Should Hotel Suites Be Off-Limits To Kids?

My friend Mike recently shared some of his more unique travel experiences, including an SPG Moments event for two tickets in the SPG Suite at a Paul McCartney concert, as well as his experience using the AmEx Platinum concierge at Jules Verne, the restaurant in the Eiffel Tower.

Today he’s back to share an interesting experience he had traveling with his family in Ireland, whereby he stayed at a Starwood property which apparently has an undisclosed “no kids” policy.


As Travis has noted here on the blog, traveling with kids means dealing with a new set of challenges and is a much different experience.

With our two and four year-old in tow, my wife and I have very different expectations and priorities about where we stay, what we do and where we go.  Fortunately, points and miles help us fulfill our goal of doing at least one family trip and one parents trip per year.

After our family trip to New Zealand and Australia last year, we learned the hard way that too much travel for the little ones can induce a physical response.  Let’s just say I was less than excited about the free breakfast for having Hilton Gold status when I was wearing it 10 or 15 minutes after my oldest daughter ate it.

We learned other lessons on that trip, including the fact we need more space and it’s smart to have an extra set of hands.  So, on our recent trip to Ireland, we invited our great babysitter along and we stayed at a rental house instead of looking for hotels and B&Bs.

Our final night of the trip, however, we needed to be a bit closer to Dublin.  So, we decided to stay at the Sheraton Athlone, which is about an hour and 20 minutes from the airport.

A free night is only 3,000 points per night and since we needed two rooms, it sounded like a great value.  But the more I looked at the room options, the more I thought we might want to pay cash for one room because their 937 square foot penthouse suites were reasonably priced at 229EUR.

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The suite would give us room to spread out a bit, an actual table to eat dinner and great views of the area.  I was sold on the idea and booked the penthouse for cash and a standard room on points.

Everything went well with the drive, which included a stop at the Cliffs of Moher. 

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When we finally made it to Athlone we were ready to get to our rooms and relax a bit.  Unfortunately, that’s where we hit a major roadblock.  With the 5 of us standing there waiting for room keys, the desk agent suddenly had a surprised look on her face and went to talk to the duty manager.

When she came back, she informed us the hotel has a policy that children cannot stay in the tower portion of the hotel and that’s where the suite we booked is located.  The best she could do was a family room (marginally bigger than a standard room) and they were going to have to move us.

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Both the desk agent and the duty manager told us this was a long-standing hotel policy but neither of them could explain why. At one point, they tried suggesting it was safer to have children on lower numbered floors. But that excuse was bogus as soon as I realized the hotel was hosting a group of 80 year-olds. I can assure you my kids could descend from the 12th floor much faster than many from that group.

It was pretty clear they wanted to confine all kids to one section of the hotel to make sure they didn’t disrupt anyone’s stay.  I can understand that mentality but I dislike the assumption that all kids are bad and disruptive. Most times, the kids aren’t the real problem when they are being disruptive.  Instead, it’s the parents who aren’t prepared, indifferent, etc.

As someone who used an extra 100K American miles to make sure the adults outnumbered the kids, I can assure you we care very much that our little ones don’t disturb others or ruin their trip. 

The hotel didn’t make any effort to adjust the rate for the downgraded room, so I made sure to point that out and they pulled a new rate that was 100 euros less and included breakfast.  The problem was, breakfast only started at 7am and was too late for us to make any use of it. 

Once we were finally in the family room, it was clear the “family” categorization probably had more to do with it being at the end of the hall than any of the features of the room.  And being at the end of the hall meant the wifi signal was so weak we could only connect when standing within 5 feet of the door.

Thankfully that was enough of a connection to tweet to @SPGAssist and explain this was a very family unfriendly policy.  A few direct messages later and the same duty manager appeared at our door explaining it wasn’t their fault because we didn’t disclose we had kids.  He also tried to convince me the rooms weren’t very different than the suite we booked.  I’ll let you be the judge of that by taking a look at the images the hotel provides online (pictured above).

I kindly explained to him that was an unacceptable answer and if the number of children in a room was so critical, you’d think SPG would include it in their iOS app.  As you can see, it only has room to indicate how many adults are in a room.  The hotel also has an opportunity to post on the room description for the Penthouse Suite that there are no children allowed – they didn’t.

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Ultimately, I told the duty manager that I understand it isn’t his fault the hotel has a dumb policy.  But, I wanted to make enough of a point about it that they consider changing the policy or become much more transparent about it so other families aren’t disappointed the way we were.

I also asked that our paid room be changed to a points stay because I had no interest in paying 120 euro for the room if 3,000 SPG points were an option.  Making this change was another fiasco but after 30 minutes with the desk agent and an SPG phone operator, we were sorted out.

The real problem boiled down to a lack of communication and I think that might have been a trend at the hotel.  Apparently at the overnight shift change, someone told the front desk staff we were leaving at 5am.  So, when they hadn’t heard from us at 5:15am, our phone rang. 

The thing is, we never said anything about 5am and we had our alarms set for 5:45am. By then, I couldn’t help but laugh at how the hotel’s attempt to help only led to another service failure.

In the end, we checked out without incident and made it to our flight. And that was what we really needed from a hotel on our final night.  I just can’t help but think the stay would have been much more successful without the silly no kids policy and the opportunity to stay in the room we originally booked.

Comments

  1. I find it hilarious that if you go on the hotel’s website, it has a big picture of a kid smiling. Apparently his family didn’t try to book a suite!

  2. Love the idea of kids being confined to one section of the hotel. But yes, they should have communicated the policy upfront and much more clearly. (I stayed at the W Koh Samui while their pool was being renovated – it was very clear all over their website and with my reservation email that the pool wouldn’t be an option during my stay.) They should have done something similar for you.

    Actually, I just like the idea of a hotel having a quiet zone. Where those of us who want that agree to keep the noise down, etc. Why not charge a giant fee if we’re loud, like they do to smokers in a non-smoking room?

  3. As a big Starwood fan, I find this disappointing. I’m glad you pursued it and hope they ended up letting you use points or at least gave you some points for your trouble. It’s unacceptable that the policy wasn’t disclosed upon reservation. Very uncool and thanks for the heads up.

  4. I’m not against the idea of the no-kids-allowed section of the hotel, but that would seem to make a lot more sense at a fancy luxury hotel/resort than at an airport Sheraton. Obviously the bigger problem is that its not clearly advertised on their website. What’s the point of having a no-kids-allowed section when none of the guests staying there probably have any idea that such a policy even exists?

  5. I agree the hotel should have been more transparent with this rule – that would also help those of us who would appreciate being able to book a room in the kid free zone.

  6. Suites should be reserved ONLY for families with children or other large groups for whom the extra space provides a real advantage rather than individuals and couples for whom it’s just pointless bling.

  7. Love the idea of kids free areas at a hotel. That they didn’t make it clear upfront is surely unfortunate.

  8. Its a great policy IMHO made unacceptable by the lack of disclosure for such an unusual policy
    From the confirmation email to the app or website there should be adequate disclosure everywhere
    For that failure regardless of how the room was paid for both Starwood and the hotel owes you an apology and a good will gesture as well as a message explaining how they are going to better communicate the policy in the future for all guests
    I rarely stay with Starwood as a result of issues similar to yours in principal over the years and the failure to do the right thing without drama and pushing for a resolution much like a court battle.
    My perception of Starwood? It has become a greedy self serving company albeit with a decent program and some very nice select premium hotels

  9. For the people who like the idea of kids only section, think about this. Is it really the kids fault or the lack of parents doing their job correctly and being held accountable for the kids actions. On a recent trip three kids were running up and down the hallway, when I saw them go into a room down the hallway, I called the front desk and spoke to the duty manager, I told them what was going on, and what room they went into. Not too sure who went to the room, but the father was yelling in the hallway, I went out to see what was going on, and this guy was yelling at a women, he wanted to know who complained, so I spoke up, I told him his kids were running up and down the hallway yelling, and I saw them go into his room with a key. Not much was said after that. But parents need to be held accountable for their kids… Once that happens maybe this crap wont happen.

  10. @LarryInNYC

    Really? You want to ban people that don’t have children from booking a suite?

    That is one of the more ridiculous things I’ve read online today. Who are you to decide who “needs” a suite more? Money talks.

  11. In my experience it’s the disruptive mainland Chinese, not kids fucking up most of my holidays.

  12. I really like the idea of kid free areas – I go out of my way to avoid “family” hotels. However fairness required that you were made aware of the hotel policy regarding the room you wanted to book. It is not unrealistic for a family to want to stay in the largest and most convenient accommodation available! This was very close to misrepresentation on the part of the hotel.

    Not sure that this hotel can be called an airport Sheraton as one of the commentators intimated – it’s apparently an hour and 20 minutes away….

  13. @brian: if money talks, Mike paid his money for the suite, why shouldn’t he get the suite?

    Obviously, the hotel (and, i assume, you) feel money doesn’t talk but rather eligibility to purchase suite accommodation should be decided on the basis of social utility. If that’s the case, then I argue that the argument dictates a policy the opposite of that enforced by the hotel.

  14. @MEOW

    “In my experience it’s the disruptive mainland Chinese, not kids fucking up most of my holidays.”

    Could you imagine the outrage if someone wrote, “In my experience it’s the disruptive flaming homosexuals, not kids fucking up most of my holidays.” Just saying….

  15. Well, kudos to you. It sounds like you didn’t lose your cool…no small thing. I am shocked at the lack of transparency in the policy…I have seen hotels be perfectly clear – RELENTLESSLY clear! – about other policies throughout the booking, confirmation and check-in stages. I believe you are deserving of a LARGE goodwill gesture from the chain, as you kept it together while it was all going down and even in your reporting of it here.

  16. @Mike – I find it hard to believe you really managed to book this room without noting the no-kids policy. It is well known, and all over the review sites/blogs regarding this hotel. Having stayed at this property myself with two young kids, I also tried to book the suites, but they very clearly disappear from options when you list kids in your party–which you absolutely *must* be in the habit of doing in Europe, as it is extremely common in Europe for hotels to have policies liming the number of bodies (regardless of their age) in a room. The fact that the US-centric phone App doesn’t have that ability is not the property’s fault.

    I’m not saying I like this policy: I certainly don’t, as suites are by far the most comfortable option when traveling as a family IMHO, but you’re being way too harsh on the property for your failure to book appropriately.

  17. SPG is completely in the wrong here, and I’m surprised Mike was so chill about it. The whole notion of a “secret policy about kids” is not limited to this particular hotel. We flew CX J and purchased a separate seat for our infant. The plan was to buckle the car seat into the seat (as we have been told a million times is safer, etc.) CX apparently has a policy — not communicated at the time of booking, natch — that you can’t put a car seat in a J seat. Note that we had purchased this J seat and it went to waste. When I called CX afterward their solution, I kid you not, was that we should have held up departure by insisting that an agent from the ticket counter COME TO THE AIRCRAFT to refund our money for the third seat. I’ll give you three guesses how well that would have gone over. (In the end we got a partial refund on the third seat but only after lots of haggling.)

    Conversely, AZ in J would ONLY let our daughter fly in a car seat (!?). We purchased a lap infant ticket, WHICH THEY SOLD US, and then told us at check in that lap infants were not permitted in business; they HAD to be in a car seat, in the very configuration that CX prohibits. They ultimately let us fly one way but put us on a DL flight on the way back.

    The Park Hyatt Vendome, at which I’d booked a room for “2 adults and 1 child” without incident, told us at check in that we couldn’t have 3 people in a room. Our daughter was 7 months old at the time and ultimately they agreed that she didn’t really take up that much additional space. (I had even called several times to change the reservation, so it’s not even like no one at Hyatt had ‘seen’ the reservation before I checked in.)

    The notion that kids would be banned from a suite strikes me as somewhat ridiculous, since we specifically book suites when traveling with our kids so we have more space.

  18. I recently had a similar snafu booking the Hyatt Regency Kyoto. I booked by calling Hyatt, and the rep booked myself and my husband one room and booked my kids in a second room with my parents for 50% off on the family discount. It was only right before the trip when I requested connecting rooms did I discover the hotel considers 12 year olds adults (the other Hyatts I’ve stayed in says kids are 12 and under) so no discount. Plus since she is an adult I now needed three rooms, effectively tripling my nightly rate. After many emails they resolved the problem.

    I thought I knew Hyatts well but the experience taught me that hotels even in the same chain do not have the same policies when it comes to kids, and to get confirmation of our arrangements, in writing, from someone at that hotel every single time. It is one more way travel is harder for families – what can you do.

  19. @Erasmus, that’s an interesting point. “I know this hotel doesn’t allow kids in this particular room so you must know as well.”?! If the hotel has a policy, it’s on them to tell you. It’s not your obligation to go to tripadvisor and find a review that notes some — severe outlier — policy. He shouldn’t have booked through the app? Give me a break.

    By the way, I’m sure if Mike had said “I thought kids were allowed; there are plenty of reviews online saying they are!” there would a chorus of people saying, “I can’t believe you relied on some random person’s post on a website rather than the hotel’s own booking portal!!1~“1!1”

    If an airline/hotel/car mechanic/housekeeper/anyone has a policy, it’s incumbent on them to tell you about it, and to do so prominently when the policy is out of sync with the mainstream.

  20. @LTL, I agree it is on the property to tell you their policies. It is also, however, incumbent upon travelers to book their reservations with the full and complete details. If I understand Mike’s post, he did NOT disclose he was booking with kids. So it’s not like the hotel had the opportunity to mention its policy to him. Seems to me there is a failure on both sides here to be completely upfront about the full details. And how could the property know this policy would apply to this booking? They may have a policy against lemurs, too, but unless they reasonably expect somebody is bringing a lemur, why mention it?

    Mike’s (legitimate) issue seems to be with the US-centric SPG app that didn’t allow him to specify he was trying to book a room with kids. As we all know, in the US it is rarely a big deal to show up with kids (or even adults) that were not disclosed on the reservation. The same is certainly not true in other parts of the world however–especially Europe–where they often charge per person and have strict capacity limits on various room types.

  21. How about the stupid policy of the Four Seasons Hualalai in the Big Island, Hawaii. They allow kids in the hotel but NOT sharing the same room of the parents. Yes, they want you to book 2 rooms at $1,000 each per night because apparently parents + their kids in the same room is not a good combination. Go figure!!!!

  22. If the hotel does not declare its no kids policy upfront, then suddenly changing the clauses is a violation of contractual terms.

    Hidden no-kids policy? What is stopping the hotel from coming up with other hidden clauses? SPG response is out of order. U shld file a Corporate complaint.

    The hotel’s handling n SPG’s follow-up r both v poor.

  23. To be fair, if you went to the hotel website (link in post), the rooms section specifically shows that all the suites have a maximum occupancy of 2: 2 adults and 0 children. Only the family room accommodates 4.

    Having said that, I think it’s ridiculous that hotels would restrict kids from suites, especially since those are precisely the rooms that *can* accommodate more guests.

  24. I think most hotels are reasonably family-friendly, but on paper it is hardly so. We are taking a two year-old and a half year-old on some trips spanning 8 hotels across 4 countries. When called/emailed all of them were okay (ranging from “of course why not” to “well yeaaah we’ll make an exception”) with the babies stay in a standard room with us, but upon online booking when we specified 2 kids, none of them would show availability of a standard room. In some cases, the only thing showing available would be a suite, which is the complete opposite of the OP’s story. In others, the websites would simply tell us they have nothing for a couple with two very young kids.

    This is sort of the catch 22 all those people demanding the OP to fully disclose his kids upon booking may not understand. The system is (often) set up in a funny way that families either have to count on a bit of luck or rely on calling the hotel directly to confirm they would be allowed entry into the hotel. SPG does appear to be a bit less friendly, at least compared to Hyatt.

  25. @Peter – nobody is demanding anything, but full disclosure is always best. My point is “counting on a bit of luck” is another way of saying you are knowingly attempting to contravene a policy. You may get away with it. You may not. FWIW I always reach out to foreign hotels when planning stays with my young ones for precisely this reason. I’ve found they’re almost always happy to help and quick to recommend the room type(s) that they feel best would accommodate our needs. Some require suites or “family” rooms to allow kids, others, like the property under discussion, have a contrasting policy. Many hotels will not allow what you describe: more than two souls in a room, and I’ve found they are far less likely to break policy once the soul requires something larger than a crib in which to sleep.

  26. @MEOW-

    Can we at least stop using the f word when being discriminative? Most of us here would feel better reading the comment section without it.

  27. In my experience, the noisiest hotel guests are drunk groups of guys and business men who insist on doing all of their calls on speaker phone, followed by colicky infants. But I get it and travel with enough noise dampening gadgets and supplies that it is rarely a real problem. The worst is when one of these guests is on the other side of an adjoining room door and I’ve been asked to be moved if I’ve had that type of room in the past.

  28. @Erasmus – what you said is fair and I agree “full disclosure” is usually better than anything less. I’m just pointing out how it may be often counter-intuitive to do so… i.e. even when a hotel expects a family with infants to stay in a standard room, its website may not allow it. I did reach out to all of our hotels individually to confirm, as I believed that’s the most fail-safe thing like you suggested. My struggle with that is that you can’t expect an average traveler to even think of doing it when we live in a “search one and done” world.

  29. I’ve had only a few problems caused by kids in hotels. In one case I was in a cheap hotel and couldn’t get the top floor, the family above me drove me nuts with the constant running and jumping. In other cases it hasn’t been the kids in the rooms so much as the kids going in and out of the rooms every couple of minutes and letting the doors slam. But that can happen on all floors of the hotel, in non-suite rooms, so I’m not really understanding the kids ban in suites.

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