Saturday, March 16, 2013

An Insider's Guide to Booking a Hotel Block

When selecting a hotel for your wedding guests, you want nothing short of comfort and convenience. But booking a hotel block is much different than your average hotel reservation and can be confusing, at first. Here are some easy tips to get you started.

Where to begin? 

First you’ll need to figure out approximately how many rooms you will need in your block. Count how many out-of-town guests you will have, including your bridal party. This total number of rooms should be as close to the exact amount as possible, in order to avoid additional charges or attrition fees (we’ll discuss those later).

Next, you will need to decide on the area of town where you’d like the hotel to be located. When choosing a location, think of the area that will be most convenient for your guests. Selecting a location near the reception venue makes it easy for guests to get back late at night. Or, you may want to choose an area that’s convenient to tourist attractions and entertainment for when guests have downtime to explore.

The next step is contacting hotels within the area you wish to search. Most hotels will give a special discounted rate when booking a block. To ensure you’re getting a good deal, check each hotel’s regular rates online beforehand to see how much of a discount off their regular rates they are actually giving you. You can also try out a website that gets group rates for hotels online. You’ll avoid calling each hotel individually and can compare multiple hotel rates at one time.

What in the world are attrition fees? 

When you book a block of rooms, most hotels will have you sign an attrition policy as part of the contract. Normally, your guests are responsible for their own hotel rooms. But you could end up paying, if you don’t fill up the reserved rooms. If the hotel’s contract has an attrition policy, you have to guarantee that you’ll fill a certain percentage of the rooms in your block (usually 80% of the block), and if you don’t, you will have to pay for the leftover rooms in that percentage that weren’t booked.

How do you avoid attrition fees? 

You certainly can try to negotiate the attrition fees out of the contract or, at least, try to get the required percentage of filled rooms reduced. However, the hotel may not budge, especially if the wedding is during a busy time of year. Nevertheless, there are still ways to avoid attrition clauses altogether.

Many hotels will allow you to book a complimentary block of anywhere from 10 to 30 rooms, without signing a contract or attrition clause. (They then only require the contract if you want to book more rooms beyond what's in the complimentary block.) So if you don’t mind having guests in multiple hotels, you can book the max number of rooms for a complimentary block at two or three hotels within a close traveling distance. If providing more than one hotel option for your guests, you may want to choose hotels in different price ranges so that there is an option to accommodate every guest’s budget.

What are some useful amenities? 

Certain hotel amenities can end up saving you time and money. First, be sure to ask how your guests will book their room from the block. At many hotels now, guests can use the same online system that they would normally use to book a hotel, and they will get a special online code to get the group discount.

Some hotels may have a shuttle that they will allow guests to use to get to and from the wedding activities, saving you a heap in transportation costs.

If you anticipate continuing the wedding celebration into the night, ask if the hotel has a bar where you and your guests can gather after the reception. Using the hotel bar as your after-party location is convenient for guests and gives you one less thing you have to plan.

What else should you consider before signing your hotel contract? 
  • Try not to over-block rooms – underestimate the number of rooms you need. 
  • Ask if the contract allows for downward or upward adjustments in the number of rooms in the block before a specified date when the attrition clause would go into effect.
  • By what date must guests book their rooms in order to get the group rate? 
  • Ask if the hotel will honor the group rate after the cutoff date, as long as there are rooms left in your block.
  • Be sure to receive credit for all rooms that your attendees generate, including the bridal suite and hospitality suite (even if they are given as a complimentary perk) and rooms that may be booked by guests outside of the official cutoff dates.
  • Upon departure, be sure to obtain a statement including attendees’ names, arrival/departure times, and room rates.
  • Ask if rooms in the block will all be located on the same floor or in the same wing of the hotel.
  • Can you leave hospitality bags at the front desk for guests to pick up as they check in? Is there a charge for doing this? 
  • Can you have a hospitality room for guests? Is there a charge for it? Will it count towards performance in your contract? 
With these few tips, you’ll be a savvy shopper and avoid some of the pitfalls of hotel blocks. So get booking!

*Kristen George contributed to this article.

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