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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 6 to 18. 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.
Booking hotel rooms for families of four or fewer
Things get a little complicated if you are booking hotel rooms for three or four people, but it is still fairly manageable, especially if you are 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 do charge more for extra occupants. Many international hotels are quite 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) in order to check-in to the hotel and stay in a room rated for the size of their family. 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, Sheraton Suites — the list goes on. At properties like these, you can often find standard hotel rooms that fit a family of five, usually with two double beds and a sofa bed. This is an example of an arrangement at the Sheraton Suites Columbus:
Different hotel chains have different rules on whether their suites are bookable online. With Starwood, 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 most frequently allows the booking of larger rooms at a reasonable award cost. For other chains, I will generally book the standard room on points 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, such as my family of eight, things get complicated. And they can get expensive, too. (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 when it comes to using our points to book hotel rooms. We can find a room in a “suites” hotel that sleeps eight, or 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 on our drive out in a two-bedroom suite that slept eight for 15,000 Marriott Rewards points. On the drive back, we spent two nights at the Hampton Inn Keokuk, in Iowa, in two rooms at a cost of 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 six-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 do have adjoining rooms, we will usually take one room for my wife and I 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:
- Residence Inn (Marriott)
- Homewood Suites (Hilton)
- Staybridge Suites (IHG)
- Sheraton Suites (SPG, soon to be Marriott)
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 otherwise it means when the kids go to bed, everyone has to go to bed.
Other hotel chains with “suite” in the name such as Candlewood Suites, Country Inn and Suites or Embassy Suites typically just have an area that is partially separated by a wall, and aren’t always true suites.
The $20 trick
If you have read about trying to score upgrades in Las Vegas, you probably already know that the “$20 trick” refers to slipping a $20 bill with your ID and credit card when you check-in, with the hope that this tip for the front desk agent 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 rooms that are big enough for a large family, but they’re simply 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, then I usually just look for another hotel in the area that will.
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 include:
- Free breakfast. When that’s included, that means eight meals are included for my family.
- Free dinner or evening appetizers. Several of the 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.
- Laundry. If you’re staying for more than a few days, having access to laundry facilities means that you don’t have to pack as much and can save on room in the car or on airline bag fees.
Vacation rentals and other options
While it is not the primary focus of this guide, I do 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 when 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.
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