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I was planning a stay at a hotel in Chicago for an overnight layover and checking prices on the hotel's booking site (in this case the Hilton Chicago O'Hare Airport) for a room with 2 double beds. The site asks for the number of people in my party. In my case there will be 3 adults, no kids.

I experimented with different answers to the # of adults question and found that 1-2 people sharing a room gave a price of $94, for 3 people it was $118, and 4 people raised it to $142.

I don't get the extra charge since it will be the exact same room in all of those situations. Do most hotels do this? If I just book the room specifying 2 people and bring a 3rd is there any risk involved?

I'd also like to hear any insight from hotel insiders about what is behind the logic of charging different rates for the same room depending on how many people will be in it (assuming you don't need an extra roll-away bed). It would make sense if there was a free breakfast or something, but this hotel doesn't offer that.

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I'd say you risk having your reservation re-priced onto the rack rate for 3 people if they catch you, which would be a lot more... – Gagravarr Oct 20 '13 at 20:46
That's kind of part of my question. I'm wondering from people who work at hotels how likely that is to happen in practice. – JohnFx Oct 20 '13 at 21:09
I just stumbled on to this question -- I stay at the SeaTac Double Tree every year for a particular convention, and I always select "2 people", and when I get they always ask how many keys I want -- it's always more than two... -- one time I said six. I really had six people staying with me -- a couple slept on the floor... -- I'm thinking about putting 1 this year... -- I wonder if they'll give me enough towels? – BrainSlugs83 Apr 13 '14 at 3:31

I am not an insider but most hotels I know charge extra for three people in a room, some also charge extra for single occupancy. One exception that comes to mind are no-frills hotels in Europe that specifically advertise with rooms for up to three people at the same price, e.g. Première Classe. Hotels probably do it simply because they can, either out of habit or because someone figured that they make more money that way. Needing an extra roll-away bed isn't even the most important factor.

Consider this: There are dozens of different prices for the same seat in the same plane. Train or bus pricing is still not as sophisticated but can also vary quite a lot. And the same room in the same hotel will also be cheaper at some times of the year or could be offered at other prices through different channels. Twenty years ago there would be a kilometer charge for trains, one or two prices for hotel stays (e.g. high and low season), all printed in guidebooks and elsewhere, plus some “hidden” prices (e.g. for tour operators who would book and pay in advance and carry the risk of selling the room or not). Nowadays, the web allows a lot more flexibility and you will find different prices depending on how full the hotel really is, whether you can cancel or change your booking, etc.

The basic fact is that whether you get the same service or whether it costs the same to the provider is simply not relevant to pricing, at least as long as they have some way to practice price discrimination without antagonizing the customer too much. Just saying “for you, it will cost double” depending on how a person looks is difficult (it does work that way on markets in some countries!) but an extra charge for an extra guest won't feel like a very bad deal and is easy to communicate and apply. I suspect there is no other reason behind this.

Note that it often works the other way around as well. The lowest rate on a particular flight might very well be under the average per-passenger cost. Economically, it's the cost of an additional passenger (the “marginal” cost) that matters and when most of the costs are fixed, it can be very low. Once you have a plane flying from A to B or a hotel staffed and warmed-up, you need to fill it at the highest possible total price, cost per unit is not relevant anymore.

Also, using an extra bed does cost something, even if the bed is always there in the first place. You have to factor in laundry, some more cleaning, extra towels and other amenities.

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+1 very good answer – Heidel Ber Gensis Oct 20 '13 at 23:27
and if the hotel room comes with breakfast, the hotel will need to calculate that extra breakfast into the cost of the room. We used to do that a lot when I was a kid. Get a double room for 2 adults and a kid, cheaper than getting 2 rooms but you do have to order it and pay extra. – jwenting Oct 21 '13 at 8:40
@jwenting True but the OP did specify that breakfast was not included. – Relaxed Oct 21 '13 at 8:42
At least at places that try to keep prices low but can host a large number of people, the resources each person uses can quickly add up. More water will be used, more toilet paper, perhaps more cleaning and laundry will need to be done, there will be more wear and tear, etc. Small or pricey places might be better able to absorb the occasional extra person. – hippietrail Oct 21 '13 at 14:05
Some places might not worry so much about this in the low season but be more strict in the high season I suppose. But generally you'd not just want your place to be full but you'd want it to be full with paying guests (-: – hippietrail Oct 21 '13 at 15:13

I have worked at hotels for eight years. The reason behind the rate difference has to do partly with amenities, and partly with laws.

When there is a price difference, it is because of the amenities. The hotel I currently work at serves breakfast. Food costs (even coffee) must be covered byt the rates, or the company will lose money. When that happens, the hotel will either raise the rates, or discontinue amenities.

The legal reason we ask for the number of guests is in case of emergency. If you have listed only 2 guests in your room, but you have 6 with you, and a fire breaks out... We, and the fire department will only be looking for two people. Four people may lose their lives in such a situation simply because we didn't know they were in there.

We are much more diligent about the number of guests (and anything else you're sneaking by us) simply because I work for a small hotel, and we care about our hotel and our positions within the hotel. Larger chains seem to have some more apathetic employees, who don't really care about you, the hotel, or their jobs.

A tip for you: We cannot make offers on specials. Look the hotel up online (make sure it's the real site because third party booking engines can't offer packages or discounts, and they usually remove some of the perks), then call us, and ask what specials we are running. While we cannot offer up the deals, we are happy to tell you what specials are running, but we can only do so if you ask. Always ask if there is a possibility of a discount. Some of us have the leeway to do a little bit of a discount, but please don't push us too hard. We hate that we can't do more for you, but our paychecks are tied to the hotel turning a profit.

P.S. The nicer you are to the clerk, the nicer we will try to be for you. We can usually request upgrades from management or assign the better views if we feel like you have just been super pleasant to work with.

Toodles, and happy vacationing!

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most places I go that include breakfast include "up to two" breakfasts per room, and if you have more people you don't get more free breakfasts. But I suppose yours could differ. Also, I have fire-alarmed out of hotels twice and never once did anyone come around the parking lot and count heads. How could that even work when so many people might still be out, even in the middle of the night – Kate Gregory Mar 16 at 21:41

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