Travel hacking to get the whirlpool suite in a sold-out hotel


I like to play the travel hacking game. I suspect you likely do too, considering this post is one of the most frequently-viewed pages on this site.

I play the game a bit differently from many other people though. I don’t put all my purchases on credit cards to manufacture points and I rarely redeem for big ticket flights. I don’t need the Penthouse Suite in a hotel; I’d rather just get a free or reduced price stay.

But one of my goals is to snag the room with the hot tub.

I spa

You may not know this, but many hotels, even the not-so-swanky ones, have rooms that contain whirlpools in the room itself. I first encountered this a few years ago, and I’ve been hooked ever since. To me, this is the epitome of a lavish lifestyle. It doesn’t matter if the hotel is a Holiday Inn Express.

When I decided to do the Seattle to Portland bike ride, I knew that I would be doing it in two days, which would necessitate an overnight stop. According to the event organizers, riders would be provided with some sort of dorm bed environment, or the chance to sleep on a gymnasium floor.

The prospect of sleeping on a floor after riding a hundred miles (and prior to riding a hundred more) had approximately zero interest for me. But I looked around and found that all the hotels in the area were sold out. This was February, six months prior to the event. What to do?

Getting a room at a sold-out hotel

So I did some research. First off, I found that there was a Holiday Inn Express in Chehalis. (I noticed that they had “whirlpool rooms,” but that wouldn’t do me any good if I couldn’t get any room at all.)

I looked around to see if there were any strings I could pull, and found one. I have Platinum status with Priority Club (recently renamed IHG Rewards) which is the loyalty program for Holiday Inn. That is a story in itself, but what I noticed when I read the terms and conditions was something very interesting: Guaranteed Room Availability. As long as I made a reservation 72 hours in advance, I could get a room even at a sold out hotel.

Now first of all, how does that work? If there are rooms available, why do they say it’s sold out? And if there really are no rooms available, do they go in and cancel some poor soul’s reservation in favor of me? I have no idea.

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Either way, I called Priority Club and decided to see if I could do this. I asked to make a reservation at the hotel. When informed that the place was sold out, I asked to invoke the Guaranteed Room Availability. It felt like I was saying the secret password.

And it worked. “Of course, sir.” I couldn’t believe it.

The price was kind of high (around $200) but it felt like a small price to pay, considering the alternative was gymnasium floor. I wished I could have used points, but the terms and conditions stated that you couldn’t use points in this case.

Sometimes you don’t even need to ask

The nice woman at Priority Club transferred me to the hotel’s front desk to complete the transaction. The woman there was even friendlier, and we chatted about the bike ride. “Craziest day of the year for us,” she said, and I’d believe it.

“Now, did you want to use points for this stay?” She really did ask this.

It is often true that hotel and airline people don’t always know the finer points of their own loyalty programs, and sometimes this can be exploited (like routing a flight from America to Europe with a layover in Asia, which can be done if your agent doesn’t know his or her airlines codes well, or have a solid grasp of world geography). But I didn’t need to ask for any rule bending; it was offered to me. Usually, the lesson is that it never hurts to ask (hat tip to The Points Guy) but in this case the lesson was don’t question when things work in your favor.

“Yes please,” I said with only a moment’s hesitation. In a flash, this $200 hotel became a $0 hotel. Not bad.

Lots more clicking on the computer on the other end. Noting how I was a “valued” Platinum member, she asked casually, “if the whirlpool suite is available, are you interested in it?

Another moment’s hesitation. “Has anyone in the history of the world ever said no to that question?”

It’s not all luck

This was definitely one of those too-good-to-be-true situations. Was it just luck?

Luck played a part, of course, but that wasn’t the only part. I actually have an additional secret strategy I use when talking to people. I can’t guarantee that this had anything to do with it, but I’ll bet you it helped. Here’s what I do and what I suggest you do as well:

Be nice. Be friendly. Talk to people like they are human beings. Try to find the humanity in the situation, even if they don’t immediately show it to you. These are people, not robots. Find a way to jolt them out of their routine. Tell a joke. Make them smile. Smile when you talk to them. Even though you’re on the phone, they can tell.

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All of this won’t ensure that you get something out of it, but it will help to possibly brighten someone’s day. That’s pretty good in itself. And if you make someone feel good, and they decide they want to do something nice for you just because, then that’s a bonus.

This must be a secret, otherwise, why wouldn’t more people do this?

Upgrade confirmed

Upgrades in Priority Club hotels are a perk that are available to those with elite status. It’s not a guarantee by any means; I usually don’t get upgrades at Holiday Inn properties (not that it always matters). Also, upgrades are less common when on points stays. So to be honest, I didn’t really expect to get the upgraded room. I don’t know how many whirlpool suites there are in the hotel, but the chances of it going to me seemed slim.

A few days before the event, I logged in to check my reservation and found this cryptic phrase attached:


This sounded promising (the words “suite” and “deluxe” especially), but “tub” could mean anything. So I searched online and found this even more cryptic string (everything below is verbatim from the Holiday Inn website, including misspellings):


To me, there were only two words in that whole phrase: “hot tub.”

So while thousands of riders spent the night on the gymnasium floor (or camped in the local park), I got to do this.

Way better than the floor.
Way better than the gymnasium.

Yeah, travel hacking is a fun game.

Special thanks go to the staff of the Chehalis Holiday Inn Express, who not only hooked me up in a big way, but also were super friendly and helpful even when they were overrun with people wearing hard cleats and dazed expressions. Even if a hot tub hadn’t been available, it still would have been a wonderful stay.

But enough about me: have you ever gotten the whirlpool suite?

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