Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Is everything geared for a family of 4?

I grew up in a family of 5. Two parents, 1 brother, 1 sister and me.

I remember going on family vacations when we would all pile in the station wagon. Of course, car seats and booster seats weren't around in those days, so I could sit in the very back of the station wagon. We drove from Colorado to New Jersey numerous times, and saw everything in between. When it came time to stop for the night, we'd pull over to a motel (usually a Best Western), and get one room with a rollaway bed. 5 people in one room? No problem.

Now that I'm all grown up and part of another family of 5, I've found that planning vacations and getting hotel rooms for 5 isn't quite as simple as it was back when I was a kid. The majority of hotel rooms now only allow 4 people, and no rollaway beds. They say it's due to fire code restrictions.

The hotels that have bigger rooms for families of 5 charge significantly more for adding a 5th person. I would think that adding a 5th person to a room should make our price increase by just 25%, right? But usually, it's a lot more than that.

Here are a few examples:

JW Marriott near San Antonio: Looks like a beautiful place, we've thought about going down there for just 1 night to enjoy the pools. Family of 4 price: $449. Add in 1 more person, and they have to bump you up to a suite for $1149. Over double the price. Or we could book 2 regular rooms for exactly double the price. The hotel requires wrist bands to use their pool, so it's not like we could sneak a 5th person into a regular room with a sleeping bag, because then one of us couldn't use the pool.

Omni Resort in Orlando: +59% to add a 5th person

I could keep listing examples of hotels that can't accommodate 5 in one standard room...

Then we have Disney, which does have hotel rooms that accommodate 5.  THANK YOU! But, the price increase is still not in line with the occupancy increase. For example, one week at the cheapest Disney resort that accommodates 5 is still +40% higher than the cheapest room for 4 people. Renting DVC points is not cheaper. And you can't really sneak a 5th person into a 4-person room at Disney since your park tickets and Magical Express bus tickets are tied to your room.

And on a Disney cruise, adding a 5th person adds at least 48% to the total vacation (whether it's adding a second room or booking in a higher category room that accommodates 4 people).

I've done the math, and it does not compute!

We just returned from a fabulous weekend at a small resort where we stayed in a cozy cabin. We have been looking for another cabin to stay in next summer, but we are frustrated that so many of the cabins max out at 4 people.

So what is a family of 5 or more to do? Just suck it up and pay more?

Well, that's one option. We have found a few other workarounds:

1. Timeshare rentals--most timeshare places allow you to rent from owners. A few years ago, we rented a 2-bedroom timeshare near San Diego for less than $100 a night. We also rented a timeshare near Disney for less than that. Most timeshares have full kitchens and a washer/dryer, which also saves you money.

2. House rentals--sites like vrbo.com and airbnb.com have houses to rent, many which accommodate 5 or more. We used vrbo.com to rent a house in Colorado. Depending on the house, this may not be cheaper than 2 standard hotel rooms, but at least most houses have a full kitchen and washer/dryer.

3. Suite hotels--some "suite" hotels fit 5-6 people in a standard room. My favorite so far is Springhill Suites by Marriott. We stayed in one last year near SeaWorld, and it slept 6 people. 2 queen beds and a sleeper sofa. Beware that many "suite" hotels do not accommodate more than 4 people, but just have a wall separating the bed from the living room or table area.

If you are a family of 5+, I'd love to hear how you keep vacation costs down and still find bargains on accommodations for your larger family.

(And don't get me started on restaurants, cars, theme park tickets and Groupons that are all geared for families of 4 :) )

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