Does the $20 Trick Work in Hotels?

When you’re traveling, naturally, you want to get the most bang for your buck. You might have heard of something called the $20 trick whispered by your travel savvy and travel hacking friends. The $20 trick is practice where hotel guests slip a $20 bill between their ID and credit card when checking in. They do this with the hopes that they’ll receive an upgrade to a nicer room or some other kind of perk. But the question remains, does the $20 trick work in hotels or is it a quick way to lose money?

It’s a controversial practice among the jet set. Some wear by it telling tales of how it has helped them get better rooms or free perks. Others will swear up and down that it is a waste of money. It’s a bit of a science, just like chasing flight upgrades.  In this article,  we’ll pick it apart, talk about how and when it works, and give you some tips if this is something you want to try on your travels.

What is the $20 Trick?

So what is the $20 trick actually? The $20 trick is where a hotel guest slips a 20 between their ID and credit card when they’re checking in. Essentially offering a generous tip to the front desk in a subtle way in hopes of receiving an upgrade on their room or some other perk. You may hear this referred to as the 20 euro trick or the 20 pound trick (or insert any global currency here), depending on where you’re reading this from, but the concept remains the same.

Where the $20 trick came from is something of a mystery. It is believed to have started in the land of kickbacks itself, Las Vegas, back in the 90s. Guests would use the trick to try to secure better rooms in the casinos and hotels along Las Vegas Boulevard. From there, the practice spread to other cities and hotels. Since then, it’s been a common topic of conversation among frequent travelers and hotel workers alike.

The $20 trick succeeds by appealing to the hotel staff’s desire to please their visitors and deliver exceptional customer service. The goal of presenting a small, up-front tip is to encourage the employees to go above and beyond. This could entail giving complimentary extras like breakfast or free parking (this is NOT insignificant in a lot of major cities), upgrading the room to a higher category, or even giving a little VIP treatment. The $20 trick will certainly not work all the time, and certain hotels may have stringent rules against taking tips. Nonetheless, many tourists firmly believe in it, saying that it gets them better rooms and more personalized service.

The $20 trick can get you an upgrade to a room like this
Photo by visualsofdana on Unsplash

Does the $20 Trick Work at Hotels?

So, the 64,000 question is…does it actually work? the short answer is there’s no way to tell for sure. Many travelers have reported a super high success rate when using the trick. Of course, their approach always paired with being polite and respectful to the hotel staff. In fact, some frequent travelers have reported success rates for the $20 trick is as high as 50%! 

There’s a few reasons as to why the $20 trick might just work in your favor. But most of all, unless you’re dealing with a sold-out hotel situation, front desk workers often have the power to adjust available room assignments and upgrades with their discretion. Do keep in mind, when there are major conventions and city-wide events happening, there is rarely wiggle room in room assignments, so maybe hold off if you’re staying during a particularly busy time. If not, you might just sway that discretion in your favor with a little tip. 

With all that said, there are a few reasons as to why the $20 trick might not work for you. For starters some hotels have really strict policies against staff accepting tips or upgrading guests based on monetary incentives.  It might be a situation where, per hotel policy, it would put their job in jeopardy if they upgraded you. Lastly, some people may simply have completely unrealistic expectations about what their $20 tip will get them. While it might help them get a room with a better view or a free amenity it’s highly unlikely that it will result in an upgrade to the presidential suite, so go in with realistic expectations. Even though it might seem insignificant a Skyline View will always beat a view of the dumpster out back. So be gracious, no matter what upgrade your $20 gets you. 

The Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, where the $20 trick got its start
Photo by Antonio Janeski on Unsplash

Tips For Using the $20 Trick

So, you want to give it a try? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you approach the front desk.

  1. Number one,  first and foremost, be discreet. If you’re not 100% sure that the hotel doesn’t have a “no tips”  policy, you might be putting the workers’ job at risk if they are caught. Slip it between your ID and credit card and hand them both to the front desk staff together. This will make your tip less obvious, and it may increase your chances of getting that upgrade.
  2. Second, and this should be standard when dealing with anyone in the service industry, be polite and be respectful. Remember that they are under her no obligation to upgrade your room or provide any other perks to you. While I was working in the service industry, it wouldn’t have mattered if a guest gave me a 400% tip. If they were super rude to me, they were not getting ANY special service. I’m certain any hotel employees out there reading this are shaking their heads in agreement. Just don’t be a jerk. Words to live by.
  3. Third, if you have something big going on like you’re on your honeymoon or another important event, be sure to mention it while you’re chatting.  Don’t be brash about it, but subtly work it into conversation. It might make the front desk worker a little more inclined to make your stay that much more special.  
  4. Lastly, be ready for the possibility that the trick just might not work. if you are uncomfortable with the idea of slipping somebody a 20 in the hopes for an upgrade or if the hotel staff straight up declines your request, don’t do it. Likewise if you can’t afford to lose the 20. If it doesn’t work, try not to let it ruin your trip. There are a few reasons as to why it might not work out for you, and that’s okay. There’s always your next trip.

The Potential Downsides

While using the $20 trick can be a handy tool for getting an upgrade or special perk during a hotel stay, It’s not without its risks and downsides.

The biggest and most obvious risk of the $20 trick is that it simply might not work leaving you disappointed, embarrassed, or straight up salty about being out $20. This risk is present every time you put that $20 bill in between your cards. Keep in mind, and some hotels may have strict policies against accepting tips or upgrading based on a kickback to the point where some guests who are caught trying to use the $20 trick might face consequences at that hotel, up to (while this is rare, it’s still a possibility), being asked to leave the hotel

Another potential risk of using the $20 trick is that, depending on delivery and the kind of day the employee has already had, it might be seen as a marker for entitlement or privilege. The perception of the hotel staff might be that this particular guest believes that they deserve special treatment because they’ve got a little bit of money to throw around. This can be off-putting to workers, especially if they’ve had a rough day with guests already. All of this just doubles down on the need to do this politely, tactfully, and discreetly.

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