 70% of the property’s inventory were Standard rooms and our odds of an available room went up by increasing our denominator of possible rooms.  The agent saw no issue with downgrading our room and checking us in early.  However, it is far more difficult to convince a check-in agent to upgrade you into a higher room category if no rooms are available in your lower reservation category.  In this instance, if we had booked a Standard King and only Premium Kings were available for an early check-in, it would be hard (without elite status) to convince him/her to upgrade you since they are already doing you a solid by trying to check you in early.

Our willingness to ‘settle’ for a Standard King, in exchange for an early check-in, actually worked out even better than we expected.  After we had returned to the hotel in the evening, we were approached by hotel staff who informed us that a Premium King room would be available for the second night of our stay!

Standard King Room


Premium King Room


Because of this simple booking trick, we were able to drop off our luggage (and the dress!) 7 hours before the normal check in time and enjoy our day sightseeing in Chicago.  Of course, this trick does not work if the room category prices vary dramatically, or if you really do want the extra features offered by the upgraded room.  However, I have spent the extra few dollars on a higher room category over 10 times in the past few years when I needed an early check-in, and have never failed.  Often times I suspect it may be due, in part, to the check-in agent seeing that the guest is willing to be flexible (and give something up) in order to get a room early, and are more helpful than in instances where a pompous DYKWIA elite shows up and demands an early check in.

I’d love to hear your experiences in getting early check-ins at hotels in the comments below!

The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.


  1. Also, you could have saved the $10 and booked the room you ended up getting as it was available. The same logic applies in that if it is the most plentiful room it is the one most likely to be available.

    Unless you think hotels are playing games with you they will let you into to a room that you booked if one is available. My experience is that 9/10 I get in early with out any issues. I do not have top status in any hotel chain. So it is not due to status.

    • vc3-

      I agree that the most plentiful (read: cheapest) room is the one most likely to be available. Paying the extra $10 buys me access to another set of rooms that increases the total number of rooms that may be potentially available at check-in, which was important for me on this trip because of our itinerary.

      You are very fortunate that you have batted .900 in getting an early check-in. This trick is less valuable if I were to be visiting North Dakota in January, but I have often traveled on busy days (e.g., Air and Water Show weekend, major sporting events etc.) when hotels are often at, or near capacity. A little peace of mind, if you will!

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