After you've selected a wedding date and venue, the next task you need to focus on is choosing guest accommodations. While this is an important wedding-planning to-do no matter where you're getting married, it's especially crucial in the case of a destination wedding. After all, the vast majority of your family and friends will be flying in for the festivities, and helping them figure out where to stay (ideally, at a reduced rate) is all part of being a good host.
Ultimately, you have a few different accommodation options, but the most popular tend to be hotel buyouts and room blocks. Which makes the most sense for your wedding will depend on your plans: Are you planning multiple days of events all at one location, or are you simply hosting a ceremony and reception in paradise? Do you have any flexibility in the budget? The answers to these questions (and more!) will help you determine which makes the most sense for your nuptials.
To help you understand the nuances associated with hotel buyouts and room blocks, we asked Stefanie Cove of Stefanie Cove and Co., the powerhouse behind many celebrity weddings, for the full rundown on what each entails.
Meet the Expert
Stefanie Cove is the founder of Stefanie Cove and Co., a full-service wedding and event planning firm in Los Angeles, California.
What's the Difference Between a Hotel Buyout and a Room Block?
A hotel buyout is exactly what it sounds like—you reserve every single room in the hotel for your wedding date or weekend. While many couples choose to do a buyout of only the guest rooms, others opt to also book additional areas within the hotel, including the spa, restaurants, and event spaces. Naturally, the latter option comes with a higher price tag, as the couple will generally be expected to pay the same amount that the hotel would generate if they were fully operational.
Alternatively, a room block is a group of hotel rooms (typically a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 25 to 30) that are set aside for your guests to book; these are held at a fixed rate that you've pre-discussed with the hotel. Some couples book multiple room blocks, giving guests a few different price points to choose from. Any hotels you choose for guest accommodations should be conveniently located near to your wedding venue; offering transportation to and from these properties is also thoughtful.
To figure out whether a buyout or room block makes the most sense for your celebration, it's important to think about a few different details. First, decide roughly how many rooms you think you'll need to reserve for your destination wedding. To do this, consider how many guests will need lodging (including your wedding party), how long they will stay (if you have two nights of events, they will most likely stay two nights, but if it’s a far-off destination, it will likely be more), and how many guests live locally.
Whether you choose to reserve a block of rooms or go all-out with a hotel buyout, it's essential that you present guests with all the information they need to make informed booking decisions: Share the hotel (or hotels) that you've pre-negotiated rates at, the cost per night, and when guests need to book by. For a destination wedding, sharing these details with guests when you send the save-the-dates is key—the cost of travel and accommodations is something your loved ones will need to consider early on.
The Pros and Cons of a Hotel Buyout
A full hotel buyout is the single best way to ensure your wedding weekend feels extra special and private. When budget allows, Cove thinks a buyout is absolutely the way to go. "I love a buyout," she explains. "When you want to have the hotel to yourself with your guests only, it is a perfect option." You can customize experiences to your liking and really make the whole space your own because the hotel does not have to cater to wedding and non-wedding guests all at once. This might mean your events can go later than they typically would, you might be able to use certain spaces that normally aren't open for events, and you can get more creative with the whole affair.
The major downside associated with a hotel buyout? The cost can be prohibitively expensive. You, as the couple, will have minimums to meet that require big financial commitments. Your guests will be responsible for their nightly room rates and incidentals, like non-wedding meals and activities, so you should also consider whether those costs seem reasonable for your loved ones.
Expenses aside, the other big con to a full buyout is the logistical lead time necessary. Hotels often take vacation and event reservations up to a year out, which means you might have to wait months or even years to secure a range of dates you want.
Pros and Cons of Hotel Room Blocks
Room blocks are a great option because you're still providing your guests with a specific hotel (or multiple hotels, in some cases) that you have vetted as good options, but you’re not on the hook to fill an entire property. This makes your guests feel taken care of and guarantees them a place to stay, often at a pre-negotiated rate that's lower than if they booked on their own.
While one room block is often enough, reserving a block of guest accommodations at a few different nearby hotels—ideally at a range of different price points—is considered the gold standard. When hosting a destination wedding, offering a few different options to suit different lifestyles and budgets is a generous option. The downside? Your guests might end up feeling spread out or isolated, especially if the majority have booked at one property over another. To combat this, provide group transportation to and from their hotels to the wedding events.
As for contracted room blocks, while you aren't committing to filling a whole hotel, you’re still on the hook for whatever you signed on the dotted line for. In most cases, there is a financial obligation to fill a certain number of rooms by a specific date, or else these rooms are released to the general population. For some properties, there is also a food and beverage commitment.
Costs to Consider With a Hotel Buyout
There are so many factors to consider when pricing out a hotel buyout, including seasonality, location, number of rooms, and whether or not it's an all-inclusive property. One thing is certain: A buyout is an expensive proposition. Even if your guests will be paying for their own rooms, make sure you know exactly what you are agreeing to in terms of financial obligations. “I think the biggest mistake is not understanding the contract,” says Cove. “Make sure you understand what you are committing to, as it will almost always be more than just the rooms your guests are paying for. I think the only exception here is smaller boutique hotels, but you still are committing yourself to their terms.”
Review what the buyout per night cost includes (do you also get complimentary breakfast for all guests, spa treatments, and upgrades for the bridal couple?) and what it does not include (are the costs of the actual wedding events listed in the price tag?). There will most likely be a minimum stay (usually two or three nights) listed as part of the contract.
Costs to Consider With Room Blocks
"People do not realize that there are two types of blocks—room blocks and call-in blocks," says Cove. "Room blocks put you completely on the hook with a deposit. You usually need to pay the whole block up front and then after the weekend is reconciled and your guests have paid in full, you will receive your deposits back. But if any rooms are not filled, minus the 10 percent attrition, you need to pay for them. This is why you should never book more rooms than you are sure will be filled."
If you have a contracted room block, be aware of the details of the agreement, such as the cancellation policy, the attrition rate (usually around 80 to 90 percent, but they can vary), the minimum bookings you need, and the reservation cutoff date. "Even if your guests are paying for their own rooms, room blocks often come along with other minimums you are responsible to hit, such as food and beverage in their outlets or spa minimums," says Cove. For example, a 30-room block might require a $15,000 food and beverage spend at the hotel. If you aren't planning on hosting any wedding events at that hotel, it likely doesn't make sense for you to secure a room block at that property.
If a hotel offers a call-in block, Cove advises couples opt to go this route because it doesn’t require a deposit. "They have no financial responsibility to fill all the rooms—there is a cut-off date when they release unbooked rooms and they go back into the hotel inventory," she explains.