Each hotel will have different rules and you have to do a bit of research to find out what’s customary at your destination, and what you may be able to do to either negotiate a better rate for your guests or a more favorable contract for yourself.
Here in DC, we had narrowed it down to two choices. The first hotel would do a “courtesy” block— no contract required, but only for the first 10 rooms at a guaranteed rate. The guaranteed rate was about a 20% discount off of the rack rate. They gave a second option of an actual signed contract with a set number of rooms for each night, and we pay a penalty fee if we don’t meet a percentage of that quota.
The second hotel would do a courtesy block, no contract, for however many rooms we wanted, and offered a similar rate.
In the end, we chose the contracted option at the first hotel because we needed way more than 10 rooms to be guaranteed, especially during our local convention season; we didn’t want to have guests scattered all across the city. That hotel “won” because the rooms were a bit nicer, even if the second hotel was in a better neighborhood; and because their hotel gives all guests free breakfast and free happy hour.
If you are planning any catering at the destination, consider using that as leverage towards your room rate, as many hotels will give a bigger discount when you add catering to your booking.
Some other things to consider:
-Does the hotel allow each guest to pay on their own, or do they require one lump payment? What options do they give for paying? I’ve been a guest a couple of times where we had to call in to make our bookings, and I didn’t like that; the hotel I picked set up a special booking website for our guests.
-What kind of feedback do they give? Can you see how many rooms are booked and who’s booked into them?
-What kind of “extras” are they willing to throw in? I was able to get free breakfast included in my group quote at a hotel that we did not select; some will give free parking or free wi-fi, but they will not offer these things right up front. You have to ask, and be prepared to be told No unless your group is very large or the hotel is underbooked
-If it is a chain hotel, can you as the organizer get points on the group, or only for rooms that you actually pay for, or only for the room you actually sleep in? This can be quite a lucrative perk; for my bachelorette shindig, by collecting money from everyone and paying in one lump payment on my account, I’ll get about 40,000 Hilton points plus whatever special promotion bonuses are going on at that time— that’s almost a full night in a high-end Hilton, or 3-4 nights in lower-end Hiltons during local off-season.
When I negotiated my contract, I added up all my out-of-towners that I felt would be 75% likely to show up or more; the standard quota is 85% of room nights (like 5 rooms on Saturday and 2 on Friday = 7 room nights) but I negotiated down to 75% and while I feel OK that we’ll get to that number, I’m prepared to make a few phantom bookings if I need to— cheaper to pay for 2-3 nights of hotel that no one sleeps in, than to pay the penalty.