While I'm a person that would rather walk barefoot in a rattlesnake nest than look over the edge of a cliff or stand on a high ladder, I love the view from upper-story hotel rooms. Though it's not always true, usually he higher the floor, the better the view. One of the first things I do when I get into a room, in fact, is see if there are any good photo possibilities. I also take a few minutes to estimate which direction the room is facing so I can see if they'll be any good sunrise possibilities. Probably the only time I get up at dawn on a regular basis is when I'm in a hotel and I think there might be a great sunrise or early-morning view.
One way to increase your odds of getting an upper story room with a good view is to ask for one and to ask well in advance. Some hotels have far too automated a reservation process to take personal requests, but others are very accommodating. A few weeks ago while staying at the beautiful Westin Newport in Jersey City, New Jersey (one of the nicest hotels I've ever visited anywhere, by the way), the hotel guest manager actually emailed me and asked if I had a room preference! I requested an upper story room and got a room on the 22nd floor. While the view wasn't the glimpse of Manhattan I'd daydreamed about (having never seen the hotel before), it was nonetheless an interesting scene that included a very pretty little plaza. There were amazing views of Manhattan just a short walk from the hotel.
Although fewer and fewer hotel-room windows can be opened and the glass in a lot of hotel rooms is usually either very dirty or very tinted, I almost always still manage to get some interesting shots and I've gone as far as borrowing a bottle of window cleaner from the housekeeping cart to clean a window. The windows at the Westin were spotless (and I mean spotless) and so I had no problem shooting nice clear images (come to think of it, everything at the Westin was spotless).
Make an effort when you're making hotel reservations to see if you can't get a room with a great view. If you're willing to follow through on the deal, offering a manager or public relations person at the hotel the free use of your pictures for their website is another option. Often too, just chatting up the front desk staff and telling them you're a photographer will get you a nice view (and it's nice to reward them with a small tip), especially if you check in early when there are more rooms available.
I once checked into a hotel room in San Francisco after midnight and told a nice college-aged kid at the front desk that I was a photographer and would love a room with a great view. He laughed and said, "Do you want a really great view?" I thought he was teasing, but how could I say no to that? I was exhausted from flying cross country, but after I schlepped my camera bags up to the room, I opened the curtains wide and nearly fell over backwards: I had a panoramic view of San Francisco Bay from floor-to-ceiling windows that was surely the best view from any hotel I'd ever seen. I took the elevator back down to the lobby immediately and put a $20 bill in the kid's hand and believe it or not, when I got off the elevator, he wasn't surprised to see me at all. Tired as I was that night, I pulled a chair up to the window and sat and stared at the view for an hour. (And the next night I photographed it.)
If you can't score a great room, take the elevator to different floors and see if you can't shoot from a hallway window with a good view. Is it worth the effort? I've used photos in several books that were shot from hotel rooms in Las Vegas, New York, Bermuda and Germany--views that would have been impossible to get any other way.
1 day ago