Don’t Pay For Your Child – Navigating the Hotel Child Policy

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Hotel Child Policy
Crowne Plaza Bucharest.

Hotel Child Policy & Cultural Norms

Most Americans who only travel domestically don’t really think about extra charges in hotels for children.  Once you leave America’s borders, hotels who allow children to stay for free can become rare, especially in Europe.  Over many years and trips, I have learned a few tips and tricks to quickly seek out and find hotel’s which are family friendly.

Often times it can be difficult to learn and understand the local norms before visiting a country.  I remember the first time we went to Guatemela.  Every guesthouse we tried to stay in wanted to charge per person and usually quoted about half price for our son.  We quickly learned that locals never pay for children.  In Guatemala children ride the bus for free, stay for free and get into many places like museums for free.

After a few contentious negotiations during our first week, we learned just to refuse to pay for our son.  This wasn’t us being cheap, but simply showing the locals that we weren’t uninformed rich tourists.  Overcharging and negotiating are simply part of their culture.  By showing that we knew the cultural norms, we quickly gained their respect and were never once charged for our son.

Hotel child policy.
Shawn Reece playing in the front yard of Casa Lola. A guesthouse we paid $13 per night for in Lago de Atitlan, Guatemala. (One of the most beautiful places in the world!)

That story highlights one thing.  Often times we have to adapt and learn cultural norms very quickly while traveling.  Many tourists simply treat foreign lands like their own or pay ridiculous amounts of money because they are on vacation.  Most everyone I know would have probably just paid the extra $5 or $10 for their child in Guatemala.

Taking the time to learn their culture not only saved us hundred of dollars during our two months there, but it also showed the locals that we were assimilating and led the way for deeper experiences.

Finding A Hotel Child Policy

Enough with story time. I promised to help you quickly find out how hotels treat children as extra guests.  Here we go!

Major Brands

Most major American hotel brands permit children under 18 for free.  Some limit free children to being under the age of 12.  The good news is that these hotel’s website are generally good and the information is easy to find.  They often allow you to search with or without children as well so that you can get an accurate price.  IHG is probably the most consistent with allowing children.  Their Holiday Inn brand always allows free children under 18.

Hotel child policy.
In 2009 we took advantage of $200 RT Delta flights to visit Europe on a shoestring. We booked a hotel for $22 per night near CDG and took the train into the city. They allowed children under 12 for free! Priceless memories for very little money!

Local Hotels

Local hotels are very different than chains.  Not only can you often find much cheaper accommodations, but you often get a more local experience.  The issue with these types of places is that you are at the mercy of the staff/owner.  The worst thing that could happen  is for you to show up and get hit with a EURO 40 per night charge for your child.  Here is how to avoid that.

While there are a few options for hotel search sites, I use Booking.com.  The reason I use them is because they have the greatest selection of smaller hotels and guesthouses and they clearly list the child policy.  I don’t have to search the page to find the hotel’s policy, because it is in the same place every time.

Take a look.

Hotel Child policy. Booking.com
The hotel’s child policy will ALWAYS be there.

 

As you can see, Booking.com listed every hotel’s policies in the same place.  This hotel in Paris allows children under 2 to stay free of charge.  What an unfriendly policy!  In Europe it is rare to find a hotel that allows children for free, especially when they are 12 or over.  Some hotels do allow those under 12 for free if you search.

Now I can’t say that Booking.com is 100% accurate with their child policies.  I have seen some times where they have one age listed and another site has a different age.  What I have done in that case is make note of the discrepancy just in case I have any problems at the hotel.  If the printed web policy suits my needs (i.e. My child is younger than the allowed age) then I book without worry.  I have never had a problem at a hotel, but if I did, hopefully showing the website would fix it.

There are also times with local hotels where you can negotiate to get your child for free.  I wrote briefly about this last year when we were traveling through the Balkans. Often times we would find a rate on a site like Booking.com and then find the hotel/guesthouses website and email them.  Since it was the low season I was able to get a lower rate than what was available online about 80% of the time.  Also, I was almost always able to get them to allow my son to stay for free despite their child policies.

Comparison Of Hotel Booking Sites

To see if Booking.com was the best option to check a hotel’s child policy, I compared the information for one hotel across several sites. (Hotel La Perle in Paris, France.)

Here are the results:

  • Priceline: Listed the child policy in booking confirmation.  Children under 2 stay free.  Older children are charger EURO 35 per night.
  • Travelocity: Doesn’t make mention of specific charges.  Only policy listed is, “Extra-person charges may apply and vary depending on hotel policy.”
  • Expedia: Exactly the same layout and information as Travelocity.
  • HotelBook: No mention of rates for children.  Does allow you to search for a room with children.
  • Reserve Travel: No mention of a child policy.
  • Venere: Website says, “Extra-person charges may apply and vary depending on hotel policy.”  There is no further information.
  • Agoda: Agoda is very good when listing child policies, although it is a little more difficult to find.  For this property the website says, “Guests over 3 years old are considered as adults.”
  • Booking.com: Children 2 and under are free.  All older children are charger EURO 35 per night.
Hotel Child policy.
On Agoda, you have to click the little + sign next to “Hotel Policies” so that it will show you the Child policy.

As you can see all of the booking websites have a consistent price when they list a child policy.  Unfortunately, some providers want to make you call or search around for the policy.  With Booking.com the policy is ALWAYS listed in the same place for every hotel.  This is why they are my chosen provider for searching. (Book wherever the rate is cheapest!)  Agoda listed this information nearly all of the time as well, but it is buried a little deeper.

Conclusion

While this comparison focused mostly on Europe, the strategy remains the same in most areas of the world.  I tend to start at Kayak to find a general range of hotels and prices.  I then click through to find the hotel policies.  After doing a little searching you will quickly learn which sites have the best range of hotels and information for the region you are visiting.

The key takeaways here are that you should be able to quickly find a hotel’s child policy.  During our 2009 Europe trip, we didn’t have hotel points and were traveling on a mistake fare.  Our budget was very small.  Using the tools in this post, I was able to find hotel’s/hostels/guesthouses in Madrid, Paris & Barcelona for under EURO 25 per night.  In Venice, we managed to stay at a hotel right in the center of the city for EURO 40.  The main reason for this is that I was able to find hotel’s that didn’t charge for our then 9 year old son.

I hope this has helped  a little.  If you have any questions or comments please leave them below!

 


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