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, 2013 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, 2013 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? Apr 13, 2014 at 3:31
  • i've always found this way of working in the usa weird AF. in most of europe (80%), you book beds, not persons. example : 4 bed room, 170€/night, same price if it's only 1 person that loves to jump between beds, a couple that want clean sheets every "playtime", three friends, or a string quartet.
    – CptEric
    Sep 6, 2016 at 6:17
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    If breakfast is included, then price is: room rate + breakfast for each person. That's why price differ.
    – Guntis
    Dec 15, 2016 at 5:48

5 Answers 5


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 Mar 16, 2016 at 21:41
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    One more point - which was mentioned in passing here - is that there are fire codes that limit the maximum occupancy of a building; and if you are sneaking in visitors you may be violating these laws which is another reason to enforce the minimum / maximum occupancy rules. Sep 6, 2016 at 5:44

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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    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, 2013 at 8:40
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    @jwenting True but the OP did specify that breakfast was not included.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 21, 2013 at 8:42
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    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. Oct 21, 2013 at 14:05
  • @hippietrail It's probably true, I am not sure how it works in practice. If you have a small margin on your highest price, then you have very little room to maneuver. But if you have high fixed costs (e.g. real estate/building, which obviously does not apply everywhere), you still need to fill the place up otherwise your business is in trouble.
    – Relaxed
    Oct 21, 2013 at 15:09
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    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 (-: Oct 21, 2013 at 15:13

Rather lengthy, so a kind of summary:

I don't get the extra charge since it will be the exact same room in all of those situations. Yes, the same room but more cost for the hotelier. In general at least all the following (where relevant) will cost more for more people: chocolates etc, cleaning, cooling, electricity, heating, ice, laundry, lighting, loo paper, maintenance, stationery, tea & coffee, toiletries, and water.

At first I thought the logic might have been that the price for 1 or 2 occupants had been adjusted to meet market conditions (for example lowered for a time when general occupancy was expected to be low) and that rates for 3 and 4 occupants had been left unadjusted (might have been too much bother to keep updating for what was likely a rare requirement).

However there is far more logic to the pricing than I would expect from hoteliers. The prices are essentially $46 +$24 per person. Just with a twist that 1 person is counted as 2 people.

Where rooms are double it is normal to charge for two people. Any discount for single occupancy is likely as much a result of negotiating skills as any regular difference in price. If for instance the bed is a double then just as much changing and washing of linen is required for one as for two people.

But if there are two beds to change and launder then there is more cost than for one, so it is fair to charge less for usage of one bed and more for usage of two.

As pointed out by @Relaxed, market forces are at work. These however are not accurately quantifiable because it also takes time and effort (ie cost) to fine tune tariffs very frequently – and keep any selling agencies up to date. So prices at any one time may not appear to make much sense when compared with other time periods.

Working back to how the numbers were calculated might go something like this:

  • Annual Fixed cost (lease, permanent staff, insurance, fixtures etc) $xM or about $30/room/available night (say)
  • Variable costs (electricity, water, laundry, toiletries etc) per night per resident say $20
  • Scale up the fixed rate to cover room-nights not rented, say to $40
  • Add a return (say ~15%) and when occupied this is $46 per night per room when let and $24 per occupant/night.

Those hotels that charge a rate per room may do a similar calculation but simplify their tariff by selecting a little more than the rate for two people – in relative terms charging slightly more for couples but slightly less for 3s and 4s. Overall they may also be making some savings by such simplification.

Based on the above the prices part of your question might be expressed as "Is $20 per person per night a fair costing?". In my view it is not, quite. Labour is probably a large element of it (cleaning, housekeeping, maintenance) and that is mostly per room (when occupied). Electricity/(part of) heating is likely mostly "per room" – but bedside lights and appliance use (eg personal computers) would not be. Water, loo paper, minor damage etc is likely 'per person'. Toiletries and towels etc may be either. However I think near enough equitable for the approximation to be justified.

Combined into a per room rate the prices you mention might be something like $110/night, to recover the same amount from the same number of guests spread across rooms in the same way. But in that case some singles and couples could be expected to be put off. For them it would be a price hike of $16/night. So the occupancy rate would go down and the price have to increase beyond $110 to compensate for that. Whereupon even more potential guests may be discouraged!

I think your questions with question marks have been answered but:

Why do hotel booking sites ask for the number of people?

Most hotels do charge per person. I tried a group that does not, for 1 double for 1, 2, 3 and 4 people and the price was the same for 1 and 2 and twice that for 3 and 4 (but the same as each other). I doubt many of the 'per night' hotels (in UK) offer family rooms. 3 and 4 above were for two rooms. This being one reason to ask for number of people.

Does it matter how many I say?

Yes. There is almost certainly an upper limit per room (if only for fire security reasons, as mentioned by @Shannon). My experience is much the same as @Kate Gregory's regarding fire drills and even for real (minor) fires I have noticed no headcounting, but in the case of something more serious the consequences for a hotelier failing to keep proper records could be expected to be severe. (It is no joke to risk lives for 'people' that are not in the hotel at the time of a disaster.)

Do most hotels do this?


If I just book the room specifying 2 people and bring a 3rd is there any risk involved?

Definitely. For example that your third person will have to seek other accommodation. Hoteliers have to juggle a lot of unknowns and at times don't live up to expectations. Given a choice between downgrading you (with financial compensation) to a double (that appears to be all that you really need) for your one night stay and turning away a large party that requires all the family rooms the hotel has for a full week including your 'one night' … you can predict the result!

And as mentioned by @Gagravarr, you risk being charged the (often very much higher) walk-in rate for all three.

  • 1
    You should put the bottom paragraph at the top :D
    – gman
    Sep 6, 2016 at 5:10

Fire or any emergency.
We need to know how many people are in the hotel so we can send emergency responders to save everyone accounted for in the system.

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    That explains why you need to know how many people, not why you charge more for extra people.
    – AndyT
    Aug 23, 2017 at 15:38
  • Except that there's no guarantee that someone is inside the hotel just because they've booked a night there. They could be out partying, burning the midnight oil at their office, going to a different city and just leaving their bags in the room, etc.
    – JonathanReez
    Apr 16, 2019 at 3:51

I am a hotel manager and there is an easy explanation for this. most hotels set their prices for 1-2 people. when you start to add on more people you add on more expense- more laundry, more water usage, more people eating breakfast if included, using more amenities (soap, shampoo, etc..). It's the same concept as if you had and extra person move into your home. the cost of your utilities, food, etc.. go up and you would expect that person to kick in a little to help offset those extra costs. As someone else on this site pointed out, it is good to know how many people are in a room in case there is an emergency such as a fire, but that of course is not the reason for the extra charges, just good practice.

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