No one told my wife and me that planning a wedding would be easy, but we thought reserving a hotel block — a cluster of 10 rooms or more, at a reduced rate, at a hotel where our out-of-town guests could stay — would be a cinch.
Things started out smoothly. We found a modern hotel from a big hotel chain that had more than enough rooms to accommodate our guests. The hotel was only a couple of blocks away from our wedding location. It offered a competitive room block rate of 10 percent off the regular rate (which at the time we thought was a good deal). It had four stars on TripAdvisor. So we signed a contract.
I wish we hadn’t.
It has been a couple of months since our wedding, and I still have nightmares about our hotel block.
We learned a lot of lessons the hard way. To help other couples avoid making the same mistakes we made, I spoke to several industry experts.
Here are a few tips to keep in mind before booking your room block:
Learn the Language
I’ll be honest, I did not read our contract closely. The agreement was nine pages, single-spaced, so I skimmed it, and I didn’t ask any questions. This ended up costing our guests more money in the long run. (Please cut me a little slack — I was focused more on wedding cake tastings.)
I presumed that a “courtesy” room block (also referred to as a complimentary room block), where a hotel agrees to hold a certain number of guest rooms without charging the host for any unsold rooms, was standard practice.
But Pamela Strauss-Goldman, a founder of Wedaways, a travel agency focused on weddings and honeymoons, pointed out that my wife and I could have also considered requesting a “guaranteed” room block. This is where we would have promised to fill a designated number of rooms and agreed to pay for any rooms that weren’t booked. Typically, hosts are required to meet 80 to 90 percent of their allotted guaranteed room block.
Taking that route may seem like a bad idea, but Ms. Strauss-Goldman said it could have saved our guests money, because “it’s definitely always a better rate when the block is guaranteed, because there’s more negotiating power.” If you decide to reserve a guaranteed room block, though, you’ll want to be conservative with how many rooms you agree to fill in order to mitigate your financial risk.
Regardless of what kind of block you choose, “most hotels will open more rooms for you, at your room-block rate, if your whole block gets booked, if rooms are available,” Ms. Strauss-Goldman said.
Don’t Wait to Book Your Block
Don’t dawdle. “We always recommend reserving a room block as early as possible, since it will get you the best rates,” said Ms. Strauss-Goldman, adding that couples should reserve their hotel blocks at least six months before their wedding. “For a destination wedding, where you only have one or two hotel options, you’ll want to book your block at least 10 months in advance,” she said.
We booked our block in December 2018 and our wedding was in August 2019, so we reserved it before the six-month mark. But we may have been able to get an even lower rate had we reserved our block further in advance, said Lauren Grech, a founder of the New York- based wedding planning company LLG Events, which also books hotel blocks for clients. “Couples usually get the best rates a year out,” she said.
Think of it this way: If your wedding is only a few months away, as opposed to a year away, you probably won’t have as many options — and hotels may raise their prices accordingly.
“Room block rates are always negotiable,” Ms. Strauss-Goldman said. “Unfortunately, most couples don’t negotiate because they don’t know that they can.”
You can count my wife and I in that boat. When we shopped around, we got quotes from three hotels and they all offered the same rate, so we just picked our favorite hotel. What we should have done was pit them against each other to compete for our business.
There are limits to how much you can negotiate, though. “Generally, hotel room block rates are anywhere from 5- to 20 percent less” than the standard nightly rate, Ms. Strauss-Goldman said.
Ms. Grech added that “you have more negotiating power when demand is down and there is low occupancy.”
If a hotel isn’t willing to budge on its room rate, the hotel may be willing to lower — or waive — extra fees such as parking or in-room Wi-Fi, said Haley McCarrell, a content manager at the New Jersey-based wedding planning blog “Ruffled.” I wish we had done that, considering our hotel stipulated in our contract that it would charge $58 per night for valet parking and $42 per night for self parking.
Don’t Overlook the Check-in Times
You certainly don’t want your out-of-town guests to have to get ready in the lobby bathroom, but that can happen if your ceremony starts before guests are allowed to check in at the hotel you reserved. As a result, “we always request early check-in for all guests,” Ms. Strauss-Goldman said. “If there’s no early check-in, your guests may want to book their room the night before the wedding as well.”
Fortunately, we didn’t encounter this issue. Guests were able to check in at our hotel at 3 p.m. and our ceremony didn’t start until 5:30 p.m. But looking back at our contract I discovered that guests were subject to a $25 early arrival fee if they wanted to check in before noon, which is something we could have negotiated.
Visit the Site
We went to look at the hotel in person before we signed a contract — but we didn’t do our full due diligence. We checked out the lobby, but we didn’t view a room before we signed the paperwork. It worked out for us, because the guest rooms turned out to be in good condition, but it could have backfired. “Pictures and reviews online only go so far,” Ms. Strauss-Goldman said.
In addition to viewing a guest room, “check out the getting ready suite for the bride,” Ms. Grech said. “Does it have outlets in convenient locations? Is the lighting good? You want a room with really bright, ample light because that’s going to provide the best lighting for not only makeup but also your photographer and videographer.”
“Also, look at how attentive the staff is,” Ms. Grech added. “If I walk into a hotel and an employee hasn’t approached me within five minutes, I’m concerned.”
Inform Your Guests Early
Many couples don’t share their block information far enough in advance. Some couples may wait until they mail their wedding invitations, but invitations don’t typically go out until six to eight weeks before the wedding. That doesn’t leave out-of-town guests much time to reserve a room.
Ms. McCarrell suggests including your hotel block information on your save-the-date notices — which should go out six to eight months before your wedding day — would give your guests ample notice.
Instead of mentioning our hotel block on our save-the-dates, we included this information in our wedding website.
But we still made a mistake: We didn’t state when the room block rate was set to expire, which, in our case was one month before the wedding. Generally, hotels set a 30- to 60-day cutoff date, at which point they release any unsold rooms to the public.
Take Notes and Names
Several guests tried to book rooms, but the hotel’s reservations department couldn’t find our room block. This was the issue that stressed me out the most — after all, how can you lose a room block once, let alone multiple times, when it’s registered in the hotel’s automated booking system? Every time I contacted the hotel to address the issue I got passed from one employee to another, which required me to explain the situation over and over again before it was resolved.
Ms. Strauss-Goldman offered a simple solution for this problem: Find an employee in the groups department who will be responsible for your room block from the outset. “This way,” she said, “you have a person you can hold accountable if you have any problems with your block.”
Give Your Guests Options
Couples have varying opinions on whether it makes sense to reserve a room block at more than one hotel for a wedding. Choosing two to three hotels that offer different price points will give guests a range of options. But by choosing just one hotel block you’d have all of your out-of-town guests in one place, which is ideal if you need to transport them via shuttle to and from your wedding.
If you decide to have multiple hotel blocks, “let your guests know on your website where you’re staying,” Ms. Grech said. “People want to be where the action is.”
Ask for Help
You don’t have to fly solo. If your wedding planner is an ace negotiator or has a relationship with local hotels, enlist his or her help. Or, consider using a travel agency that specializes in booking hotel blocks. “Our company is usually able to negotiate betters rates than couples are able to get on their own because we have established relationships with hotels,” Ms. Strauss-Goldman said. “We get commission from the number of rooms that are booked, which is standard practice in the industry, and it doesn’t raise the rate for the couple.”
Hiring a professional will also take away some of the stress.
“There’s so much to consider and keep track of,” Ms. Grech said. “It’s a lot of work for a couple to have to manage themselves.”