VEGAS MYTHS RE-BUSTED: The $20 Room Upgrade Trick

Estimated read time 5 min read

EDITOR’S NOTE: “Vegas Myths Busted” publishes every Monday, with a bonus Flashback Friday edition. Today’s entry in our ongoing series originally ran on Nov. 27, 2023. 

Flashing a crisp Andrew Jackson to the front desk clerk at the Riviera might have worked for your dad in 1995, but it probably won’t get you a room upgrade in 2023 Las Vegas.

This move is known as “the $20 sandwich.” (Image:

Oh wait, but your best friend told you it worked for him just last week? That’s only how he may have perceived the situation.

When guests ask if there’s an upgrade available, there are three possible answers a front-desk agent can give:

I’m sorry, but we’re all booked up.
Yes, and it will only cost $X extra per night.
Yes, and we can offer that at no extra charge.

Walking up to the long shiny desk with a $20 bill out, as your dad did in 1995, or even handing it over neatly folded between the credit card and ID you are required to show — known as “the $20 sandwich” — will seldom result in the coveted answer No. 3.

Why it Probably Won’t Work

That’s because, in 2023 Las Vegas, every front-desk transaction is recorded on video. And, though the rules differ from hotel to hotel, it’s generally frowned upon for front-desk agents to distribute perks according to which guests bribe them.

Though we’re using this photo to represent a Vegas resort check-in, we realize it was probably staged. However, we’ll take what we can get because resorts don’t normally allow media outlets to photograph their customers for privacy reasons. (Image:

However, suppose you are fortunate enough to happen to get Answer No. 3, then you liberate Mr. Jackson from your wallet after your room upgrade is promised. In that case, that would be considered a perfectly acceptable tip for the clerk to accept.

It also means that the $20 trick didn’t really work since you were free to be a jerk and stiff the agent and still get the upgrade.

“You aren’t paying for an upgrade, you’re thanking the front desk clerk for helping make the most of your visit,” explains Scott Roeben, founder of’s own Vital Vegas blog. “The reality is that a clerk will help if they can — usually based upon directives from higher-ups — gratuity or not.

“The service will still be provided because Vegas is a service town.”

When the $20 Trick Might Still Work

Front-desk agents might accept a flashed $20 if they have low risk aversion or don’t aspire to a career in hospitality. The trick can also still work if the hotel generally looks the other way and/or never monitors the employee videos unless something patently illegal occurs.

But there is no accurate way to know this information in advance.

However, according to Roeben, it’s now the $40 trick anyway “because $40 is the new $20, just as $5 is the new $1 for comped drinks.”

Why It Won’t Work Much Longer

A guest checks into the LINQ without human assistance. (Image:

About 75% of hotels now offer self-check-in kiosks, according to the automation trade publication Kiosk Marketplace. Much like airline and rental-car kiosks, guests can use their ID to pull up their reservations. After they pay with a credit or debit card, the kiosk spits out their room key.

What can’t be accomplished at a kiosk is the $20/$40 trick. The machine will offer paid upgrades or, if enough higher-priced rooms are vacant and the customer has surpassed a predetermined threshold of loyalty points, offer one for free.

When faced with the alternative of a 45-minute line to speak to an agent who also may or may not grant a free upgrade, kiosks have become the preferred check-in choice, especially for young (read: future) Vegas visitors.

What to Expect Next

This trend will likely continue until kiosks replace the job of front-desk agents entirely. Most likely, a single employee will be left, who — much like at the supermarket self-check-out line — staffs the area only to solve customer problems with the machines.

Vegas resorts, like all public corporations that must answer to stockholders, are happy whenever they can remove humans from their books. Humans — with their pesky demands for a livable wage, medical insurance, paid vacations, lunches and other work breaks — are their second-biggest operating cost.

Their biggest is the monthly lease payments most Vegas resorts must pay their corporate property owners. And there’s no eliminating that cost.

Look for “Vegas Myths Busted” every Monday on To read previously busted Vegas myths, visit Got a suggestion for a Vegas myth that needs busting? Email

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