The 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick: Score a Better Hotel Room

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The 20 Dollar Sandwich trick can be a great way to get a free hotel upgrade. I share my tips on how the $20 Sandwich trick worked at the Bellagio in Vegas.

If you’ve not heard of the 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick before, it’s basically a way to get a “complimentary” upgrade when staying in a hotel. I know you could just pay for the upgraded room upon booking, but where’s the fun in that? 😉

The idea behind the $20 Sandwich is to get something of value for the tip you’re giving to the check-in clerk. Why is it called a “sandwich” you ask? Well, it’s because you slip in a $20 bill (or whatever other denomination you choose) between your driver’s license and credit card at check-in.

The check-in clerk can either offer you an upgrade and keep said cash, they can say there’s nothing available and return the cash, or they can check, still find nothing and keep the loot. So, you have a one in three shot of losing the cash and getting nothing. For $20, I was willing to take the chance to see what the experience would be like.

I had read plenty about the 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick before we went to Vegas. We normally just get the basic room when we travel to Vegas, but with it being my 40th birthday we wanted to go all out and spend as little as we could.

If you didn’t know already, we traveled to Vegas for free all thanks to rewards points from our credit cards – (you can find similar credit cards to the ones we used here.) After talking about it with Mrs. Frugal Rules about the $20 Trick she was adamantly opposed to doing it herself, but was more than happy for me to do it. You’ll see later why that’s humorous.

That being said, we did do the $20 Sandwich Trick in Vegas and had differing results. I’ll share the success and defeat behind each. I should also point out that the $20 trick is largely, at least from what I’ve read, relevant mainly in Vegas as it’s a city that thrives on tips. If I were to try it here in Omaha I’m quite certain I’d get some goofy looks and told what to do with our money.

The 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick Falls on its Face


We arrived at the Monte Carlo late Sunday afternoon and I scoped out what clerks were available. I’ve read that female clerks are more inclined to help out when the 20 Dollar Sandwich is presented, though I’ll hardly say that it’s scientific data. I found an open clerk, making sure there was no manager around and tried small talking with her. This was my first mistake…I’m not a small talker by any means and I’m sure it came off as mechanical.

I told the clerk that we were there to celebrate my 40th birthday and wanted to see if they had any complimentary upgrades. She wished me a happy birthday, said she would have to do some checking and walked away. She went and spoke to what I assume was a manager came back a few minutes later and said they had nothing available. I proceeded to ask if they had any complimentary buffet or spa passes available and she declined.

We went on to finish the check in process and she returned the $20 bill. So, no harm, no foul. As an aside, the shuttle driver on the way over to the Monte Carlo said there were four major conventions in Vegas and one of them was at the Monte Carlo.

It’s likely that they were very full and an offer of $20 for a one-night upgrade likely presented no motivation to the clerk. I’m also quite certain that my disjointed way of trying to start a conversation didn’t help out either.

We weren’t too disappointed as we were only there for one night and really were aiming to score with the 20 Dollar Sandwich at the main place we were staying, the Bellagio.

The $20 Sandwich Scores Big Time


Remember how I said my wife wanted nothing to do with the 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick? Well, after seeing my pathetic performance she woke up Monday morning and said she wanted to give it a try at the Bellagio. After making sure she didn’t feel pressured into doing it, I was happy to let her give it a try. We discussed our strategy and decided that instead of plunking down $20 we would give it a whirl with a C-Note.

Yes, that’s right, a $100 bill.

Before you decide to throw some projectile at me, I like to play big or go home and thus had the same mentality with this attempt. Secondly, we were staying at the Bellagio, for free, for three nights.

We felt the need to make it worth it for the clerk and to provide decent value – we also didn’t see the harm in risking $100 when that was our only expense, other than spending money, for the trip . We decided to send Mrs. Frugal Rules up to the check in area on her own. I stayed behind and walked around the Chinese New Year displays while she worked her magic.

We’re about as opposite as can get and my lovely wife can chit chat with the best of them. She found an open clerk, making sure they were not near a manager, and started sharing about why we were there.

That turned into a 30-minute discussion during which they bonded over being Moms and Mrs. Frugal Rules slyly put a $100 bill in between her ID and credit card. After asking my wife a few questions, she offered to have our bags held there and said she would text her when our room was ready.

We went off to Caesar’s to enjoy the breakfast buffet and about an hour later the clerk texted my wife with what our room assignment would be. We had originally been booked for a Salone Fountain View Suite.

Thanks to the 20 Dollar Sandwich, she had upgraded us to a Bellagio Premier Fountain View Suite which was, as we can tell, about $150+ more per night. So, for $100 we got the value of roughly $450 – not too bad in my opinion.

The new room was just a little smaller than the size of our house, included butler service, separate men’s and women’s restroom areas, Jacuzzi in the room and a number of other nice features. According to my wife, this is what helped her be successful with the 20 Sandwich Trick:

  • She was courteous
  • She was discreet about was she was asking for
  • Established small talk with the clerk
  • Made sure she didn’t rush the conversation
  • Made sure a manager was not near the clerk she walked up to
  • She made a connection with the clerk

The 20 Dollar Sandwich trick can be a great way to get a free hotel upgrade. I share my tips on how the $20 Sandwich trick worked at the Bellagio in Vegas.

I’ve heard of limited success at international hotels, but it varies on the location. It can’t hurt to help, especially if you really want that upgrade. If you plan to travel internationally, read our guide on where to get passport photos near me to save money.

There you have it. So, thanks to my lovely wife we were able to enjoy a killer room at the Bellagio. If you do try the $20 Sandwich Trick in Vegas, or anywhere else for that matter, remember that you need to offer some sort of value and to be realistic – you’re not going to get the Presidential Suite for plopping down a $20 bill. Also, be open to other amenities, like buffet passes, show tickets, or something else of value.


Additional resource: If you’re interested in travel hacking so as to earn free travel, there are many cards to consider when doing so. Each card has a little different spin with regards to if they offer cash back or travel rewards – both of which are valuable in their own right. You can check out some of my favorite credit cards here that can get you started on racking up rewards. If you have any questions as to how to start or what to look for in a card, feel free to contact me.


Have you tried the 20 Dollar Sandwich Trick before? If so, what has your success with it been? If not, how nervous do you think you’d be by asking for the upgrade?





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John is the founder of Frugal Rules, a dad, husband and veteran of the financial services industry whose writing has been featured in Forbes, CNBC, Yahoo Finance and more.

Passionate about helping people learn from his mistakes, John shares financial tools and tips to help you enjoy the freedom that comes from living frugally. One of his favorite tools is Personal Capital , which he used to plan for retirement and keep track of his finances in less than 15 minutes each month.

Another one of John's passions is helping people save $80 per month by axing their expensive cable subscriptions and replacing them with more affordable ones, like Hulu with Live TV.


  • Dee @ Color Me Frugal says:

    Nice work Mrs. Frugal Rules! I’ve never tried the $20 sandwich trick before. I think I’d be nervous to do it, but I’m certain that I would do better than my hubby, who also struggles with small talk πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      I know, it was all thanks to her! She was really nervous by the thought of it…at first. Maybe it was seeing me fail miserably that gave her the gumption to do it. πŸ˜‰

  • Mrs. Pop @ Planting Our Pennies says:

    You left out a bullet point on your wife’s list. * Use a Benjamin instead of a Jackson. =)

  • Matt Becker says:

    Awesome! So what does butler service actually mean?

    • John says:

      Good question Matt. It meant a number of things, though to be honest, I don’t know that we got full value out of it…likely due to us. It basically meant that they got us things we wanted, had asked for or said things we like to have in our room. They dealt directly with the concierge for us and arranged any reservations we wanted. They also did the usual things like cleaning our room twice daily and stuff like that.

  • Travis @debtchronicles says:

    That’s awesome! Although, while you said that females were more likely to help out with the sandwich trick, I would assert that male employees, helping female guests (which is the configuration you had when it worked) would be much more likely to succeed. There’s just something about the male ego that loves to try to impress the opposite gender….am I right?? πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      Lol, yea, I’d think you’re right on some level. Though, the clerk my wife worked with was a woman, which I think helped them connect and have a conversation.

  • Brian @ Luke1428 says:

    I love this! I would have to hand the project over to my wife as well. I would be nervous and mess the whole thing up.

  • DC @ Young Adult Money says:

    Oh man that’s so awesome that it worked out for you! I’d definitely be nervous trying this with a $100 bill but I would be up for trying it with $20….though as you illustrated the $100 bill might have given quite a bit more incentive for the clerk to get a room upgrade than a $20 room.

    • John says:

      Yea, I can definitely see that. But, since we got to stay there for free it really didn’t matter a whole lot. You also have to consider that you need to provide some value to the clerk to do it, especially if staying for more than a night.

  • Laurie @thefrugalfarmer says:

    OH my gosh – that is SO cool. I’ve been waiting and waiting for this post, John, to see how you guys pulled it off. Very cool! I feel so worldly now, knowing this valuable information. πŸ™‚

  • Gaming Your Finances says:

    Thats fantastic! I’m not sure if I could do it though. My execution would probably be terrible and I would just lose the $20 every time.

    • John says:

      From what I’ve read, losing the money isn’t all that common. Even if you did, $20 in the long range scheme of things isn’t too much…especially if you’re staying in Vegas. πŸ™‚

  • Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life says:

    I think the woman doing the asking is always helpful (as is a $100 bill) πŸ˜‰

  • Holly@ClubThrifty says:

    Nice! I definitely think this is worth a try. All they can say is no.

  • Jon @ Money Smart Guides says:

    I’ve never tried this but assume I would fail miserably! Like you, I’m not a small talker. I would send my wife who can work a room without any effort.

  • Catherine says:

    Haha go wife! I don’t know if I would ever do this… my husband however might. I wonder if you’d get the same results without throwing the cash in?

  • Tonya@Budget and the Beach says:

    I have actually never tried this before. I think because I’ve never been in a situation where I really cared what my room looked like or the view or anything, but that’s only because I don’t do much traveling that requires a hotel. I’m so totally un-smooth though so I could see this totally backfiring like it does in the movies. lol!

    • John says:

      Yea, I don’t know that we would’ve tried if it wasn’t for my 40th. Otherwise, I don’t think we would’ve done it as we normally don’t spend much time in our rooms when in Vegas.

  • Grayson Bell says:

    I know of this trick, yet have never tried it. I guess it is time to just give it a go.

  • Shannon @ Financially Blonde says:

    Ha! I have never heard of the $20 sandwich trick, but I love that you guys tried it twice while you were in Vegas. I actually make it a goal to try to charm my way to an upgrade every time I travel. I am like your wife and can chit chat with everyone, and it is amazing how far you can get just being nice to someone. The front desk people really have a lot of pull and most of the time people treat them like garbage.

    • John says:

      Yea, I think me crashing and burning gave my wife the drive to try it herself and get over her nerves. I agree, most front desk clerks are treated like garbage, so being nice can go a long way. Plus, throwing in a C-Note certainly doesn’t hurt either. πŸ™‚

  • Michelle says:

    I’m going to Vegas this week, and I think we are finally going to try the $20 trick. I always forget!

  • Lauren says:

    Nice to hear that it worked out for you guys! Using $100 was a pretty ballsy move! I’m not sure that I’d have the courage to try it myself, haha.

    • John says:

      Yea, I can definitely see that. If we hadn’t been staying there for free we likely would have tried it with much less.

  • Andy@artofbeingcheap says:

    That is awesome. I tried this once before, also at the Bellagio, and it did not work for me. You can definitely put me in the awkward at small talk category so maybe next time I will let my wife give it a try.

    • John says:

      Yea, I think it depends a lot on who you get and what mood they’re in. That extra money doesn’t hurt either. πŸ™‚

  • Raquel@Practical Cents says:

    Nice trick. I would let my husband do this as he’s better at small talk than I am.

  • Kim says:

    I’m sure I’d be too nervous and security would think I was doing something illegal. The only time we’ve ever been upgraded in Vegas was when the Venetian was oversold and we got a killer suite for the first night. It did suck to have to move to our regular room after that one.

  • Andrew@LivingRichCheaply says:

    Good job Mrs. Frugal Rules! I don’t think I could pull it off…my small talk is mechanical as it is and when you add in the anxiety of trying to pull the 20 dollar sandwich trick…I don’t see it working well for me. I once scored an upgrade by being nice and my wife and I were just married. But honestly I think it was easy because the place was kinda dead and I think they had a lot of rooms available so they gave us a nice room.

    • John says:

      I know, it was all thanks to my lovely wife! I can definitely understand that anxiety…I’m sure that’s part of why I failed so miserably.

  • Natalie @ Financegirl says:

    This is such a great tip! I’ve never heard of it, and I think I’m going to try it. I’m definitely more hesitant to haggle or try to get upgrades, but it’s something I’m working on and this seems like a great way to start. Next time I’m at a hotel, I’ll give it a try.

    • John says:

      Yea, I think it’s generally pretty harmless and if it doesn’t work you’re likely never going to see the person ever again so no issues.

  • Elizabeth H says:

    Wow! I wonder if this would work in the Chicago area for my next vacation. The city itself can be so costly! :/

  • MMD says:

    I love that you guys actually have given this a shot more than once. If nothing else it makes a great story to tell people. I always maintain that if you are nice and act like a real person with the staff you’ll probably get just as lucky as paying them off.

    • John says:

      That’s very true MMD. I agree, it will work in most cases though I doubt it would work in Vegas – they live on tips!

  • Josh @ says:

    That’s interesting John. You know, I never heard of the 20 dollar sandwich trick until I read this post! That’s awesome that Mrs. Frugal Rules scored such a big upgrade. Sounds like it was definitely worth the $100. I don’t know that I’d gamble a hundred bucks all the time, but like you said, you gotta go big! Thanks for sharing the idea!

    • John says:

      Yea, it was worth it in this case. However, I agree, we wouldn’t likely do this much again as it was for a special occasion.

  • Shannon @ The Heavy Purse says:

    I love this, John! I think my husband would have better luck than me. I’m more get down to business and he’s more the small talk guy. And I definitely think a $100 bill made a huge difference, especially at the Bellagio (such a beautiful property). She may have still gotten an upgrade but I think $100 helped make it a truly spectacular upgrade!

    • John says:

      It’s all about knowing your strengths in my opinion Shannon. I agree, having that $100 bill probably helped a good bit. πŸ™‚

  • E.M. says:

    Nice job Mrs. Frugal Rules! The upgrade you got sounds well worth it. I’m not all that amazing with small talk, but I can fake it a lot better than my boyfriend. One of my bosses once told me that he tells clerks that it’s a special occasion and they’re usually willing to either give an upgrade, or throw some free treats in the room. I’m pretty sure he tries it everywhere he stays. I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable fibbing like that though, but at least with this trick you’re giving them an actual incentive!

    • John says:

      I bet your boss isn’t the only one who does that. I couldn’t do it myself either, as it just wouldn’t feel right about it. Yes, the incentive can work, especially if you make it worth their while.

  • Jason B says:

    Sounds like you hit the jackpot with that upgrade. I haven’t tried the 20 dollar sandwich trick, but I will give it a shot next time I’m in Vegas.

  • Kassandra says:

    I learned something new today so thanks John! I think you should let your wife handle the sandwich missions from now on lol!

  • Carlos @ TheFrugalWeds says:

    Very nice gamble there. I would love to try but I think I would fumble the small talk. We do frequent Vegas so I think I will let the wife take the lead on this!

    • John says:

      Thanks Carlos! Yea, it’s all about knowing your strengths and in this case it definitely was with my lovely wife. πŸ™‚

  • Free To Pursue says:

    I love that you tried this out. “Only in Las Vegas” as they say.

    I would add one more thing to your wife’s list (other than the previously mentioned $100 as opposed to $20: She is prettier too. The odds were in her favour ;).

    I would guess the fancier the hotel, the more likely it is to work. I’m sure they use upgrades for who they think are high rollers all the time.

    • John says:

      Lol, yes I do believe that is generally the case…with this situation at least. πŸ˜‰

      Ha ha, that is DEFINITELY the case! No one is going to give my ugly mug something, but my wife is a different story. πŸ™‚

      That’a a good point, I’d definitely agree.

  • William @ Drop Dead Money says:

    I don’t recall how you got a room at the Bellagio for free… πŸ™‚

    • John says:

      Oh, I linked to the article where I spoke about it in detail. Long story short, it was all thanks to rewards points. πŸ™‚

  • Alain says:

    I find that the best way to get a good deal is just to rent from Airbnb. You get a full apartment for way less than a room rental.

    • John says:

      Very true. However, we went to Vegas for a specific reason and wanted to stay at the Bellagio. We also had the points to cover it so it was no money out of our pockets, save for the $100, to stay there. If it were somewhere else we were going then we’d be looking at them as a possibility.

  • Glen Craig says:

    That’s awesome. If nothing else it shows you have to at least ask. Next time you go you have to make it more scientific though and use the same dollar amount at each hotel. Still, if I had a free room I wouldn’t mind putting up a $100 for an upgrade.

    • John says:

      I know, I was pretty excited to see it work, even though I crashed and burned on my attempt. For the value we got, I think $100 was a pretty sweet deal.

  • Kemkem says:

    I’ve tried this once before at the Bellagio and it worked, without the sandwich. I always just ask with a big smile on my face and finish up with, if you can’t do problem! This was also soon after they opened though, so maybe that had more to do with it. It also worked at Paris.. I used to do it for free first class upgrades too till they did away with that. I think people don’t want to make you think that something is beyond their power, so they try harder. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t . My husband is always surprised at what l get away with cos he is a crabby sort.. ;0))

    • John says:

      I’ve read that the no sandwich approach works as well, just not as with as much success. Then again, if you can get it for free and are courteous like you are with it, then why not give it a try. I’m the crabby sort too. πŸ™‚

  • Kyle | says:

    So you’re saying this wouldn’t work when I visit the Holiday Inn in Yuba City, CA? Love this post John, my wife would also get way better results than I would. I’d end up getting arrested for something…

  • Elizabeth @ Single Mom Debt says:

    Your wife rocks. I am not a small talker. And would have been too nervous. Then again, a couple drinks from the bar and I become super woman. Love how she slipped the C-bill in between her CC and ID. Nice move.

    • John says:

      Thanks, I like to think so as well. πŸ™‚ I agree, she was pretty sly about it and I would’ve just royally screwed it up.

  • Asset-Grinder says:

    Pretty kool trick but I would be to hesitant to try it.

  • Rebecca says:

    We did this when we went to the Bellagio a couple of years ago for your 10th wedding anniversary. I gave the guy a $20 and he upgraded us to a corner suite with views of the fountain, gave us front of the line buffet passes, club passes, & drink tickets in those clubs. We are going to try it again this weekend in Palm Springs. If they don’t have anything, they will usually give the money back. It’s always worth a shot! πŸ˜‰

  • Keith says:

    Just came back from Vegas for a bachelor party weekend with three buddies.

    We had a comped room at the Mirage on Thurs and a comped room at the Luxor on Friday from myVegas, and I decided to finally give the $20 trick a try.

    Mirage: Desk clerk was a young guy, and I dropped the sandwich on the desk, asking if he had any upgrades available. He took the bill out and set it on the counter and said he’d come back to it in a minute.

    He told us that all of the suites he had only had one bed, so we just told him we should probably stick with our original two queen room. he did say that he’d put a $50 Food and Beverage credit on the room for us. I smiled and thanked him, then he casually grabbed the $20 bill as he explained where our room was, and he said he’d make it $75 in F&B since there were four of us. He also put us in an awesome strip view room on the 18th floor overlooking the volcano.

    Luxor: Female clerk, set down the sandwich and politely asked if she had any upgrades available. She searched the computer and was going to put us in a Deluxe Tower room when my friend said to me “we don’t want the tower” and she asked why. He explained that it was far away from everything, but she said that she liked the tower rooms but would look to see if there was anything in the pyramid.

    She offered to give us a Pyramid Suite with two queen beds, which had 758 square feet for $35 more. We told her we’d take it, but then it turned out to be sold out and we took the Deluxe room after all. She handed us our coupon book and pointed out the $20 food and beverage coupon, then said we should take the second book too since there were four of us. We were thankful and I told her to keep the $20, and she was very gracious about it.

    When we got to our room the phone was ringing. She let me know that I forgot my card at the desk, but that it was her fault. To make up for it she said she had a voucher for the four of us to have a comped buffet dinner, a value of $100. The room ended up being way better than I’d have guessed, and I’d say all in all this was a nice win!

  • Toaha says:

    This information was awesome! I’m visiting Vegas next month and just found out about the $20 sandwich today. I’ve been reading reviews all over the internet and my consensus is that it seems to work most of the time however I’m still nervous about trying it. That said I’m going to give it a shot. We already have a pretty decent room with a strip view and it was comped by the casino so I think I will follow suit and and offer a c-note. After all I want a suite. If I can remember I will update and let everyone know I it went once I get back.

    • John Schmoll says:

      Glad to be of help Toaha! It definitely does work, and certainly worth a try. Best of luck at it – just be yourself and you should be just fine. πŸ™‚

  • Andrew says:

    Austin town lake holiday inn. I got 2 nights for the cheapest on hotwire and figured I would try the tip trick.

    Was upgraded to top floor, with lake view and 4 breakfast passes (2 per day for me and the wife). With the hotel and tip, I paid 196 for two nights. The upgraded room was $200 per night, plus breakfast each morning.

    Felt a little silly trying this at a holiday inn, but was pleased with the results. Will do it again!

  • John P says:

    We had a 2-night comp’d room at the Luxor (courtesy of MyVegas) and I successfully used the $20 sandwich to get it upgraded to a Suite. We could have had a Tower Suite but when I mentioned to the desk clerk that we had our 2 kids with us, so we needed at least 2 Queens, she said the best she could do was a Pyramid Suite; it was still pretty sweet πŸ˜‰

    I actually attempted to make small talk with her when I handed over the “sandwich” but the second she took out the $20 she cut me off and said “Let me see what I can do for you.”

    If I was staying at the Bellagio for 3 nights I’d definitely make it a $100 sandwich. I couldn’t imagine it working there for $20 for 3 nights.

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