So. The wedding is almost planned, and suddenly someone (your mom, your well meaning BFF, your… damn partner) brings up hotel blocks. Do you have a blocked booked? It seems like a thing people do. Should you do it? Or is it just one more thing to add to the list?
Short answer: only you know for sure.
Longer answer: hotel blocks are fantastic when you want as many people as possible in one place for logistical or transportation reasons, if you’re hoping people will stay near the actual wedding, if everything else is going to be booked up, or if you just want to offer your guests some guidance. Lucky you, though. Hotel blocks are the perfect job to give to that person (aforementioned mom or BFF?) who’s been begging for a project all of their own to help with. There is just enough complexity to make it a rewarding task, but not so much you’ll want (or even care to) to micromanage.
So what do you need to know about hotel blocks? Well. It turns out there is a lot you can know, and all of it is covered here. But if you only read one thing, make sure it’s about different kinds of hotel blocks… and make a note of the genuinely scary attrition rate clause. Because you don’t want to be stuck paying out of pocket for twenty rooms that your guests didn’t book.
When to reserve
Location of the wedding and time of year are both key factors that determine when you should get this done. Is your wedding happening in a small town with limited accommodation, during a holiday weekend, or concurrent with a sporting event/convention? Book early! Getting married in New England during the fall colors? Book early! A beach town in the summer? You guessed it, book early! Essentially, once you book your venue, it’s time to start researching hotel options.
THE MOST COMMON TYPES OF BLOCKS
Closed (aka Guaranteed) Blocks: The hotel requires a deposit in order to block off rooms and will hold you financially responsible for any unsold rooms. Sometimes it’s a percentage, sometimes it’s a real number—this is what’s called the attrition rate.
This is the type of block associated with nightmares of making sure that every room gets filled up. The ONLY time I recommend doing a closed or guaranteed block is when the hotel is literally the only game in town and you are as close to certain as possible that all rooms will be snapped up.
Open (aka Courtesy) Blocks: These are usually free of clauses holding you financially responsible for unsold rooms within the block. Generally, the biggest requirement with a courtesy block is that all reservations are made prior to a cut-off date (about thirty to ninety days in advance). Rooms that are not reserved by the cut-off date are released and sold at market price. The main downside to this type of block is that often hotels will only hold a small number of rooms (ten to twenty is the norm).
If you feel like you will need more rooms than the maximum allowed within the courtesy block, I suggest asking the hotel what their policy is regarding adding additional rooms upon completion. Also, I suggest booking a second (and possibly a third) block at another hotel.
Regardless of which type of block you reserve (though essential for a guaranteed block), you’ll want to be careful with your numbers. It’s hard to guesstimate how many rooms you’ll need before you have an RSVP count. A good rule of thumb is to tally all of the out of towners and divide by two. This will be your high number. Odds are, you’ll need fewer rooms than this, as some guests may make other arrangements. Not everyone will stay in your block, and that’s okay.
If you’re getting married in a larger metropolis, it may be hard to narrow down the options. Here are some key points to consider:
Price: I suggest giving your guests two or three options in price (i.e., budget, midrange, luxury). Make sure that the price points vary by at least fifty dollars from one category to the next.
Location: Try to book a hotel that is near your wedding events. Hotels within walking distance (or located near transportation) are the best option. Otherwise, your hotels should ideally be within ten miles of your wedding venue. Also, choosing hotels near other attractions and restaurants will give people who arrive before the wedding have something to do (they will thus leave you alone while you’re scrambling to take care of any last minute items).
Check-In Time: Many of your guests will only stay the night of your wedding. It’s important to make sure that the check-in time does not conflict with your ceremony start time (and leaves plenty of time to freshen up after checking in!). Guests who are arriving on the wedding day will need time to check-in and get ready. If you’re planning a 2PM ceremony and check-in time is 3PM, well, some of your guests are going to be annoyed because they had to get dressed in a lobby bathroom. Not fun.
Once you’ve narrowed down the search, reach out to some hotels for initial offers. You can pick up the phone and call each hotel on your list (ask to speak with someone in Group Sales), or you can use an online tool to do the initial legwork. A couple of free ones that I like are Jetaport and Hotels.com/Groups.
Questions to ask during your initial contact
- What is the group rate including taxes and fees?
- Is there a fee for parking? Does the parking fee include in/out privileges?
- What time is check-in? Could you guarantee early check-in if needed?
- What time is check-out?
- Is there a minimum stay requirement?
- Do you offer a courtesy block? What is the maximum number of rooms?
- If we need additional rooms, can we add to the block? What would the cut-off be for adding rooms?
- What sort of amenities come standard (shuttles, breakfast, free in-room Wi-Fi, etc.)?
- Is there a bar and restaurant onsite? What are the hours?
- Do you have facilities to host pre- or post-wedding events onsite?
Options & Amenities
Room types: Make sure to arrange for a variety of room types to suit your guests—families and friends sharing rooms will likely want doubles and couples will likely opt for king or queen rooms. Take a look at your guest list and split the block accordingly.
Also, ask the hotel to set aside rooms on different floors—you probably don’t want spend your wedding night next door to your parents, and you definitely don’t want your friends waking up your grandma with their in-room after-party.
Perks: Many hotels are happy to provide extras to wedding blocks that they don’t normally offer to other groups. You just have to ask! The key here—knowing what you want to ask for in advance! Here are a few of the most common perks:
- Shuttle Service: The hotel may have an in-house shuttle that you can take advantage of to transport guests to and from your wedding. This is usually subject to a max distance radius from the hotel. Some hotels do charge a nominal fee for this service, but you can be certain that it will be less than hiring a third-party.
- Free Rooms: If you’re booking a large number of rooms at one property (i.e., twenty or more), you may be able to get a free room. Hotels often have a “comp ratio” of 20:1 or 25:1, meaning for every twenty or twenty-five nights sold, you receive a complimentary night. Some hotels will offer upgraded rooms if you’re shy of the comp ratio.
- Welcome Bag Delivery: If you chose to have welcome bags, you can ask the hotel to hand them out at check-in or deliver them directly to the rooms. Be aware that most hotels charge a fee of anywhere from two to four dollars per bag, which can add up quickly! Ask them to waive the fee before you sign the agreement—most hotels are willing to concede on this point because it’s a very nominal profit.
- After Party: Wanna party the night away? Many wedding venues have restrictions on event end times. Ask the hotel (well in advance) about keeping their bar open late for you. Most hotels will gladly do so, provided your group spends a minimum amount.
- Brunch: If your hotel offers free breakfast, they may be willing to provide you with a private space for post-wedding brunch. Some hotels can open a meeting room for guests to hang out in while they enjoy breakfast. Sometimes there’s a small cleaning fee associated with doing this, but again, it’s going to be cheaper than booking a restaurant brunch.
- Pre-Wedding Pool Party: If you have a small group coming into town the night before the wedding, ask the hotel if you can use the pool after-hours for a small pool party! Make sure to point out that after hours will not disturb the hotel’s other guests and that you’ll be sure to keep it low key. Again, there may be a small fee, but, pool party!
I’d suggest picking two or three perks that are really important to you and have fun negotiating.
Speaking of negotiating…
Negotiating with a hotel isn’t as hard as you might think. Approach it as a simple process of working together toward common ground as opposed to a winner/loser take all situation. Don’t be adversarial—stay calm and be prepared.
First, make a list of the perks and amenities that you’d like to have included in your block. Then, make sure that you’re speaking with the person who has the authority to grant you said requests. A lot of times you’ll be directed to a group sales associate who needs to check in with a manager on special requests—it’s best to set up a call or meeting directly with the manager.
Don’t take this process personally—if you’re negotiating, you need to be prepared to walk away or concede on some points. And don’t feel nervous about asking for things. Don’t let fear of what the person is going to think about you guide the conversation. The hotel is always going to offer what’s in their best interest first, but you need to advocate for what’s in your guests’ best interest. That being said, obviously you don’t want to be a bully or impolite. Using phrases like, “Is there a more budget-friendly option?” and, “Oh, that’s not what I was expecting,” are easy ways to ask for lower prices and to express your displeasure with an option.
Other tips and tricks
Don’t answer the budget question up front. If you provide a number, that’s where the hotel will start. Let them know you’re not certain, and that you plan on talking to a few hotels to determine the best option(s). Use the offers that you receive as incentive—don’t be shy to let each hotel know what you like about their competitor’s offer and give them the opportunity to compete for your business.
Once you’ve settled on a deal that both you and the hotel are pleased with, you’ll want to get everything in writing. Be sure to read the contract and be on the lookout for phrases such as these:
- Attrition Clause: This isn’t a concern with a courtesy block—if you’re booking a guaranteed block, make sure that the percentage is a comfortable one.
- Cancellation Policy: Make sure that you’re aware of what happens if you need to cancel the block for whatever reason. In an ideal world, you’d want to maintain the option to cancel at any time without penalties. Also, make sure that there is a force majeure clause in the agreement so that you will not be held liable in the instance of an emergency that isn’t under your control.
- Cut-Off Date: Make sure you’re okay with the timing. Keep in mind that invitations usually go out approximately six to eight weeks prior to the wedding, so you may need to adjust if your hotel requires a cut-off of more than four weeks.
- Deposit Amount: This should be zero for a courtesy block. If you’re doing a closed/guaranteed block, make sure that the amount is as you discussed, and make sure that you’re comfortable with the payment schedule as well as the refund policy.
Double check that any verbal agreements made during the negotiation are included in the final agreement (including comp ratios and early check-in). Don’t sign anything until you’ve read it and are comfortable with it. If you ask for changes to be made (within reason) and the hotel is not cooperative, you may want to look for another option. I’ve come to find that when a hotel is not willing to be flexible at this point in the process, it can often lead to an even worse experience down the road.
Getting the word out
Now, you’ve got to let your guests know where they can score discounted rooms. The easiest way to do this is to include an accommodations page on your wedding website. Make sure to include any special codes or links guests will need to use when booking. You can also include the accommodation info on your save the dates or as an insert with your invitations.
We’ve reserved a block of rooms at Notell Motel at a rate of $XXX per night. You can reserve one of these rooms by calling 212-555-1234 or visiting www.hotelsite.com. Please reference or enter the code 414Wed when booking. In order to secure the discounted rate, please book by April 1, 2015.
A block of rooms has been arranged at XYZ Hotel.
Rooms can be reserved by calling 718-555-1234 before June 1st and referencing the Lee/Andrews wedding. Additional information is available on our wedding website, www.kickasswedding.com.
Brooklyn is full of amazing places to stay, but for your convenience blocks of rooms have been reserved at:
123 First Street, Brooklyn, NY 11201
Reference Reyes/Jones Wedding
Group rate available until September 1, 2015
800-867-5309 / www.xyzhotel.com/brooklyn
For more information, please visit our wedding website www.kickasswedding.com.
Make a note on your calendar of the cut-off date for your room block. One to two weeks prior, contact the hotel and ask for a copy of your rooming list. Send an email reminder to any guests who haven’t booked.
Approximately two or three weeks prior to the wedding, make sure that any items that you negotiated (i.e., comps and upgrades) are being taken care of. If you’ve reserved a shuttle, now is the time to finalize timing and details. If you’re hosting a pre- or post-wedding event, confirm all details and head counts at this time.
If you’re giving out welcome bags, drop them off one or two days before check-in. Remember, welcome packets (if you decide to do them) can be as simple as a welcome letter, a map, and an attraction guide (which are often free at tourist centers). Some of my favorite items to include in welcome bags are a local treat (in NYC think bagel or a black and white cookie), some asprin or alkaseltzer for post-wedding hangovers, and postcards. You could even include one postcard addressed to you and your partner so that you come home from the wedding to a mailbox full of love!
I suggest (for practical purposes) providing your guests with a welcome letter at check-in (many hotels will print these free of charge—just ask!). Think of this as all the stuff you hoped they paid attention to in your invite and wedding website, reiterated. In the welcome letter, include a timeline of events along with clear directions or shuttle info for each event. I also suggest including a list of local activities and restaurants that you recommend. Try to suggest things that are both unique to your location and easy to get to.
Finally, make sure that the hotel staff is just as informed as your guests. Provide the front desk with several copies of your schedule and any transportation information, just in case!