This is Part 3 of a 3 Part Series about booking a European Family Vacation on points. In this part we will go over the details of booking hotels with points.
Most of us know how to book a hotel. You go to whatever your favourite search site is, lookup the city you want, input your dates and select the hotel you want to stay at. It’s a very simple process for those that have done it at least once before. The unfortunate part about points is that the process is not necessarily that easy.
The obstacle we come across when booking on points is mostly the same as booking flights on points, availability. For couples travelling as 2 people, this is a relatively easy process and availability is usually easy to find. When travelling as a family of 4 or more, things get more complicated as we learned when going through this process ourselves.
Europe is very strict with their room occupancy limits and rarely will you find a room with 2 queens as you would in almost any city in North America. In Europe, most room occupancy limits listed are adhered to to the tee. The worst part is that most hotels include any person regardless of age as a person towards the room occupancy limit, including kids, even infants. Most of this is due to their strict fire codes and enforcement.
While you would be hard pressed to try and get away with 3 adults in a 2 person occupancy room, we’ve found some hotels are a little bit more lenient when it comes to kids and the smaller they are the better in your favour. As you read this please keep in mind if your kids are older, you will have a harder time getting hotels to bend the rules for you and you will have a much better time booking adjoining rooms for you and the kids. Yes, that means you’ll have to pay for two rooms with your points but the stress of the situation is gone then.
Here’s how we searched hotels to fit our family’s needs and how to talked to the hotels to allow 4 of us in a 3 occupancy limit rooms.
First off, we are big Marriott fans. We explained why is this post. Basically, their points are easy to get and the value you can extract from them for high end luxury hotels is incredible. And the best part? You don’t have to have the points in your account until 2 weeks before check in so you can plan way ahead and have time to earn the points. That being said, we always search for a Marriott hotel first before we go to any other hotel chain. Before we search Marriott’s site for hotels, we always check if they have any PointSaver hotels available where we are going. PointSavers are hotels that Marriott is offering for less points than usual, a discount if you will. If we go to the PointSavers page, we see that there are hotels on sale. If you scroll down you will come to this screen:
Here we see all the available places that have PointSavers. It is broken down into USA and Worldwide, since we’re going to Europe we will focus on the Worldwide side. Lucky for us, the there are 2 Greece hotels on PointSaver the time that we want to be there.
Remember, we are in Greece from October 26th to November 5th. Now, based on the time of year we are flying, certain hotels in Greece are not open. Greece is a very popular place to go in the summer but not so much the rest of the year, hence why hotels close during the winter. The hotel that we are most excited about on our trip is Domes of Elounda. Domes of Elounda, which as far as we can tell, closes on October 31. Lucky for us we are there in time to make it to the hotel for 5 nights. Whenever possible, to get the most value for your points, try to book 5 nights at a time. Why you ask? Because both Marriott and SPG offer the 5th night free when booking with points. That means we save one whole night’s worth of points when you book that 5th night; sometimes that can be up to 45,000 points which is a big deal.
The thing about Marriott that we don’t like is their website hotel search function. Their website itself is fine but the hotel search function is awful sometimes. For certain hotels, just searching the city they are in and putting in your dates doesn’t work. That is the case with this hotel. Instead, you need to go directly to the hotel’s Marriott page and search there. We’re not sure why this is but obviously this is some sort of glitch in the system. For this example, we went to http://www.domesofelounda.com and searched through there. Not all hotels have their own site so sometimes it’s best to just Google “_____ Hotel Marriott” and click on their page that way. After we put in out details, even searching 2 adults and 2 children, we see this room as an option:
This is perfect for a family of 4. This is a “Family” room as they call it but which can sleep 3 adults and 1 child. We are 2 adults and 2 children so we assume swapping an adult for a child is okay. Here we also see the PointSaver discount applied. Originally, 5 nights here would cost us 180,000 points, but instead will only cost us 160,000 points. This room has a sea view, a whirlpool and a balcony. More specifically, that whirlpool is on your balcony. This sounds like a mighty fine choice for us.
Now we have 5 days left to see some more of Greece. Our suggestion would be 3 nights on Santorini and the final 2 in Athens. With the options in Athens we will have a fantastic location and only need one day to see the main attractions. For Santorini, getting there from Crete, more specifically Heraklion, has to be done by ferry. In Santorini, there are only 3 options for points bookings, all SPG hotels and they’re very hard to find availability at and very expensive in points as well.
Whenever you see “Please contact us to redeem your Free Nights” you know that it is either because the amount of points is above normal or that the availability is only for rooms higher than the standard option (suites, etc). Regardless, this is an instance when paying with cash is the best option.
Santorini has many good options for families looking to stay on the island. We like to use Trivago as it searches all the other online travel agencies and finds the best price. Here is what comes up when we search on Trivago for our dates:
They all look very nice. We suggest reading a little bit about the island and what areas are the best to stay in. Here are what prices are like across the island for our dates:
There are many reasonable options for us to choose from, it’s just our choice as to which we want and where we want to stay.
Lastly, we need to find us a hotel in Athens for our last two nights. We suggest flying to Athens; it’s cheap, usually under $100 per person, and quickest considering we want to maximize our last two nights in Athens. There is a ferry option but it is hours long vs the flight which is under an hour.
SPG has two very good options in Athens and a handful of other options. As we see for our dates there is availability at the Hotel Grande Bretagne, a very nice hotel with great reviews. When we go, we will be staying at the King George, which as you can see in the photo says “Please contact us to redeem your Free Nights.” From experience, we know that this hotel is usually cheaper in points than the Grande Bretagne so it may actually be worth calling. Regardless, these hotels have reciprocal rights, which means you can use services at either except King George guests can not use the outdoor pool at Grande Bretagne, but can use the indoor pool, and either choice will be excellent.
We now have to find hotels in Italy. We fly into Rome and have enough time to do 3 days in 3 cities if we want. We would suggest Rome, Naples, and Florence as they are all close to one another and will cut down on transportation time. We will start in Rome. As we always do, let’s see what Marriott has available. If we search for 2 adults and 2 kids we see there is an option for us:
Great! A hotel that allowed the 4 of us to stay in one room together. Wait, let’s look a little bit closer…
Upon further inspection the room is available on points but it’s a Points + Cash redemption where you can use points but you have to pay a cash addition to redeem the room for points. That 250 EUR works out to about $400 CAD. If you’re down with that then you won’t find a better luxury in a more ideal location. If, however, you’re more frugal like us we will keep looking. Let’s try changing the search from 2 kids to 1:
This time we see that we can have a room for the same amount of points but that cash portion has come down to 170 EUR ($272 CAD). This is better, but for our frugal selves it is still too much. Just for fun let’s see if we remove kids what we can find:
Now, we have options that don’t include a cash price but we will have to do some real sweet-talking to get a hotel manager to let us stay in the room with kids when only redeeming for 2 adults. One hotel we booked for our trip let us stay in the room with our kids after only booking for 2 adults because we are bringing our own travel beds for the kids. We use the KidCo PeaPod Plus Infant Travel Bed and since the hotel didn’t have to provide any extra beds for us they were okay with us using the room and our own beds for the kids. This is also something you could risk by booking the room for 2 adults and just bringing the kids without saying anything. The risk you run doing that is that you’ll have to pay a cash upgrade at check in if the hotel finds out. That or they ask you to leave.We aren’t willing to take that risk so we will always contact the hotel ahead of time. In this instance, if the hotel did not allow us to stay there, we would just get an AirBnB instead. Let’s check our what SPG had to offer in Rome:
Again, we see here there may be something but it will likely cost a lot more points than normal. It is worth calling to see what the cost will be but our expectations wouldn’t be strong in our favour. Let’s search just 1 kid:
Now this is something we can work with. The Westin is supposed to be phenomenal when it comes to kids so they are more than likely to allow the kids to stay there. It is up to you whether you mention to the hotel ahead of time that you are bringing two kids and not 1. Now that we have Rome figured out we need to check out our other two Italian cities. Let’s go to Naples first:
SPG has no hotels in Naples. Let’s check Marriott:
Whenever Marriott and SPG are not able to meet our needs the next place we go is Best Western. If we search Best Western we see that they have nothing for 2 adults and 2 kids but if we change it to 2 adults and 1 kid we see there is something:
This hotel looks like a great location and can hopefully meet our needs if they allow the 4 of us in a room for 3. Again, we would contact the hotel to confirm this is okay. Lastly, we need to find accommodations in Florence. Let’s start with Marriott:
Okay there is a room available but look at the cash addition, no thanks! Let’s drop it down to 1 kid:
50 EUR, that’s much better and we would book this as that works out to about $80 CAD per night. At this point we wouldn’t even bother searching SPG because we’ve found what we’re looking for. We even get two options for the same cost. Since we travel with those kid’s travel beds we would choose the King option.
Now that only gets us to the 14th and we don’t fly out until the 15th, so this allows you an extra day somewhere, don’t forget you will be travelling between cities, likely by train so you could add a day in your travels that way. For us, we would just go back to Rome for the last day and get an AirBnB or hotel near the airport for that last night.
If you don’t want to do 3 cities you could absolutely choose 2 cities at 5 nights each to maximize value with 5th night free.
Now, we have our last country, France. We fly into Paris and we only have 8 days in this country so we suggest at least 5 in Paris to maximize value with 5th night free then the last 3 nights in another city. If you want to split it up 4 and 4 that is an options it just isn’t the greatest value.
If we search for 2 kids and 2 adults we see this on SPG:
Searching 2 adults and 1 kid shows us that there is availability at the Le Meridien Etoile and the Sheraton Paris Airport Hotel & Conference Centre. These are good options but always look at location. If we pull up the map we see 10 isn’t even on it and 9 is way out of the downtown core.
Searching for 2 adults and 2 kids on Marriott shows this:
If you bring up the map you see this is way out of the downtown core. That’s because this hotel is at Disneyland Paris. We are staying there 2 nights on our trip and if you want to add this to your trip you can stay here for a couple nights. We want to spend at least a few nights in the downtown core so let’s see what happens if we search 2 adults and 1 kid:
Those are better options. In Paris, we definitely suggest contacting the hotel ahead of time as we found they are the most strict in following room occupancy limits. If that doesn’t work then try Best Western or as a last resort AirBnB. Best Western will always show no availability for 2 adults and 2 kids but we found they are more lenient when allowing infants into the rooms.
For our last couple nights, remember we have a late morning flight on the 23rd so we will want to spend the night of the 22nd in Paris, we suggest the Best Western near the airport as it is cheap and offers a free shuttle.
For the last couple days let’s say you wanted to spend them in Nice, France on the south coast. It’s beautiful there and we wouldn’t blame you. Here is what SPG offers there (nothing for 2 kids):
Both hotels are beautiful and we would likely stay at the cheaper one but check the map to see which location you like better.
Marriott has this showing available (nothing for 2 kids):
Cannes is further west and south and Monaco is further north and east but all 3 locations are on the coast. It’s up to you to decide where you want to stay. Don’t forget to look at the cash additions.
Our last night we will be staying at that Best Western near the airport so that means we now have all the hotels booked that we need.
As you can see things are much more difficult when booking with kids in tow, but it is not impossible and if you’re a good sweet talker you can make it work in your favour, and by doing things like bringing your own beds for the kids, you can increase your chances of getting hotels to help you out. Of course, there is always the option of booking a room for 2 adults and just sneaking the kids in but we do not recommend that option as the consequences of getting caught don’t make it worth the risk.
Hopefully this 3 Part series on booking a family vacation to Europe for a whole month was helpful to you and will make you planning and booking experience easier. If you have any questions or comments or need any help please let us know in the comment section.
Never stop adventuring!