Everyone has booked a hotel room online before – but when it comes to booking a block of rooms for your wedding guests, what exactly do you do?
How do you make sure you’re picking the right hotel – and getting a good deal?
How do you make sure you aren’t left holding the bill for dozens of unbooked rooms?
How can you maximize what you get from the hotel block?
What is a hotel block?
But first – what exactly is a hotel block?
If you have lots of guests coming in from out-of-town for your wedding, you might want to choose a hotel or two for your guests to stay at – somewhere that is convenient to the wedding venues, and will allow everyone a central location to meet and mingle in between your main events.
And if you have lots of people who would be staying at the hotel (more than 10 rooms, say), you can negotiate with the hotel to get your guests a better price on their rooms. This is your hotel block – a ‘block’ of rooms at a hotel set aside for your guests so they can get a reduced price.
Of course, if you are having your wedding itself in the hotel – there is a lot more that would go into your negotiations with the hotel – things like catering, room rentals, all that stuff. This post will focus on the guest room side of the equation If you are having your wedding in the hotel, you have an amazing opportunity to earn a ton of rewards with the hotel, so be sure to pay close attention to the ‘Rewards’ section below!
When to set up the block?
I set up our hotel block before we sent out our save the dates – we have lots of out-of-town guests, and were going to include the website info on the save the dates so people could start making travel arrangements. If you have fewer people coming from out-of-town, you might be able to get away with setting up the block later – but the sooner you have a block – and tell your guests about it – the better.
Picking the contenders
The first step before you start actually booking the hotel block is to narrow down your options to a final group you will contact for further information and quotes.
How you pick the hotels you will contact is up to you, but to start I find that referring to hotel websites is a great place to start. Search in the area around your venue (or whatever place you want to have your hotel), and start by making a list of the hotels.
Some of the things I would recommend making a note of at the beginning:
- Rate – this will give you an idea of the price range of the hotel, as well as how good of a deal they give your guests
- Phone number – you’ll be calling the hotels directly in the next step
- Included amenities – is breakfast included? WiFi? Parking? Airport shuttle? Make a note of anything you or your guests would be interested in – even if it isn’t normally included in the base rate. You might be able to negotiate on it later on.
- Any other specific questions on things that are unclear from the website – you’ll want to get these answered as part of your first call with the sales manager.
Once you’ve gone through the hotels in the area, I recommend narrowing it down to 3-4 ‘finalists’ that you will call and get quotes from. It can be more or less (especially if you plan to offer several choices for your guests instead of just one hotel), but about 3 is a good place to start.
Getting more information and quotes
Once you have an idea of a few hotels you might want to do business with, as well as what kind of things the hotel offers to normal guests, you are ready to call up and start the process of booking your block.
Before you call
Before you call up the hotels, you’ll need to have the following pieces of information handy (because they will ask):
- Dates – what days (nights) would you like to have in your block? If you are having a rehearsal dinner the night before, you’ll probably want to have the night before the wedding as well as night of. If you are having extended activities in the area after the wedding, you might want to have the block extend later as well. It doesn’t matter what the dates are, just know what days you want to included in your block.
- Guest count, translated to rooms – At the early stage, you won’t have any idea what the actual attendance will be at your wedding, but based on the guest list you should at least have a solid range. Be sure to translate that into a number of rooms – you’ll get more than one person to a room. Couples will usually need their own room, and families might want more than one room. The big thing to know is a minimum and a maximum. If you can tell the sales manager you’ll need “between 15 and 50 rooms” (or whatever it is), they’ll at least know you aren’t wasting their time trying to get a reduced rate for six people. They will understand that it is at an early stage and the count is fuzzy at the moment.
Terms to know
When dealing with booking your hotel block, it will help to know the following terms:
- Sales Manager – This is the person you will deal with for booking your room block.
- Catering Manager – If you are going to need to rent any meeting rooms/ballrooms or have catering at the hotel, this is the person you will deal with, but just for those. The sales manager handles the guest rooms, the catering manager handles the other things.
- Master Bill – The master bill is what you pay for. Most hotels will allow you to set it up so that your guests can pay for their rooms themselves – in that case, those rooms aren’t a part of the master bill.
- Courtesy Hold – When setting aside rooms for your guests, some hotels will do a ‘courtesy hold’. This means that up until a certain date (usually a month or so before the wedding), your guests can book at the negotiated rate, but after that, the hotel releases the rooms back for general sale. When this happens, you are not liable for the unsold rooms. So if you expect to need 50 rooms but only 30 get booked, if your hotel was just doing a courtesy hold, you aren’t on the hook for those 20 rooms.
- Contracted Block – Some hotels require a contractual agreement for a certain number of rooms. Unlike a courtesy hold, any unsold rooms you are still liable for – that is, you still pay for them. This is usually done as a percentage of the block (such as, you are liable for 80% of the rooms), and may also allow the hotel to attempt to sell unbooked rooms after a certain date. I will talk more about the details of this later, but for now just know that if the sales manager mentions a ‘contracted block’, they are talking about a block you are committed to.
Making the call
When you call the number listed on the hotel’s website, it will almost always direct you to the front desk. Just ask to speak to the sales manager, and they will direct you.
Once you are talking with the sales manager, say that you are planning a wedding, and are starting the process of setting up a room block.
They’ll ask for the dates and number of rooms (even your estimate is fine), and they’ll check to see if they have availability on those dates. If they do, they might be able to quote you a price right there, or they might follow-up with an email.
This is the time to ask any further questions you have about the property, or if you have special requests. Usually, though, it will just be a matter of giving your info to the sales manager, and then they will get back to you with a full quote.
If the hotel you are talking with does courtesy holds, they will probably just use the higher end of your estimate, and that is fine since it doesn’t hurt you to overestimate the number of rooms.
If you are working with a hotel that would require a room contract however, find out what the minimum block size is – this will help you figure out how many rooms you want to commit to (if you go with that hotel).
Also, if you will need any catering or event space, you will probably be transferred over to the catering manager to talk with them.
In the quote
When you receive your room quote, it will include the discounted rate they are offering (and for what type of room that rate is for), along with whatever other offerings they have.
Some hotels may include more amenities for your guests as part of a block, or maybe you would get a free night if you book a certain number of rooms.
The quote will also mention whether the block would be a courtesy hold or whether it would be contracted.
Another thing that the quote might mention (and is worth looking into) is whether the hotel will setup an online booking site for your guests, so they can book the hotel online and still get the reduced rate. This can be pretty convenient to just quickly add on to your wedding website.
Remember that the quote is just a starting point, and you might be able to negotiate for more during the process – it never hurts to ask!
Contract or no contract?
The biggest decision you might have to make when deciding which hotel to use for your block is choosing between a hotel with a courtesy hold policy and one that requires a contract. There are benefits of each option, and fit different situations.
If you are really unsure of how many of your guests might actually come to the wedding, the flexibility and lack of obligation from a courtesy hold makes it an easy choice. You can set aside some rooms, and if they don’t fill up, it isn’t a big deal.
The benefits of a contracted block depend on the circumstances. If your wedding is in a popular area, or during a big event, the only way to guarantee availability for your guests might be to sign a contract. Some courtesy holds depend on room availability – and if the hotel can sell the rooms in your block for twice as much to someone not in your block, they will – unless they can’t by contract.
Sometimes the hotels are able to give you better rates with contracted block as well, since they are taking on less risk. In addition, you are able to get in writing all the things the hotel has to do.
Of course, all of your options might include a contract, in which case the most important thing is to read over the contract and make sure you understand it – and be sure to push back on things that are unclear, or that you want to negotiate on!
If you are going with a contracted block, but are unsure of your guest count – be really careful when signing a contract for a number of rooms! You don’t want to be left on the hook for dozens of rooms and thousands of dollars! Ask if you can add rooms to the block later, and if you can, then consider just signing for a small number of rooms to start with. Of course, adding rooms to the block later will depend on availability (so be careful), but this will reduce the risk of you having to foot the bill for unbooked rooms.
Rewards for your wedding block
One of the many great things about planning your wedding is the opportunity to earn lots of travel rewards to help you have an amazing honeymoon (and lots of other trips as well!) – that’s my main goal with this blog, to help point out some of the opportunities you can take advantage of when planning your wedding to get your dream getaway. Your hotel block is no exception! With some hotel programs, you can even earn rewards for the rooms your guests pay for themselves!
Meeting rewards for your wedding
All of the major hotel chains have some sort or ‘meeting rewards’ program for meeting planners, and your wedding block almost certainly qualifies!
Take a look at this chart outlining the major hotel meeting rewards programs, and you’ll see that pretty much any room block over 10 rooms will count as a meeting for purposes of earning rewards. If your hotel of choice also allows you to earn points from non-master billed rooms, then you will even earn points for the rooms your guests pay for.
In most cases, there isn’t anything special you need to do other than sign up for the hotel reward program and tell the sales manager your rewards account number (the exceptions have links to the specific sign up pages in that table).
If you combine meeting rewards with the additional rewards you earn from a travel rewards earning credit card, you really have a great opportunity to get yourself some awesome rewards for your honeymoon or another trip. Points for a suite in a luxury hotel, for example!
If your wedding is taking place in the hotel (or the reception, etc), the opportunity for you to really earn a ton of points really skyrockets. You might be able to get all of your hotel stays on your honeymoon for free just from the rewards you earn from the hotel – but you’ve got to look into it because the hotel probably isn’t just going to offer them to you!
When you are looking at hotels, be sure to check into any special offers for meeting planners as well. You might luck out and get some crazy bonuses for booking your hotel block – I’ve seen bonuses of 10,000 points for every 10 rooms booked, or even triple points!
Once you’ve decided which hotel(s) you want to use for your hotel block, the last step is to finalize with the sales manager. If you need to sign a contract, this is when you would do that – be sure to double-check everything! If you need to sign up for the hotel rewards program, do that as well so the sales manager can put your account number in the system.
Booking the hotel block for your wedding doesn’t have to be stressful – once you know what to expect and where the common pitfalls are, you are already ahead of the game.
You’re all set to get the best deal for your wedding guests, and maybe earn some rewards for yourself as well!
If you likes this, be sure to sign up for my free newsletter – I share more guides as I go through planning my own wedding, as well as tricks to getting the most from travel rewards for your honeymoon – things like first class flights for less than coach, and luxury hotels for next to nothing! Find out how to put those hotel rewards to the best use, and much more.