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Strategies for Booking Hotels as a Larger Group

I’ve recently spent a week in and around Shanghai, as I had finished up my 14-day quarantine upon arriving in China and needed to wait a full 21 days before heading back to Beijing where my family lives (as I’d otherwise have to quarantine again).

My parents made the trip down to Shanghai to join me for the week, and I decided to treat them to a few nice hotel stays for the week. After all, one of the most rewarding feelings in earning and redeeming points is when you’re able to share the fruits of your labour with your loved ones.

Now, this was my first time booking hotel rooms for three adults since I started staying at hotels frequently.

Most hotel rooms are designed for an occupancy of one or two adults, perhaps with a child or two as well, so booking as three adults definitely comes with challenges of its own. In this article, I’ll share with you some of the different strategies I used when booking hotel stays for me and my parents during our time in Shanghai.

(Keep in mind that our discussion here centres around three adults travelling together. Some of the strategies may be generalized to travelling with children or teenagers, but our family travel writer Amy will follow-up with her own advice on booking hotel rooms as a large family at a later date.)

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Book a Room with Two Queen Beds

When travelling solo or as a couple, you’ll most commonly ask for a room with one king bed, which is the standard base-level room type at major hotels.

Most hotels will also offer an alternative room type that has two queen beds, which can be a better fit for friends who are splitting a room, or indeed a family of three who are travelling together.

The problem is that the two-queen room type tends to be limited to the base-level rooms. If you’re looking to leverage your hotel elite status for a nice upgrade and have some more space for your travelling party, then it’s fairly unlikely that a hotel’s higher-tier rooms and suites will offer two queen beds.

Personally, as someone who’s always looking to squeeze the maximum benefit from my elite status, I wasn’t happy with a simple two-queen room for our hotel stays.

Even though I booked a two-queen room at, say, the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund just in case an upgrade wasn’t granted, I was still eager to ask for upgraded rooms and suites even if it meant that we’d have to consider some unorthodox sleeping arrangements.

Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund – Panorama River View Room

But if you’re simply looking to have everyone in your party sleep comfortably on a bed, then booking a room with two queen beds is the most straightforward strategy.

(Note that some hotels will offer premium suites with two bedrooms, which often both have king beds, as some of their very highest suite types. These suites are typically off-limits to elite upgrades, but we’ll talk about this strategy in more detail later in the article.)

Request a Suite Upgrade, Someone Takes the Couch

If at least one member of your travelling party is a heavy sleeper who doesn’t have much trouble falling asleep, then I think the benefit of having more space in the form of a suite outweighs the downside that not everyone might get a bed.

Throughout my hotel-hopping journey, I most commonly deployed the strategy of simply asking for a nice suite upgrade and then sleeping on the couch while my parents took the bed.

At the Shanghai EDITION, I suite-talked my way to an incredible Bund View Suite, and found the couch to be a perfectly serviceable surface on which to sleep for one night.

The Shanghai EDITION – Bund View Suite

Meanwhile, at the St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, I applied two Suite Night Awards (SNAs) to upgrade ourselves to the Caroline Astor Suite, which also came with a king bed and a couch that was fine to sleep on.

(I probably could’ve also suite-talked my way to the Caroline Astor Suite, but I’d be celebrating my birthday at the hotel and so didn’t want to leave things up to chance. Plus, I have a bunch of SNAs to burn anyway, and this seemed to be as good a time as any to burn them.)

In both cases, I simply grabbed one of the pillows from the bed and asked housekeeping to deliver an extra set of blankets. I slept soundly enough, even if it was slightly less comfortable than sleeping on the plush king-sized beds that I’d usually expect from these hotels. 

St. Regis Shanghai Jingan – Caroline Astor Suite

Later on the trip, at the Alila Wuzhen (a fantastic place to redeem Hyatt points, by the way), my dad opted to take the couch in our Globalist-upgraded Garden Villa instead, saying that he didn’t like how soft the beds were at these chain hotels, and that he’d prefer to sleep on a harder surface.

As long as one person is happy to take the couch, requesting a suite upgrade as an elite member may be your best bet for fitting everyone under one roof.

In fact, if you aren’t using upgrade instruments, you might even have better luck with your suite upgrade request by noting that you have three people on the reservation and that you’d prefer a bit more space.

Alila Wuzhen – Garden Villa

Request a Suite Upgrade and a Rollaway Bed

An alternative to someone taking the couch is to request a rollaway bed for your room or suite.

Sleeping on a rollaway bed may be slightly more comfortable than sleeping on a couch, and most suites that have a separate living area should have enough room to accommodate a rollaway bed.

Hotels usually charge a nightly fee for adding a rollaway bed, often in the region of 20–30% of the nightly cash rate.

Personally, I didn’t bother with the added expense of a rollaway bed, because I’ve slept on rollaway beds before and I didn’t think that it’d be materially more comfortable than sleeping on a couch, and also because I’d prefer to have the suite’s living room to enjoy in the daytime rather than having a bed occupying most of the space.

The Shanghai EDITION – Bund View Suite

I might be in the minority with my preference, though. If you’re looking to ensure comfortable sleep for your entire party (and certainly if you’re travelling as a party of four, rather than three), then a suite upgrade and a rollaway bed can be a great solution.

Pay for a Premium Suite Upgrade

Some hotels, especially larger ones, will offer higher-tier premium suites that have two full bedrooms and bathrooms. Typically, there’s a master bedroom with its ensuite bathroom, as well as a second bedroom that uses a shared bathroom with the common living area.

In most cases, these premium suites will be off-limits to complimentary elite upgrades, as well as upgrade instruments like Marriott’s Suite Night Awards or Hyatt’s Suite Upgrade Awards.

There will always be exceptions here and there – for example, at the St. Regis Toronto a few years ago, I was able to use SNAs to book the Two-Bedroom Suite (even though I only really needed one), although I’d note that the hotel has since removed the Two-Bedroom Suite from its list of SNA-eligible suites.

Two-Bedroom Suite, St. Regis Toronto

However, if you’ve already used upgrade instruments or suite-talked your way to a nicer suite as an elite member, you can then inquire as to the cost of a further upgrade to one of these more premium suites upon check-in.

You can assess whether this additional cost is worthwhile for the privilege of having even more space for your travelling party and for everyone to be able to sleep in a proper bed, compared to taking the smaller suite and either adding a rollaway bed or taking the couch.

(I’d only recommend inquiring about paid further upgrades after you’ve already confirmed a complimentary suite upgrade with the hotel. If you open with asking about paid upgrades, the hotel might sense a profit opportunity and ask you to pay for a suite that they might’ve granted as a complimentary elite upgrade or via SNAs otherwise.)

At the St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, after confirming our Caroline Astor Suite using SNAs, I also asked before my arrival about the possibility of upgrading further to the two-bedroom Metropolitan Suite. At the front desk, I was quoted a per-night upgrade fee of ¥1,900 ($380), and was even offered a tour of the suite to help us decide.

After taking a look through the massive apartment-like suite, I was honestly quite tempted to splurge on the upgrade for one night (we’d be able to move in early the following morning and enjoy late checkout on the next day, too).

However, my dad said he’d prefer our current Caroline Astor Suite since it was “more cozy”, so I deferred to him – sometimes, a smaller space is better for family togetherness.

Book Two Rooms

There’s a very simple solution that we haven’t looked at yet: just book two rooms!

The benefit? You each get a lot more space to yourself, especially if you can get both rooms upgraded. The downside? Well, the costs might really start to add up.

In Shanghai, the EDITION, St. Regis, Park Hyatt, and Waldorf Astoria are all top-of-the-line hotels; none of them were cheap, whether I was paying with cash or points, and so the possibility of booking two rooms wasn’t very feasible from a cost perspective.

On the other hand, we needed to stay a night at the Marriott Jiaxing Hotel in the city of Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, en route to the traditional water town of Wuzhen. This was only Category 2 hotel with Marriott Bonvoy, meaning that a free night would cost only 15,000 Bonvoy points.

Redeeming 30,000 Bonvoy points for two rooms at the Marriott Jiaxing was a much easier pill to swallow than, say, redeeming 100,000 Bonvoy points or paying $500+ for two rooms at the EDITION. It would also give me a little break from being around my parents all the time. 😉

Marriott Jiaxing – Executive Suite

Best of all? We’d get to reap the rewards of my mattress-running efforts on my dad’s behalf during the Double Nights promotion earlier this year.

Technically, when a single member books two rooms, only that member’s room is subject to upgrade benefits; any elite upgrades for the second room are very much an act of kindness on the hotel’s part.

Instead, I booked my room out of my Titanium Elite account, and my parents’ room out of my dad’s Platinum Elite account, allowing us to both score easy upgrades to the hotel’s Executive Suites.

Marriott Jiaxing – Executive Suite

What About the “Third Guest Trick”?

Outside of the strategy of simply booking two rooms, it’s important to note that many hotels will charge an “extra person fee” for any occupancy greater than two.

One common workaround for this is to simply put down two adults on the room, and then either show up with your other occupants and hope the front desk doesn’t make a fuss about it, or have them join you in the room later without making their presence known.

Many travellers have been successful enough with this manoeuvre, although there’s always the risk that the hotel may take notice and ask the third (or fourth) guest to register, while charging the appropriate additional fees to the room.

In particular, during this era of contact tracing, most hotels are being more vigilant about keeping accurate records of their guests. Across most of our stays in and around Shanghai, not only did I have to submit my passport for identification, but so too did my parents need to submit their ID cards for the hotel to photocopy.

If you want to be on the safe side, book your hotel with the correct number of guests on the reservation. The extra person fee typically isn’t charged when you redeem points, so you’d be getting an even better value out of your points when you redeem for three guests (as I did at the Alila Wuzhen).

Alila Wuzhen – Garden Villa

Breakfast & Lounge Access as a Larger Group

Finally, besides the room itself, another key component to the hotel experience as an elite member is the breakfast benefit and lounge access. These are typically offered on a complimentary basis to two guests staying in the same room, so what happens if you have a third guest in tow?

By all accounts, if you have young children with you, hotels are likely to extend the breakfast or lounge benefits to your kids as well – often without you having to ask.

After all, it’s kind of common sense that the family should eat breakfast together, and the hotel would leave a terrible impression by saying to “no, only two of you can have free breakfast” to a family of four.

If you’re travelling as a larger group of adults, though, you might not find the breakfast benefit proactively extended to your entire party. However, I’ve found that there’s plenty of room for negotiation on the breakfast and lounge access benefits, especially if you’re a higher-tier elite member who likes to charm the front desk staff.

St. Regis Shanghai Jingan – Free breakfast

On this trip, my efforts to get free breakfast for all of us were mostly successful, although not entirely so:

  • At the Alila Wuzhen, I was given free breakfast for all three of us without me having to ask.
  • At the St. Regis Shanghai Jingan, the hotel agreed to give us a third free breakfast following my request, as well as Club Lounge access without me having to ask.
  • At the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, the hotel declined to give us a third free breakfast despite my persistent requests.

(Can any conclusions be drawn here about the relative generosity of top-tier elite status with Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton, respectively? You decide.)

Alila Wuzhen – Free breakfast

In the past, I’ve also visited the Renaissance Montreal Downtown as a group of four – myself, my partner Jessy, and her parents.

The Renaissance allowed me to choose free breakfast for two guests as my welcome benefit, but then offered me a choice between 1,000 Bonvoy points and a $10 food and beverage voucher as my elite compensation for the hotel not having a club lounge. I simply asked if we could do free breakfast for four guests instead, and the front desk staff was happy to oblige.

Even if the standard elite breakfast or lounge benefit doesn’t cover your full party, you’ll find plenty of room to negotiate on these, as long as you put on a big smile and explain your reasons for making your request in good faith.

Conclusion

Booking hotels is straightforward when you’re travelling as a party of one or two, but there are a few more considerations to mull over if there’s three or more of you.

In general, if I’m staying at a higher-end hotel as a larger group, I stick with my usual strategy of aiming for as large of a suite upgrade as possible. On the other hand, if the hotel is relatively cheap when booked with cash or points, I’m happy to book two rooms to give us a bit of extra space. 

I’m curious which of these strategies you’ve chosen in the past when travelling as a party of three or more. Do you prefer rollaway beds? Are you happy to take the couch? Or do you splurge for two separate rooms or even a single premium suite? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments. 

11 Comments
  1. Avatar
    Peter Lee

    I appreciate ways of saving traveling cost m but must remind any of the readers dare not skipping the registration of guests staying overnights at hotels in China. This is a big NO NO !! DONT ever risk yourselves breaking the laws inn China especially with its tight relationship among western world these days !!

  2. Avatar
    ken yip

    My wife is a Marriott titanium elite member and I am a basic member. If I book a hotel room using my name ( to accumulate elite night for myself ). Do we have elite member benefits as my wife stay with me?
    Thanks

    1. Avatar
      ericinnl

      nope

      1. Avatar
        Jay*

        Ymmv, depends on how you book the reservation. IME I have had success using FNAs out of my P2s account (only silver) and have received my titanium benefits, even in Japan. Best to reach out to the property beforehand.

  3. Avatar
    Glen

    Hyatt’ select brands (Place and House) usually include a sofa bed, even in their two queen rooms. And everyone gets breakfast.

    Also maybe it was a fluke, but Grand Hyatt San Francisco gave me two free roll away beds after I used a suite upgrade award to book into their massive hospitality suite.

  4. Avatar
    Oz

    I rather enjoyed the father and son touch!

  5. Avatar
    JAMES

    Hey Ricky,

    Great article,

    What do you recommend when Bonvoy points bookings don’t allow 1 room- 3 people bookings. I’ve noticed this for many hotels in Europe. Lots of availability for 1 room-2 people, but as soon as I go to 1 room-3 people, the availability disappears?

    3rd guest trick in that case? Or just walk in with the 3rd person and request them to be added (and potentially get hit with the fee as you said!)

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      European hotels are fairly strict on the occupancy – often due to fire code reasons. Book two, then see if you can use a Suite Night Award (or suite-talk) to request an upgrade to a suite that does allow occupancy for three. At that point you could let the hotel know you’ve actually got three people. Otherwise, the third guest trick and sneaking past the front desk might be your only option.

  6. Avatar
    Annie

    My experiences traveling with my parents:
    – Niagara Falls Marriott on the Falls: Their two queen bed room is quite spacious, so I chose that option.
    – Carriage Ridge Resort near Horseshoe Valley, 1 hour from Toronto (sadly it closed): We got a suite with a king bed and a sofa which could be converted to a nice bed. This was my favorite option: my parents could enjoy their King bed, and I got a good sofa bed.
    – InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort: They actually didn’t allow the third person to sleep on the sofa, and we had to pay for the rollaway bed, which was pretty comfy.
    – Mercure Danang French Village Bana Hills: Connected rooms! We got 2 rooms that were connected together, one is a 1 King bed and the other is 2 double beds. Perfect for a family.
    Overall, my parents were pretty happy with these choices 🙂

    1. Ricky
      Ricky

      Thanks for sharing! How did the IC Danang enforce not allowing the third person to sleep on the sofa, if I may ask?

      1. Avatar
        Annie

        Their rooms are unique: The “living room” is outside in the terrace with a beautiful ocean view, so nobody wants to sleep on the sofa out there. And each person has to register for breakfast, they will automatically add the rollaway bed fee. In conclusion:
        – If the third person wants breakfast => must add rollaway bed
        – If the third person doesn’t need breakfast and sneak in => sleep outside with a lot of monkeys 😅

Ricky

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