Looking for an upgrade? Be like Columbo.
Remember the TV detective who blundered his way from case to case? He often controlled his environment and the outcome of each case by what appeared to be dumb luck.
A seemingly clueless Columbo use his clumsy appearance to catch his suspects off guard, when, in fact, he knew exactly where he was going and want he wanted to achieve. I suspect that if Columbo was a world traveler he would navigate his way in the same disarming manner.
Using a few Columbo techniques can help you improve your travel experiences, too. Here are a few of mine:
Silence is golden. I recently reserved a Hertz rental for an overseas trip. While making the reservation, I told the agent that I wanted to upgrade using a certificate. Normally I would have been upgraded from a subcompact car to one that might have room enough for two.
After arriving at the rental counter, I mentioned my pending upgrade and asked what type of car I would be offered. Well, the reservation office was using an outdated system and was unable to see what I should be upgraded to. So the agent told me that they only had a subcompact. But I knew the location had a nice selection of SUVs. So I asked for one.
And then I shut up. While the agent searched for an answer, I maintained my quietness. Having a langue barrier also worked in my favor. Eventually the agent told me that he would give me the SUV for $10 extra per day, including all the insurance coverage, and provide me with a toll road transponder, so I wouldn't have to stop and pay tolls. My silence paid off (and not having to search for change at every toll both seemed worth the $10 alone).
Know what you want.
When making hotel reservation, I first go onto the hotel's Web site to check out room rates, and, more importantly, room types. After making a reservation either on the hotel's site of through its reservations number, I then ask a reservation agent to place a notation in my record to upgrade me to a certain room type, like an executive level floor, ocean view, etc.
When I arrive to the hotel, my quest for an upgrade is almost a done deal. I simply instructed the agent that my profile is noted with a request for the type of room I desire. It also helps if I throw around the name of the hotel's manager or the manager of reservations, which can easily be found online or by asking a hotel reservations agent in a previous call.
Be the last to speak. My first two "Columbo" strategies work well with car rental agencies and hotels. With the airlines it becomes a bit trickier. With stricter rules and the airlines propensity to document everything, your chances for success are not as good.
The best technique when working with an airport agent to get admission into the airline's private lounge is to make your request and shut up. Let the agent click away at the keyboard. In most cases, they are trying to buy themselves time so you give up your request and walk away. So stay the course and let them be the first one to speak. Nine times out of ten, your silence will be rewarded with an upgrade.
The most important thing to keep in mind is honesty. Fabricating a tale might get you an upgrade once or twice but in the long run your travel company will catch on and refuse your requests. Even if you're thinking that you can just go on to another travel provider, eventually you'll run out of companies who will want to do business with you.
Follow the bumbling wisdom of Colombo by knowing in advance what you want and gently guide your airline, car rental company or hotel in that direction.

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