Really it is up to you and the hotel how you want to handle it, and I’ve seen it done all sorts of ways.
1) Did you choose a few different hotels and include their info within the invite? On one hand, it’s really nice to be able to offer a couple of different price ranges so that people can pick the one that is best for their budget. But this dilutes your buying power and makes it harder to negotiate the best price for the guests (i.e. 40 rooms in one hotel gets you a better price than 20 rooms each in 2 hotels). Also it may be worth the convenience to have everyone all in one place, like if you are providing transportation to the venue.
2) How many rooms did you block? Did you base it on the assumption that all Out of Town guests would attend? What happens if the guests don’t use the rooms – are you (the bride/groom) charged anything? You will have to know your guests before making decisions on how many rooms to block. We are only inviting close friends and family and while we still are racking up quite a number, our RSVP-Yes rate is almost 100%, so we planned on every out-of-towner staying in the hotel and trimmed back just a hair for schedule conflicts.
As to if the guests don’t use the rooms, that depnds on the contract (if any) you sign with the hotel. Some will give you a “courtesy block” which means the rooms are protected for your guests but you have no contractual obligation to fill them. Usually this is only given for a small number of rooms (under 10 rooms). On the opposite end is an actual contract with guarantees and if you are short at the cutoff date, you pay a penalty. Some of the hotels will negotiate how many you can be short, and some won’t. Don’t be afraid to ask.
3) Did you negotiate the deal or did the hotel, once they knew the purpose, offered a standard price per room? Negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Hilton and Marriott at least have an online bidding system so you can see the starting price without actually talking to someone.
4) Did you ever find better deals for rooms online than at the hotel itself? We found through hotels.com a much better deal with a hotel than with the actual hotel itself when we called. How would we block the rooms at the online price? Only with a prepaid rate, where the guest loses their money if they have to cancel and needs to pay upon booking, so you’re not comparing apples to apples there. You are probably better off not locking the guests into actual payment so far in advance, and you will rarely match a prepaid rate with a non-prepaid rate no matter where you see it posted. Also, guests on hotels.com rates and other third party rates are often the first ones to be “walked” or moved to another hotel if the booked hotel is oversold and doesn’t have enough rooms— all hotels do this, just like the airlines, and I would be mortified if that happened to one of my guests.
5) And finally, did the hotel give you cards to onclude with your invites or did you make something up yourself? No, I wrote it up on our wedding website and emailed out the link. Some hotels will do this, some won’t. Doesn’t hurt to ask.
PS don’t be afraid to ask for “extras” which the hotel may or may not be willing to give. You can ask for free breakfast for guests if it’s not a chain that already gives that, or free wi-fi or parking, or extra points for yourself. They may say no to all of those but rank those in order of what gets the best value for the guests and see if you can get anything. Sometimes the hotel can’t come down on the rate but will give you a catering discount or free parking or some other goodies to make you more likely to book with them.