Sleeping Rooms

Ask for a flat room rate. Hotels will sometimes try to give you a tiered rate: say $99/night for one person (single), $109/night for two people (double), $119/night for three people (triple), and $129/night for four people (quad). Then they’ll say that the quad room is cheaper per person, which of course is true, but they’re not doing you any favors. (It’s a technique called “pencil selling,” and we hear it in advertising all the time, like “for just pennies a day. . .”) A variation on the tiered rate is one rate for single/double, a higher rate for triple/quad. Ask your salesperson to help you understand why it costs them $30 more per night to have four people in a room as opposed to one. Is it washing more towels? Drinking more of that fabulous in-room coffee maker coffee? Water for three more showers?

Whatever reasons the hotel may give you are surely outweighed by the money the three extra people will spend in the hotel. A room service bill for a single room will only be for one $18 hamburger. A room service bill for a quad room will be four times that. Bottom line: a tiered rate is pure profit for the hotel, at your attendees’ expense. Sometimes hotels will have different rates for a room with a king bed as opposed to a room with two double beds (a “double/double” room). There’s no reason for that either, unless one room is noticeably bigger than the other. Additionally, if the hotel gives you the option of specifically blocking kings vs. double/doubles, take as many double/doubles as you can. A single or a couple won’t much mind a double/double room if the kings are sold out. But six people wanting to share a double/double may not be happy with a king room.

Your room block should be conservative.

Avoid the tendency to ask for a room block that you hope you can make. It’s better to ask for a room block that you know you can make. Every committee seems to struggle with delusions of grandeur, thinking that its conference will be the biggest ever. So it signs a contract this year, for next year’s conference, that blocks more rooms than it can reasonably fill. What happens next? The hotel sets its budget for next year based on the contracts it has in-hand. When the overly optimistic committee fails to meet its room block, not only will it be subject to penalties for not meeting its room block (under the “attrition clause”) the hotel will be pissed off about not making its budget. And what kind of hosts to your attendees do you think a pissed off hotel will be?

Another reason for starting with a conservative room block is that you can offer a higher room night commitment in exchange for something you want. Say your conservative room block is 100 room nights at a rate is $109/night, which is $10 higher than you would like it to be. You know that the hotel will make $10,900 on that block, so you do a little math. How many room nights would the hotel need at $99/night to make the same $10,900? Around 110 room nights. Because you started with a conservative room block, you can offer the hotel another 10 room nights if the hotel lowers the rate to $99. You get a lower rate, which is more attractive to your attendees, and the hotel can give you that lower rate without losing any money. That’s win-win.

Get your room rate cutoff as close to your convention dates as possible.

Hotel boilerplate usually requires rooms at the group rate to be reserved at least thirty days before your conference dates, at which time any unreserved rooms in your block are released for general sale. Your wish list should ask that rooms in your block be available at the group rate right up to your conference dates, provided that the hotel is less than 80% (or 90%) full. The hotel will probably counter-offer with a cutoff of 21, 14, or 7 days out, the closes to the convention the better for the attendees. 

Get your group rate available at least 3 days before and after your primary dates.

This is not usually in the boilerplate, but hotels will almost always add it without any pushback if you just ask. If you’re in a destination city, you might want to try and get more days before and after. The Peabody Orlando, for example, was willing to offer the group rate 7 days before and after the primary conference dates.

Rooms sold to our attendees at non-group rates (e.g., after cutoff) should count towards your block for purposes of meeting your commitment.

So let’s say you get the cutoff date pushed back to 14 days before your primary dates, and the hotel is unwilling to budge beyond that. In the two weeks immediately before the conference, your attendees reserve a total of 65 room nights at the best-available rate of $199/night instead of your $99/night group rate. But because those rooms aren’t reserved under your group code, they won’t get credited to your block. If that doesn’t seem like a fair deal to you, it’s because it’s not. So ask the hotel what arrangements can be made to avoid that kind of unfairness. In fact, you might ask why the hotel shouldn’t credit you for two room nights towards your block for every room night reserved at the $199 rate, because that’s twice as much as your group rate.