When you're hosting a wedding, it's up to you to suggest accommodation options for traveling guests. Enter the hotel block, a group of rooms a property will set aside for your friends and family to book at a discounted price—but not without some caveats. In many cases, if the rooms aren't booked by 30 days before your event, you may be on the hook for upwards of 10 to 20 percent of the cost, depending on your contract. So, it pays to be cautious and negotiate carefully. Here's how.
Our experts agree that at least nine months out is the ideal time for reserving room blocks. "The further out you book, the better the rate you'll be able to get," says Tori McLaughlin, a regional director of sales and marketing at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants.
It's wise to offer guests at least two hotel options, at different price points. "Brides tend to overestimate how many of their guests will value staying on-site," explains Alison Rinderknecht, owner and creative director of Northern California–based Alison Events Planning + Design. "The truth is, some people just want a place to crash."
See It Firsthand
We're living in the golden age of website photography. Or, as Rinderknecht puts it: "People are getting real tricky with the wide-angle-lens photos." To ensure the hotel is as good in real life as it looks online, take the time to schedule a visit with the person in charge of group bookings. It can also pay—literally—to be there, since putting a face with the name will make the relationship more personal (and you'll be more likely to get a deal).
Rinderknecht recommends sitting down with your hotel contact in person to handle negotiations. It's easier to hash out details together than it is via email. At the least, she says, save any price haggling for after, not during, the initial phone call, to avoid coming off as difficult. And be realistic. While many hotels are open to negotiation, the smaller the venue or the more high-end the property, the less chance you'll be able to bargain. "Some places know they're going to book all their rooms either way, so they're not incentivized to offer a special rate," she explains.
McLaughlin estimates that room-block discounts start at around 10 percent, but if you're hosting a dinner, cocktail hour, or other event on-site, you may get a better deal. Inquire politely about these possibilities, as well as any perks: an upgraded suite for the two of you, waiving the delivery fee for welcome bags, and assigning your guests rooms with the best views are all common extras you shouldn't be afraid to bring up.
Clarify the Details
Follow up any conversations with an email to confirm, so you have a written record of what you've agreed to. If you're signing a contract, be sure everyone's on the same page in terms of cancellation policies. Two ways to avoid paying for unbooked rooms: Try asking for a "courtesy block," where the hotel will save and discount requested rooms but remove the special pricing 60 or 30 days out. Or, suggests Rinderknecht, be conservative about how many rooms you reserve, as you may not need as many as you think. "Friends get pregnant, start new jobs, have sick kids... There will always be a few who drop out."