I spent a lot of time as an "on-site" coordinator for weddings at 3 different national brand hotels, and all handle wedding rooms the same. Some small mom & pop hotels may not operate this way, but you'll certainly learn how to avoid common frustrations. Here we go:
Definitions you'll need to know:
BAR: Best available rate. This is the lowest rate a hotel is willing to sell an individual guest room. When you walk into the front desk, BAR is the lowest they'll go!
Room Block: This is a group of rooms, booked with a contract, at a contracted rate. Typically a discounted rate under what the BAR for that specific date is selling at.
Attrition: This is the penalty you pay if you don't fulfill a contract. Typically a percentage of the price for rooms you didn't fill.
Courtesy Block: This is typically the type of room block hotels use for weddings. A courtesy block means that there are no attrition penalties. It's a small block of rooms that are held until about 30 days before the wedding, then any unbooked rooms are released. If you fill this block before the "drop" date, you typically can add more rooms a little at a time.
A few options:
The Courtesy Block. It's better to be safe than sorry. Most weddings prefer the courtesy block, because you just don't know how many of your guests will actually need accommodations. With most weddings, the number of guest rooms is totally a shot in the dark. If you don't fill the rooms 30 days out from the wedding, the block dissolves, and you're not financially responsible to pay for those rooms that weren't filled. Usually hotels start with blocking 10 rooms, and if you fill them, they'll add more rooms, IF more rooms are available.
A Contracted Block of Rooms. This is what corporate businesses use to hold rooms. You can usually get a great discount on rates, depending on the availability that weekend. The problem is, if you don't fill your obligation for a number of rooms, attrition applies, and you, PERSONALLY, have to pay penalties. And trust us - you just don't know how many people will need a room. (We'll go through issues below that are factors WHY you don't know that you might not have considered).
Things that affect a hotel's rates:
How much availability is left at that hotel? If a hotel only has 20 rooms left to sell, and it's 6 months out from your wedding date, and you've picked a date during high tourist season, the hotel is probably not going to offer you a discounted contract. Sometimes this happens in the "off" season also, when conferences take up large blocks of rooms. The hotel is pretty much guaranteed to fill all their rooms at a higher rate. Don't get angry - they are just running a smart business. Instead of booking a block of rooms, you can list them as an option to your guests, until their availability runs out.
What is happening in town that weekend? A hotel may be competely open at the time you call in, but the hotel is probably aware that a big event is taking place that weekend. They know that they're going to sell out. So sometimes they won't offer a discount because they don't need to. Consider what's happening in town before you choose your wedding date. This affects more than hotel rooms - often a busy weekend means higher transportation rates for flights, less availability for rental cars, and more traffic!
Are you hosting an event at the hotel as well? Consider a "scattering party" breakfast the morning after your wedding. Adding events sometimes gets you a lower rate! Or consider hosting your wedding at a location that has guest rooms on site.
Guest rooms are booked on all different floors and wings. You'll need to verbalize to your sales person at the hotel that you want ALL your guests on the same floor, or at least the same end of the hallway. (At least the party guests!!!) Otherwise, rowdy weddings often get complaints when placed on the same floor with elderly hotel customers, or those with children. Putting everyone together helps avoid these issues.
Sometimes the online rates are cheaper. There are 2 reasons why this happens:
1. The person at the hotel who manages the online rates is not typically involved with the wedding room coordinator. I've seen this happen at every hotel I've worked at, that the hotel's advertised BAR is cheaper than the blocked rate. Call the hotel if this happens. They will usually fix it immediately. This is a mistake on their end. The online BAR should never be less than a booked group rate.
2. Hotwire, orbitz, etc. may advertise a cheaper rate online. Don't get too excited - that doesn't mean your hotel will make your courtesy block at that lower rate - these booking agents have strict stipulations. You must pay immediately, it's a non-refundable rate, and it's only for a limited quantity of rooms. Your "courtesy block" means people don't pay until they get there, and can cancel if needed.
Rooms booked outside of your block. When someone finds a cheaper rate online, they may book that instead of booking your contracted rate. Others may get a friends & family discount for their rooms, and also won't make reservations within your block. Or better yet, people won't even ask for your block, and just book a full price room at the hotel. If you're trying to get hotel planner "points" or you're in a legit contract, you want to make sure you're getting credit for ALL the rooms you've brought to the hotel. Give the hotel your list of guest names, so they can compare against their reservations. Make sure you talk about this with your room sales coordinator BEFORE you sign your contract.
Not as many people booked rooms as you thought. Let's say you booked rooms at Hilton, and some family members are loyal Marriott customers. They're not going to stay at the Hilton. People have specific preferences. Or some out-of-state friends may decide to stay with a local friend you didn't know about. All of these issues are reasons to do a "courtesy block" instead of a legitimate contract. Keep this in mind when you choose your hotels - courtesy blocks don't cost anything. So get a few of them! Book these at a few different hotel brands so you give your guests a choice!
Perks to booking a room block:
1. More guests will come to your wedding if you make it EASY for them! Don't be afraid to book a courtesy block! And put together a wedding website with links to YOUR specific block of rooms! People can click one button and make a simple reservation.
2. Get planner points! Sign up to be a "loyalty" member, and earn some points towards another hotel stay. When I worked for a Hilton, I would encourage brides to get these points, to use towards a honeymoon stay at a Hilton property! You can get points for rooms AND for events, so if you book your wedding or a breakfast at the hotel, get credit for what you paid.
3. Having guests staying at one or two locations make mass transportation a lot easier. Send the bus to the lobby to pick people up! It also makes dropping off gift baskets easy too, when you don't have to go to multiple locations!