10 Biggest Mistakes Couples Make with Hotel Room Blocks and How to Avoid Them
Hotel Room Blocks for Weddings, Explained
Are we speaking a foreign language when we say hotel room blocks? Yeah, I had no clue what these were until I started planning a wedding myself. A room block is a reservation for 10+ rooms, typically created to ensure out-of-town-guests have a place to stay for the duration of a wedding or a no-brainer if you’re having a destination wedding and everyone needs a place to stay close by. You’re essentially saving yourself a headache and a half by simplifying the planning process. After all, not knowing where your guests are staying (potentially scattered across all sorts of locations) would be a logistical nightmare as far as transportation was concerned. I learned the more I could direct my guests in advance, the less text messages I’d receive with questions about the weekend. PRAISE!
Why book a room block?
Not only will do guests love the opportunity to mingle with one another, but they especially love the perk of a room rate discount typically provided with room blocks. Group rates can be anywhere from 15-40% lower, which let’s be honest, can be a real cherry on top for anyone traveling for a wedding. Need we bring up the simplified transportation again too?
How and when to reserve a room block
Couples typically reserve hotel room blocks about 3-8 months before the wedding. To do this, narrow your search to a handful of hotels (Hotel Planner is a great tool to start with!) and give each of them a call, asking for the venue manager. Be prepared with the dates you expect your guests to stay, a rough estimate of how many rooms you want to reserve and any special requests like transportation to/from the airport, parking passes, free wifi, welcome bag drop-offs, etc. The key is to not accept their first offer – they expect you to negotiate!
Negotiating your room block contract
It’s up to you to know what to look for, what to ask for and when to pass. And while hotel room blocks can feel like a web of chaos if you’re unfamiliar with the terminology, negotiating contracts or planning for big groups, you can rest assured knowing you’re on the right path if you pay close attention to these 10 big mistakes couples typically make and avoid them like the plague!
Photo by Stacie Flinner at The Greenbrier
1. Not learning how to speak the language
Whether you’re talking to a sales manager at a hotel you’ve always dreamed of or you’re trying to check this “not-so-important” item off your list as soon as possible, let me say this loud and clear…. Never go into a contract blind! Every hotel will have different clauses and fees associated with everything from penalties for overbooking, penalties for underbooking, fees for special services like welcome bag drop-offs, etc. Before you even have this conversation with your sales agents, learn how to speak their language.
So let’s get down to (legal) business! Here are a few of the biggest terms you should know:
Deposit Amount: Hotels will typically have a set deposit amount that needs to be paid at the time the contract is signed
Cut-Off: Generally, hotels will set a cut-off date say 30 (or even 60 days) prior to the wedding. This refers to the last date your guests can book rooms reserved in your block before being released for sale to the general public. You may decide you want to hold onto those rooms even after the cut-off date, and this is where you’ll want to be hyper-aware of your attrition clause.
Cancellation Policy: Okay, you’re probably familiar with this term. But it’s important to understand exactly what the damages will be should you cancel your room block for any reason. If you cannot negotiate a no-penalties cancellation clause, ask to have the cut-off date be the last date you can cancel without any fees. And while we never like to be Negative Nancy’s, with contracts you should always go in assuming the worst case scenario because if it happens to you, you don’t want to be stuck. Make sure there is a force majeure section that talks about what will happen in the event you need to terminate the contract due to an emergency totally out of your control (sudden illness, death, weather or any other act of God).
Allowable Shrinkage Clause: The percentage of rooms allowed to go unfilled (typically around 10-20%)
Attrition Clause: The percentage of rooms that must be filled to avoid a penalty (typically 80-90%). This penalty can be the $ sum of each room that was left unbooked for your quota goal. It’s a hotel’s way of making sure they make the profit promised to them one way or another, and if it ain’t your guests pocket it’s coming out of… it’s yours. Let’s just say, this is one clause you want to avoid at all costs if you can. You may want to tell the sales agent that this is a deal breaker, and many will find alternative options since they do want your business. If they won’t drop their poker face, perhaps it’s in your best interest to move on or negotiate a mitigation/re-sell clause.
Mitigation/Re-Sell Clause: The hotel is required to try and sell the unfilled rooms in your block after the cut-off date. This way, you are off the hook for rooms unfilled by your guests that are later sold to other guests.
Photo by Rachel Thurston with florals by Bloomers
2. Not communicating their expectations
While you’re in the negotiation stage, be sure to ask about small little details you absolutely must-have. Unfortunately, they don’t always come free. So to avoid a burden of a surprise close to your wedding day, be aware of the hotel’s policies + fees for services like turn down treats, welcome bag drop-offs, special assistance to rooms, etc. You can potentially use often these non-negotiable fees to reduce your deposit amount or other clauses since the hotel will be making a guaranteed sum here.
3. Being afraid to ask for extras
Negotiating your room block doesn’t just mean negotiating a rate. Don’t be afraid to ask for concessions like free wifi for your guest, free parking passes, or even free upgrades for you and your partner if you’re booking a room at the hotel too. You can save a lot on a group rate, but these additional opportunities for savings often go overlooked.
Photo + venue Artist Residence London
4. Not planning far enough in advance
They say you can book hotel room blocks as close-in as 3 months, and while it’s something you maybe can do… it’s not something you should. The farther out you can begin this conversation with different hotels, the better! Most couples will start to look at their options about 8 months from the wedding date, once they have a better guesstimate of their guest count (no pun intended). This way, they can throw a farther net for hotel options in a range of price points and in the location they desire. Plus, you have more negotiating power when more hotels are available… bidding for you!
Photo + venue Isleta El Espino
5. Assuming one size fits all
Your guests will likely be coming with expectations in a range of price points, so it’s always a good idea to give them options. Try to book between 2-3 different hotels so they can choose the style, location, price, etc. that’s right for them. On the flip side, couples who book too many hotels for their guest may find themselves in the pickles we discussed in bullet #1. You don’t want to risk having unfilled rooms, especially across the board for lots of different hotels. That’s why we’d say 2-3 hotels is the magic number.
6. Committing to too many rooms
This one shouldn’t come as a shock this far down the bullet list, but it’s worth noting again. And while it differs widely by guest count and other variables, on average, couples will start out reserving 10 rooms in their block. You can always increase your block later if it starts to fill up too quickly, so in the beginning, don’t be afraid to guesstimate your number of rooms on the safer side.
Photo by Oivind Haug at Deplar Farm
7. Not factoring distance
Location, location, location. It matters for your venue, your getting ready location, and especially for your hotel room blocks! The official recommendation is no more than 10 miles (or a 30 min drive) away from your wedding venue. Keep in mind, many of your out of town guests may not have their own sweet ride during their stay. So the best way to ensure they have a memorable experience (in a good way) is to keep it convenient. Even better if you offer transportation from the hotels you’ve booked to the ceremony site or if it’s in walking distance!
Photo by Conde Nast Traveler at Le Sirenuse
8. Forgetting about local events
Your wedding is the event of the year, let’s be honest. But that doesn’t stop these simple affairs like local conferences, concerts, conventions, etc from turning up in your area on your wedding weekend. So be conscious of what’s going on near the hotels you’re looking at, as this will not only affect availability, but price hikes for room rates too.
9. Letting their guests figure it out on their own
We are so fortunate to live in an age of communication outlets out the wazoo. This also means that there is no excuse for leaving your guests hanging before the wedding! Sharing your room block information with everyone in a variety of places will help them help you (remember attrition?) So put it on your website. Put it on your invites. Tattoo it on your forehead (okay, maybe not that last one). But you get the point! Let them know what their options are, what the price points are, where they are, how they should reserve a room in your block (do they just mention your name or have to go through a specific process?), what the cut-off date will be, what the deal is with transportation to/from the wedding (if applicable)… and even a heads up if transportation to/from the wedding is not applicable! The last thing you want is the inevitable moment your guests reach out to you the week of your wedding, panicked, about how their stay will play out. Like I said… help them help you.
Photo + venue Villa Punto de Vista
10. Not practicing kindness
At the end of the day, you want to have a good relationship with the hotels you’ve booked room blocks at. That’s why it’s so important, even when you negotiate, to maintain a positive and open front. After all, sales agents are just doing their jobs and these hotels will be the people serving you during your celebration. You don’t want there to be any bad blood and hey, if they love you, you may even find a complimentary bottle of champagne in your room on the wedding night!
Photo by Jana Snuderl
So ya see? It’s not all that elusive of a concept once you get the idea of how it works + what you should be on the lookout for. Hotel room blocks are a beautiful thing that can save you and your guests time, money, stress and chaos on the wedding day so do take advantage if you have more than 30 guests! Now that you know how to navigate this sea, you’ll do just fine!