Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Wedding Q&A Thursday - Guest Room Blocks

Q: I received a room block agreement from the hotel [that I'm recommending for my guests] that asks for my credit card information and says I will be charged for any rooms in the block that are not booked! Is that right? Is that normal?

A: I will start by saying this - You are a smart and savvy bride - you read that room block contract before thoughtlessly handing over your credit card number and signature. You will go far in wedding planning and in life!

As for the room-block arrangements of which you speak...Is it right? I can't judge. This system may not be right for you, but the hotel has a reason for using this system and it's certainly more about protecting them and less about hurting you. Is it normal? It's not abnormal. There is a lot of variation among hotel chains and independently-run properties in how they manage guest room blocks for weddings and group accounts. Here are the basic systems that I've seen and some terms and conditions.

Definitions - "Hard" vs "Soft" Blocks

A "hard" block means that a hotel is actually holding the number of rooms in your block for your guests, which can be reserved for the agreed-upon rate. Scenario - The entire hotel becomes full 3 months before your wedding, but your guests have only blocked 2 of the 20 rooms in your block. The remaining 18 rooms are still available to your guests because the hotel has held them from the public. They will not become available to people outside of your party until the deadline for reservations in your block - generally 1 month prior to the wedding.

A "soft" block is more like a rate agreement. Your guests can reserve the number of rooms in your block (sometimes not specified in a soft block) for the agreed-upon price. However, the hotel is not holding those rooms from the public. In the same scenario I described above, your guests who did not make their reservations yet would be out of luck - the hotel is sold out.

Financial Responsibility and Minimums

To go back to the specific question we are addressing - your commitment to the hotel, in exchange for a room block, differs from hotel to hotel. Some hotels charge you nothing for a room block, and make no limitations on the minimum rooms that need to be reserved to avoid charges. But these no-obligation agreements are quite often soft room blocks, so read the agreement carefully and know the terms of the block so that you can fairly assess the extent to which it fulfills the needs of your guests.

The next step away from no-obligation room blocks is a minimum reservation requirement. Some hotels require that a minimum percentage of the rooms in your block be reserved, or you will be charged for the un-met portion of that minimum. Scenario - You have blocked 20 rooms. The hotel requires 25% of the block be reserved. If at least 5 rooms are booked by your guests, you are clear. If, however, only 4 rooms are blocked, the hotel will charge you for the 5th room to cover the minimum.

Finally, at the other end of the spectrum from a no-obligation block, is full responsibility. Under such an agreement, you are responsible for your entire block being filled with guests. In such an arrangement, there is often an out-clause stating that if the hotel is completely full, you are relieved of your obligation to pay for the remainder of rooms in your block. However, it is still important to be thoughtful in calculating the number of rooms that your guests will need when entering into any room block agreement that leaves you with the financial responsibility for some or all of rooms that go unused by your guests.

Room Block Tips

  • Limit the number of hotels at which you create room blocks to 1 or 2 hotels.
  • Provide room block information to guests as soon as it becomes available - such as when you send out the save the dates - and keep reminding them as reservation deadlines approach.
  • Check on the status of your room block at least once a month. If the hotel doesn't have an online booking page that allows you to check on the reservations in your group on your own, call the sales representative for an updated list of reservations under the block. If your block is filling up quicker than you expected, you may be able to add rooms if you know far enough in advance!

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