If you’re planning a destination wedding you’re inevitably going to reach a point where you’ll consider setting up a room block for your wedding guests. You’re probably going to have a lot of questions because if you’re like most people, you’ve never contracted a room block in your entire life! Add that to the fact that you’re going to be asked to sign a legal contract financially guaranteeing X number of rooms or dollars, and I can see why a lot of our couples get nervous about room blocks. So, let’s look at the various options you have for this, and what a lot of the wedding room block terms mean.
What Is A Contracted Room Block?
A contracted room block is a group of guest rooms, secured by a contract, that a resort puts on hold for a group, typically with a guaranteed room rate for a specific guaranteed amount of time. A room block typically needs to have 10 or more rooms to qualify to be a contracted room block, for the potential for any special perks (known as concessions).
Side note – You’re going to hear a lot of talk about how travel agents “negotiate rates and perks for couples”. Let’s get real about that statement and the word “negotiate” for a moment. Right now, most resorts just “stop the rate” where it is when you make the room block contract request and don’t even offer a discounted rate for groups any longer. Most of that went away with the massive increase in travel to Mexico, so there’s no real incentive for these resorts to offer special rates for groups, since their occupancies are already so high with traditional travelers.
Pre covid we saw a lot more rate flexibility. Those days are gone. Can you ask for a lower room rate than this? Sure. Does that mean you’ll get it? Not very likely. Resort occupancies in the tourist areas of Mexico (Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Cabos, etc) are very high right now! People are traveling like never before. There is really no incentive for resorts to discount rooms for groups, since they are likely going to fill the space with non-group travelers anyway (which is less intensive for their staff).
What most people don’t realize is that you don’t always have negotiating power! If the hotel was already going to be booked on your wedding week or historically has a high rate of occupancy, you don’t have a lot of negotiating power – just because you are going to book what you might consider to be a lot of rooms does not mean that the hotel or resort feels the same way. Groups can actually be very damaging to a resort, depending on the situation.
Once you set up a wedding room block, your guests will pay for their individual rooms within your room block. Oftentimes, you’ll be given a web link that you can give to guests that will allow them to book their rooms or they can contact your destination wedding travel agent to help them through the room booking and depositing process.
There are 2 types of room blocks that most people are familiar with – Courtesy and Contracted
A Courtesy Room Block is a block of a certain number and type of rooms that the hotel has set aside for you as a “courtesy”. You do not have to financially guarantee that these rooms will be booked by you or your guests. If you book them, that’s great. If not, it’s no big deal, because you won’t be charged for it.
You may still be asked to sign a contract for the courtesy room block. You won’t be charged if your rooms aren’t booked but this adds some weight for the hotel to actually hold this block of rooms for you.
Basically, it outlines that the hotel will hold these rooms and you are aware of it. It will list the rate that the room(s) are being offered at. It also states the date that the hotel rooms will be released to the public, at which point your guests will not be able to book a room at the terms offered in your room block contract.
Courtesy room blocks are more often offered at properties that do not have high occupancy levels and you will mainly see these in small markets in the US. We’re not aware of any all-inclusive resort in Mexico that offers a courtesy room block, so this is not something you will typically encounter for a Mexico destination wedding.
A Contracted Room Block requires a contract to pull guest rooms out of the resort’s inventory. Typically, you’ll need to guarantee that a certain number of rooms will be sold in that room block, or you’ll have to pay for them anyway. The contract will state the room rate, the amount and type of rooms, and the consequences of not booking all or a certain number of the rooms in the block. This consequence is often called “attrition” or is listed in the attrition clause.
An attrition clause is when a group doesn’t live up to the hotel room block agreement and a payment is required to make up for the rooms not rented. For example, high traffic hotels might have a 90% guarantee, meaning that you must book 90% of the total rooms in your room block. So, if you’ve contracted 10 rooms, you’ll be financially responsible for 9 of the rooms, even if your guests do not book them.
If you’re working with a destination wedding travel agent for your wedding room block at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico you’ll almost always have something called a “drop date”. A drop date normally happens about 6 months or so (but sometimes less) before your wedding and it allows you to remove any rooms from your room block that have not been booked, with no penalty, so you’re not on the hook for any unbooked rooms. In many cases you may still need to meet a minimum number of rooms, but you may be able to reduce rooms down to that number at your drop date. A destination wedding travel agent will be your ally in navigating this and keeping you on track with these dates.
Why would you go with a Contracted Block when a Courtesy Block has no penalties?
- · Your wedding resort may not offer a courtesy room block. Most all-inclusive resorts and mid to higher end hotel chains will not offer a courtesy room block as an option. You’re more likely to find a courtesy room block in a lower priced hotel in the US, not in Mexico.
· You have booked a busy hotel that books quickly or you have booked a busy week/weekend that will fill quickly. If either of these are the case, you’ll want a wedding room block to make for sure that your guests will have a room for your wedding. A lot of guests wait until the last minute to book and if you didn’t set up a room block, they may not be able to come to your wedding as rooms could be sold out.
- You want to make sure that the room rate stays the same for all guests. Having a contracted room block typically guarantees a set room rate for all guests, up until a certain date, which allows all guests the ability to reserve a room without the price increasing.
- You need a lot of rooms. Again, a lot of times your guests wait until the last minute to book and if you didn’t set up a room block the rooms may be gone, and they may not be able to come to your wedding. Couples often think that wanting to block a larger quantity of rooms gives them more negotiating power. This is not normally the case with a wedding room block, where the number of rooms that guest’s book is not guaranteed, since there is more risk involved from the resort’s perspective. In a lot of cases, the more wedding rooms you request, the less favorable the contract terms will be and, in some cases, a resort may even increase room rates on larger group room blocks. This is more an more the norm these days, particularly for room blocks more than 50 rooms.
My wedding is 3 months away and the resort just released all of my rooms, but I still have guests that didn’t book their room. What happened?
What happened is you’ve reached your drop date or contract end date. This is the date when the resort releases any remaining rooms that did not book within your contracted room block. They take these unsold rooms back into their inventory in hopes that they will become booked by someone else.
Once released back into the resort’s inventory the rate becomes the current going rate for the room – usually higher than the original contracted room block amount, since the original room block was booked many months prior, when rates were lower. If your guests still need to book a room, they will now be paying at whatever rate the hotel is offering. Yep, your guest may be super annoyed. It’s not your fault, if you gave your guests all the details and they chose not to follow the timeline for making a reservation. Ideally, you’ve given your guests plenty of notice, so the guest has plenty of time to reserve a room and avoid this situation. This also means that once the rooms are gone, they’re gone. Your last-minute booking guests may not have a room to book, if the resort sells out.
What if you’re nearing the drop date and your unbooked resort rooms are about to be released but you know your best friend’s mom’s cousin is definitely for sure going to need a room but just can’t pay right now?
You can go ahead and book that room – either you’ll pay for it, and they’ll pay you back or your best friend’s mom will do it and they’ll pay her back – or whatever. But if you know you’re going to need that room and you’re confident the hotel is going to book up, you’re going to want to snag that room at the lower rate you blocked it for. But remember that if that guest doesn’t come through, you are left holding the bag for that room – and you must pay for that room personally.
How many rooms should we block?
We recommend that you book rooms for about half of your total anticipated guest count for destination wedding locations. That means that if you’re expecting 100 actual guests (not invitees, but actual anticipated guests), it’s a good idea to start with a room block of about 50 or less resort rooms. A lot of your guests will be couples and will share a room. Some of your single friends will come with their significant other or may pair up and share a room.
When should we set up the room block?
You should reserve your destination wedding room block immediately, as soon as your destination wedding date & resort is confirmed. The sooner you contract your wedding room block the better, as you’re more likely to receive the best room rates booking far in advance, and the payment terms are normally better for guests as well, since they have more time to make a reservation and make payments towards their room reservation.
This sounds like a lot to take on. Why would I even worry about a room block anyway? I’ll just let my guests book their rooms wherever they want.
We hear this all the time – and it may not be as simple as it seems. Let me tell you why.
· Resorts sell out more than you think! Without a contracted room block, if your resort sells out, your guests will not be able to attend your wedding. Or, more commonly, all the lowest priced room categories are sold out, so guests may end up priced out of attending your wedding. The 2 most common room categories to be sold out at a resort first are the lowest priced room and the highest priced room (think Presidential Suites). We’ve actually had the flip side of this happen as well – a couple and their guests all wanted the Presidential and highest room categories, but the resort was sold out of all rooms, except for basic Garden View options.
· The number of room nights you book could earn you additional incentives, like free cocktail hours and free room upgrades for your guests. And you won’t get any of these perks if your guests don’t book their rooms as part of a contracted room block – even if the guests all stay at the same resort as you.
· Your invited guests are less likely to attend your wedding if there is not a clear process for booking their rooms and travel. People simply have anxiety about traveling and having to wing it on their own deters them from coming all together.
· It creates division amongst the guests. Your guests that can afford to book immediately will get better rates but your guests that may need a little time may end up paying more. Your guests talk! And they will talk about what they spent as well. Having to spend excessively leads to a lot of hurt feelings when people feel like they didn’t get as good of a deal as someone else in the group. When you contract a wedding room block, the resort locks in your rate for the entirety of the room block period. That means that even if the room rate increases in the time leading up to your wedding, the rate you contracted stays the same!
· The biggest drawback for our couples that do not contract a destination wedding room block – It usually ends up costing YOU a lot more. If your guests do not book their rooms as a part of a room block you may be responsible for all resort fees that are associated with them attending your wedding. If they stay at a different resort, you’ll often incur a daily guest fee, that usually runs about $120+ per person, for any guest that stays off property and needs to come onto the resort the day of the wedding. There could be other fees associated with a guest booking outside of a block as well. For a wedding with 40 guests, if even 5 aren’t at the same resort as you, it could cost you $600 or more just for them to be able to attend your wedding ceremony.
We highly recommend setting up a room block contract for your wedding guests in almost every wedding scenario, except for very small guest counts (under 10 people). The perks simply outweigh the negatives in almost every real-life scenario.
Couple Scenario #1
We worked with E+J to book their wedding at a resort where they could get as many “perks” as possible towards their wedding because they had a limited spending plan for their wedding.
They were expecting 60 guests (about 25 – 28 rooms) and the resort they ultimately booked for their Playa del Carmen wedding gave them 9 hours of complimentary private events since they contracted 25 rooms, that their guests will pay for separately.
That means that they will not have to pay for their rehearsal dinner event and their entire wedding day cocktail hour and reception dinner – including a full open bar! They are also getting their basic ceremony set up for free, as well as a few other perks.
Their dream wedding would not be possible if they had to foot the bill for everything they were planning. Thanks to the resort room block contract they’re able to have the wedding they dreamed about!
Couple Scenario #2
We worked with A+R on their Riviera Maya wedding last year. They had 148 guests at their wedding.
A didn’t want her guests to feel obligated to stay at the same resort as they were hosting the wedding at, so she only arranged a room block for her immediate family, bridal party, and some of the additional guests. 87 guests stayed on site at their wedding resort and booked in their wedding room block – 61 stayed at other resorts or stayed onsite but booked out of the block.
The total bill for guests outside the block for just the wedding day activities was over $9,000. They would not have paid for any of this if their guests had booked within their room block. We had already talked with A+R about this possibility and they knew in advance this might happen, so they were prepared.
A+R are still very happy with their choice even though she admitted to me that having to do it again, she would have steered more of her guests towards the on-site room block contract.
Some Things You May Not Have Considered and Some Things That May Surprise You About Destination Wedding Room Blocks
Booking a room block may not give you a lower price on your rooms.
I know, I know – conventional wisdom says that the more you buy of something the lower the price. With room blocks this is not always the case. Since the resort may be offering special concessions (like free private event hours or room upgrades, for example) and may be offering different, more lenient, payment terms (like a smaller deposit and longer payment terms for guests) they may not always give you a lower price on the rooms. On occasion, the room rate might actually be a bit more. Since the resort is offering these great perks, locking in rates that won’t change for your guests, even if the rates increase, and holding rooms out of inventory for you, in good faith that you will book those rooms, these are some of the tradeoffs you make for not always getting a lower rate.
I found a lower rate on (expedia, hotels.com, etc). What’s going on here?
Yep, that might happen on occasion, but is not the norm. Online travel booking sites will occasionally offer rooms at a lower rate, to generate sales. In doing this they are reducing their own commission, to compete against other online travel booking sites. When this happens, they may offer the lower rate on 1 room, 5 rooms, etc., and the rate may be a temporary sale. And the terms are normally stricter – buy now, pay now, non-refundable – whereas a room block rate, though occasionally it may be a few dollars more, typically offers better terms.
What happens when your guest books a room outside of your resort room block? Those rooms will not count towards the concessions that are offered by your resort (free ceremony or free event hours).
What are the risks of booking a destination wedding room block?
The biggest risk is financial, of course. Since you’re personally contracting the room block, you are ultimately responsible for the fulfillment of the rooms in the block. You’ll want to carefully watch all the important contract dates – initial deposit, guest deposits, drop date (if you can get one), final payment dates, etc.
Having a destination wedding travel agent, like us here at Yellow Umbrella Events, is crucial to the destination wedding room block process. It can save you time and a lot of effort! We’ve been doing this (facilitating Mexico room block contacts) for many years and have managed literally hundreds of contracted room block groups for destination wedding couples and their guests. We can help you fully understand and navigate all the ins and outs of your resort’s wedding room block. And we carefully monitor all your important contract dates for you and work one on one with all your guests to help them through the booking process. We’re happy to help you through the entire process. Just give us a call and we’ll take care of you.