Tips for booking hotel rooms for large families
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Once you get the hang of it, booking travel with points and miles for only one or two people isn’t too tricky. But when you’re trying to make reservations for three, four or more people at a time, things get complicated.
That’s my family’s reality. We don’t just have a couple of children — we have six kids ranging in age from 9 to 21. Having a large family doesn’t mean that travel is off the table, but it does mean we have to plan and search for awards in ways that are very different from those booking solo trips or romantic getaways for two.
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Booking hotel rooms for families of four or fewer
Things get a little complicated if you book hotel rooms for three or four people, but it is still fairly manageable, especially if you’re traveling domestically. Most hotels in the United States will allow children under 18 to stay for free in a room with their parents and have occupancy that can support at least two adults and two children.
As an aside, it drives me a little crazy that some hotel chains require you to enter the ages of your children when making any type of reservation when it has no impact on pricing and it slows down the whole process.
Things get more difficult if you are traveling internationally, as many hotel rooms in Europe and other parts of the world charge more for extra occupants. Many international hotels are strict in this department and have occupancy limits that can top out at two or three people, including children.
I’ve heard horror stories from people who have not been 100% accurate on their reservations while traveling internationally. They’ve been forced to pay additional charges (sometimes quite hefty) to check in to the hotel. I would not mess around with the occupancy numbers at all when traveling internationally.
Booking hotel rooms for families of five
When you add a fifth person to your hotel booking, things get more complicated, but you’re still often able to find standard rooms in some hotels that will fit your family, at least within the United States.
One factor that may come into play is the age of your children and where they will sleep. My younger kids are fine sleeping on the floor, or we will occasionally bring sleeping bags for them, so they have the option to not share a bed with a sibling.
If you are a family of five, look for hotels with the word “suite” in the name. Think: Candlewood Suites, Country Inn and Suites, Embassy Suites — the list goes on. You can often find standard hotel rooms that fit a family of five at properties like these, usually with two double beds and a sofa bed.
Different hotel chains have different rules on whether their suites are bookable online. With Marriott, you typically have to call to book a suite using points, while Hyatt, IHG, Hilton and Radisson will show larger rooms as bookable online.
I’ve found Hyatt to be the chain that frequently offers larger rooms at a reasonable award cost. I will generally book the standard room on points for other chains and then try to get upgraded either for free or by paying a cash co-pay. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Booking hotel rooms for families of six or more
For larger families, things get complicated and expensive. When my kids were younger, we may or may not have viewed occupancy limits as, well, suggestions from time to time.
However, now that the children are older, we have two main options for using our points to book hotel rooms. We can find a room in a “suites” hotel that sleeps eight, or we can book two rooms.
We use either strategy interchangeably, depending on the hotel or the destination. For our last family trip to Nauvoo, Illinois, for example, we stayed one night at the Residence Inn Peoria in a two-bedroom suite that slept eight for 15,000 Marriott points.
On the drive back, we spent two nights at the Hampton Inn Keokuk in two rooms for 10,000 Hilton Honors points per room.
One thing we are always looking for when we choose to book two rooms is adjoining rooms — rooms that share a connecting door. I know many travelers don’t enjoy adjoining rooms because it might mean you’re sharing a door with a stranger, and there may be noise issues. For me, it means the difference between sharing a bed with my wife or sharing a bed with a wiggly nine-year-old.
We always call and ask the hotel for adjoining rooms. While they rarely guarantee it, they usually accommodate us if they can. I have roughly a 50% to 60% success rate in securing adjoining rooms when requested, so it’s possible — but certainly not promised.
If we have adjoining rooms, we will usually take one room for my wife and me and one room for the kids (something we don’t feel comfortable doing if the rooms are completely separate).
Best hotel chains for large families
My favorite hotel chains for larger families are the ones that comfortably accommodate our family of eight. I’ve had the best luck with the following:
These are the chains I have found most frequently offer a suite with a door that closes the bedroom off from the rest of the hotel room. This is super important for families with young kids who have early bedtimes, since it means when the kids go to bed, everyone has to go to bed.
Vacation rentals and other options
While it is not the primary focus of this guide, I want to briefly mention another option for large families.
Vacation rentals can be a smart way to book a family vacation on points. For example, Wyndham Vacation Resorts charge a flat 15,000 points per night per bedroom, and there are some good values to be had here. You can also use Marriott points to book multi-bedroom units through the Marriott Vacation Club program.
Though Airbnb is often touted as a great alternative for large family lodging, I have not had much success in this arena — especially compared to booking hotels on points. To find Airbnbs that fit my family of eight, I usually have very few options. And those options are often quite expensive.
Family travel expert Dan Miller runs Points With a Crew. Dan and his wife have used miles and points to travel with their six kids to Puerto Rico, Sweden, Greece and more.
The $20 trick
If you have read about trying to score upgrades in Las Vegas, you’ve probably heard about the “$20 trick.” It refers to slipping the front desk agent a $20 bill with your ID and credit card when you check-in, with the hope that this tip may result in an upgrade to a suite. While I’ve never found much success with that particular version of the $20 trick, I’ve used a variation of my own to secure larger rooms.
Many hotel chains have big enough rooms for a large family, but they’re not bookable on points, even though the cash prices are not significantly higher than standard room rates. Here’s an example from the Staybridge Suites San Francisco, a hotel I stayed at with my family on a recent trip to California:
The only room that is bookable with points is the standard one-bedroom suite. There’s no way to use points to book the two-bedroom suite that sleeps up to eight. In this case, I make a refundable award reservation and then e-mail the hotel (even though Richard says not to) and ask if I can pay to upgrade. I generally get one of three responses:
- Sure, as a valued [whatever status I happen to have for free with a hotel credit card] guest, we’ll be happy to offer you a complimentary upgrade.
- We can upgrade you if you pay the difference between the cash rates of the two rooms (which I’m generally more than willing to do as it’s still a significant discount over having to book two rooms).
- No, we can’t guarantee that at this time.
In my experience, about 80% of the time, it’s the first response (free upgrade), with a relatively even split between the other two responses. If the hotel won’t guarantee an upgrade, I usually look for another hotel in the area that will.
Related: Best credit cards for families
Amenities to look for when booking rooms for a large family
A few of my favorite amenities that I prioritize when booking hotel rooms for my family of eight includes:
When that’s included, that means eight meals are included for my family.
Free dinner or evening appetizers
Several extended stay hotels offer an “Evening Social” or “Managers Reception” a few days per week. As long as you aren’t picky, this could mean a free dinner.
Full or partial kitchen
This can help your family eat healthier meals and save on the expensive food costs typically associated with a family vacation. Of course, we’ve been known to cook meals in our hotel room with a rice cooker.
If you’re staying for more than a few days, having access to laundry facilities means you don’t have to pack as much and can save on room in the car or airline bag fees.
Featured photo by Ronnie Kaufman/Getty Images
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