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This simple yet often-overlooked strategy can yield welcome gifts, free food, and even room upgrades.

Frequent travel can take its toll, but staying loyal to an airline or a hotel brand has a big plus: elite status. With it come bonuses, including room upgrades, breakfast, free Wi-Fi, and welcome gifts aplenty. But what if you don’t travel often enough, or predictably enough, to earn elite status with a hotel brand? There’s an easy strategy for getting elite treatment without the card: call or email the hotel before you arrive.

Hotels managers want to please their guests, and if they can create a memorable experience that might result in a return visit, positive feedback, and referrals, they are often willing to go above and beyond.

Some hotel companies have specific programs to honor the requests of frequent guests. The Starwood Preferred Guest Ambassador program gives the brand’s biggest spenders a personal concierge, who will handle special requests—right down to stocking the minibar with preferred goodies and providing wine and snacks if they notice that travelers have had a particularly busy week.

Even if you’re not part of one of these programs, hotels often include a general email on their website, which is perfect for making special requests; reaching out to the hotel on social media is can be effective, as well. It can pay to stay active on Twitter or Facebook during your stay. Marriott, for instance, operates dedicated control rooms, where team members use “geo-fencing” technology to scan social media channels for activity at its properties, often dispatching surprise perks to guests in real time.

One of Marriott's M Live Studios, where the company monitors—and responds to—social media activity.

It may seem pushy to make special requests in advance, many hoteliers say they would rather hear about specific concerns before a guest arrives. Elysia Doumbalian, guest relations manager of the InterContinental Los Angeles Century City, says, “Taking the time to introduce yourself and share your travel details and preferences—especially prior to arrival, via email or with a quick phone call—makes a big difference in the service and experience we are able to offer.”

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The hotel constructs a profile for each guest, notes Doumbalian, including arrival and departure patterns, amenity preferences, allergies, birthdays, and even how someone likes the bed made or turned down. 

Adrian Proietti, chief concierge at the InterContinental New York Barclay, says that email is usually the most efficient way of communicating with the general manager or concierge and that a guest shouldn’t hesitate to make contact. A hotel’s concierge desk, notes Proietti, exists to find solutions or point guests in the right direction. 

Good travel agents can help you get extra perks thanks to often strong relationships that they have with a hotel or cruise partner. At Italy’s Grand Hotel Tremezzo, located on the shore of Lake Como, travel-agent partners provide the hotel with information about each guest—including such details as a favorite room—before arrival, which helps the hotel personalize his or her experience.

That said, it may pay to skip the travel agent and book your room directly with the hotel. An in-house reservations agent may be able to throw in such perks as breakfast or free Wi-Fi, and for guests, it’s great to have an onsite contact for special requests.

So, what details should you communicate to your hotel before you arrive?

Your dietary requirements. Hotels will often go out of their way to support guests’ nutritional needs and quirks. According to Goetz Bauer, general manager of the new Hua Hin Marriott Resort and Spa in Thailand, his staff works to identify and greet guests by name when they enter the restaurant. This flags the dining team to cross-check allergies or nutritional requirements. In addition to such accommodations as gluten-free breakfast options, the hotel can provide specific setups for groups or menu options for individuals.

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Your room requirements. If you are traveling with family members, for instance, let the hotel know in advance that you’d like connecting rooms or rooms in close proximity to each other—and make advance requests for such equipment as refrigerators, rollaway beds, or cots. Just because you note such requests in your online reservation form doesn’t always mean hotel staff sees it. 

Your special occasion. Hoteliers relish opportunities to surprise guests with welcome gifts and other goodies for guests celebrating birthdays or anniversaries—and if a better room is available, they just might help you celebrate with an upgrade. Instagram is dotted with pictures of surprise bottles of wine, birthday cakes, and gift bags.

Your local plans. If your trip centers around a specific meeting or local event, your hotel may be able to alert you to parties or other related social happenings, and business travelers attending a conference can get tips on name-badge discounts during their stay.

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