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Ever heard of the $20 trick? It goes like this: Slip whomever’s manning the hotel’s front-desk a 20-spot between your driver’s license and credit card when you are checking in and ask if there are any “complimentary” room upgrades. The next thingyou know, you’ve been upgraded to a suite with a view of the Las Vegas strip. It’s a win-win, right?

Not always. Some people — like hotel officials — think it could have adverse effects on business, and on service.

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“You get into a very sticky situation in terms of unreported income,” said Michele Marsee, director of sales and marketing for the Plaza Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. “That is not a policy of the hotel to ever encourage that kind of thing.”

Marsee wouldn’t confirm or deny that she had ever seen the $20 trick in action, but she had heard of it.

“In the hotel business, people will tip to get a lot of things,” Marsee said. “In any business people will try to buy their way into something.”

It’s true. Bribery, or tipping for extra services, may not be as ubiquitous in the United States as it is in some other countries, but it has definitely worked its way into American culture. (Think Elaine in “Seinfeld” trying to bribe the Chinese restaurant hostess for a seat, or Lily in “How I Met Your Mother” slipping $100 to the bartender to make sure she always had a drink in her hand.) And the $20 trick is right there with it.

Multiple websites such as Frontdesk Tip and The Twenty Dollar Trick are dedicated to explaining how the trick works, there is a Facebook page dedicated to the practice, where people can post about their successes with the trick, and dozens of travel bloggers have discussed it.

The consensus? The $20 trick tends to be pretty effective. Some front desk workers have even handed back the $20 and just given guests an upgrade for asking. The trick is mainly used in major metropolitan areas, but the most success has been found in Las Vegas. And travelers who have found that success certainly don’t see it as a problem.

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“Every time we’ve been to Vegas, we’ve given it a shot. We’ve had a little better than a 50 percent rate,” said New York City-based Johnny Galbraith, who runs a finance blog with his wife called Our Freaking Budget. “Usually the ‘upgrade’ is a preferred location (Strip view) or renovated suite, but we’ve heard from readers of our site who have hit the figurative jackpot with penthouse suites.”

Monica Bay, an analyst and lawyer based in New York City, has also found success with the trick. And she feels good about it, because as she says, “it’s no secret that front desk folks aren’t making very much money.”

Bay first learned of the trick from the book Heads in Beds: A Reckless Memoir of Hotels, Hustles, and So-Called Hospitality by Jacob Tomsky.

“One of the big lessons of the book is how much power the front desk folks have,” Bay said. “I’ve gotten better rooms, free breakfasts, free wi-fi, faster service, free access to the elite lounges, later checkouts, etc.”

Marsee said the Plaza teaches their receptionists not to accept the tips and suggest an upgrade option customers can purchase. But she also knows that hotel officials can only micromanage so much.

“You can only hope and train your agents to be of good ethics and do the right thing,” she said, “but we are talking about human beings.”

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Tagged: Feature, Las Vegas

Ally Marotti

Ally Marotti

Ally is a Chicago-based journalist, recently transplanted from Ohio.

6 thoughts on “Hotel pro: The “$20 Trick”—should you, shouldn’t you?”

  1. I learned this from the “Heads in Beds” hotel industry book. Sometimes, it works almost too well. Recently I got a $300 hotel room on Hotwire for $110 in NYC for a couple of nights. I gave the clerk $20 when he started search for a room. “I see that Hotwire booked you one of our standard rooms” That was my queue. I placed the folded $20 on his desk and he quickly glanced at it. I politely requested something high up with a view. 30 seconds later he said we had a larger deluxe room with a view of midtown. Then he started typing away again – “I’ve given you complimentary internet for your entire stay”. I thanked him. Then he started writing on little slips of paper for a few minutes. I was sort of getting annoyed at waiting, and I inquire what else was needed. He was filling in a stack of free drink coupons for us for at the hotel bars and restaurant. When I interrupted him, he had three completed, and I thanked him very much. I guess it was a win-win. We spent $500 on restuarants and room service, and they gave us some almost no cost freebies.

  2. I used to work front desk/night audit and this was tried with me once. I returned the $20 and hooked the man up in our “best” room… it was one that we reserved for a regular who pissed the bed at least once a week. But because of the attempted bribe I “gave him a deal” and only charged him $25 over the normal rate

    1. So, he asked you to cheat a little, and your sense of honor wouldn’t let you so you cheated him? What an honest load of crap!

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