Beware occupancy limits: How to save money when booking hotels for a family trip to Europe and beyond

Feb 23, 2022

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When vacationing in the U.S., it’s usually easy enough to put a family of four or even five in one standard hotel room. It may not always be the most spacious or comfortable arrangement as the kids get bigger, but if all you need is a place to sleep at night, it often works.

However, once you leave the 50 states, it can get harder to secure hotel lodging for a family, as there are strict room occupancy limits in places like Europe.

If you’re a family of four (or more) and haven’t done an overseas trip in a while, you may be shocked when you go to book a hotel stay in, say, London or Paris only to find out that you need not one but two rooms.

While there are no aboveboard ways around occupancy limits, there are thankfully ways to book a family hotel stay in Europe and beyond without paying the posted cash or points rate for two rooms.

Here’s how we managed this issue on a recent trip to London, and how you can save money on similar family trips when you need more space to stretch out.

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(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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Use points, pay a cash supplement

When my family traveled to London recently, we had two adults and two children in our group, meaning we would exceed occupancy limits and therefore not fit in a standard room.

So, when we decided to stay at the Hyatt Regency London — The Churchill (one of my favorite properties), we used World of Hyatt points to book a standard room, then contacted the hotel directly to negotiate a paid upgrade since our family of four needed more space, which we could only get with a pricier suite or connecting rooms. I’ve had the most success with this method over the years, and this trip was no exception.

The hotel presented a range of upgrade options that included one- and two-bedroom suites, but we ultimately chose the Family Room Garden View for a supplement of 250 pounds (about $340) per night.

That’s not cheap, but for the 25,000 Hyatt points per night we spent for the original reservation, plus the cash supplement, we had two full connecting rooms and two bathrooms, which was the perfect setup for us. Not to mention, the hotel put an extra little bed by one of the windows, a welcome surprise for my youngest.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Thanks to my Hyatt Globalist status, we all also got to enjoy full breakfast and lounge access at the hotel at no extra charge, making it an all-around very solid deal.

If you want to go this route, you can typically find the hotel’s email address on its website. Should you decide to book a standard hotel room first, like we typically do, the email will also be on your reservation confirmation email.

Redeem more points for a suite

Many hotel loyalty programs allow you to book a suite immediately by simply using more points. For example, if you put two adults and two children into the search criteria with Marriott, you’ll see options like the ones below in London.

(Screenshot from Marriott)

You can choose a points rate with a cash copay up to the suite or the option that only requires points to book.

In Paris, if you want to use Hyatt points to stay at the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile, potentially with a view of the Eiffel Tower, you’ll need to reserve a larger option than the standard room for a family of four.

(Photo courtesy of the Hyatt Regency Paris Etoile)

However, when awards are available, you can redeem 24,000 Hyatt points per night for a standard suite that offers enough space for a family of four. Keep in mind, though, that not all suites showing availability may be bookable with points alone, so you may end up using a combination of points and cash to reserve a suite.

(Screenshot from Hyatt)

A program you always want to check when considering a suite, especially in Europe, is Radisson Rewards. The company has separated its U.S. and international programs into two, but you can transfer points quickly and easily between the two programs if needed.

What makes Radisson a great option at times is that it not only offers family rooms at many European properties, but the number of points required for upgraded accommodations (when available) is modest.

For example, a Category 4 property, such as the Radisson Blu Hotel, Edinburgh City Centre, charges 60,000 points for a standard room and just 15,000 additional points for a family room.

(Screenshot from Radisson Rewards)

When the option is available to you, booking a family room with Radisson points can’t be beaten from a cost perspective.

(Screenshot from Radisson)

Apply an upgrade certificate

As you work your way up the elite status tiers with programs like Marriott Bonvoy and World of Hyatt, you can earn upgrade certificates to lock in a larger room at no extra cash cost.

With Marriott Bonvoy, you can get five upgrade certificates (called Suite Night Awards) beginning at the Platinum Elite status level.

These can be used to get a larger room or suite for no additional fee when you book a stay with points or cash. It’s a great perk when it works. However, the problem with these certificates (if you need the extra space) is that the upgrades typically aren’t confirmed until a few days before your stay, and there are plenty of times when they don’t clear into suites at all.

Meanwhile, with Hyatt, you can start earning suite upgrade certificates once you spend 50 nights per year with the program.

Unlike Marriott’s Suite Night Awards, these Hyatt certificates are not only valid for one night; you can use each certificate for an entire seven-night stay. Additionally, they can be confirmed in advance, so a family can get the space they need without having to spend a ton of points or cash for larger accommodations. (Here are some tips if you have trouble getting them confirmed in advance.)

Related: Credit cards that can help you earn elite status

Book a discounted second room

If points or upgrade certificates are not an option and you need a second room for your kids, you may have the option to pay less for that second room through a family rate.

For example, Hyatt confirmed to TPG that it offers a family plan at select hotels. This is more common in places where occupancy limits are more stringent, such as in Europe, but I’ve run across some domestic options, too.

With Hyatt, the rules state that the second room must be the same room type as the other accommodation you book. Additionally, the room can only be used by children. If those criteria are met at a participating property, you’ll receive a 50% discount on the second room.

Unfortunately, the only way to book this family plan is generally to call and ask, as there isn’t an online list of eligible properties. Marriott has a similar plan valid at some locations, as do Accor and other chains.

Sometimes you just need more space. (Photo by Nick Ewen/The Points Guy)

Bottom line

If you and your family are ready for a trip across the ocean, you may be in for a surprise when you try and book a hotel room.

It is very common for a standard hotel room in Europe to have an occupancy limit of two or occasionally three people. Thankfully, there are a number of ways to get the space you need without paying double the price.

Whether you’re loyal to Marriott, a fan of Hyatt or enjoy staying at another hotel brand altogether, there’s a cost-effective option out there that will work for your family.

Featured photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy.

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