Feb 06 2010

Three’s a Crowd? Finding a Hotel Room for a Family of Five

Blog comments can take interesting twists.  A recent comment to a two-year-old post on Travels with Children began an interesting e-mail correspondence, and one of my readers got an answer to a question that many of us with larger families have asked:  Is the prohibition against having five people in a hotel room really a violation of fire codes?  Read the guest post below to find the answer.

Jenny is the wife of one and stay-at-home mom of three, trying to use the world as her classroom.  She lives in Watertown, South Dakota.

Last summer I was sitting with a group of moms discussing travel plans.  One mom had just returned from a long road trip with her family of five.   As they were nearing their hotel destination one evening, her two-year-old got carsick all over herself.   They were anxious to get to their hotel room to clean her up.  Despite the fact that they had made advanced reservations, the desk clerk refused to let them put three kids in one room.  The reason? Fire code.  Furious and exhausted, they were forced to keep driving with their messy child until they found another hotel.   Our group then discussed the methods we’ve used to get three kids into a room.

Is having three kids really that uncommon?  A quick survey of my moms’ group revealed that 17 out of 29 moms have three or more children.

We adopted our third child a little over a year ago.  She’s getting a tad big for cribs and now I’m running into this same situation.  There are so many hotels which won’t let you put three kids in a room.  We enjoy traveling, and this has definitely complicated things.

After a recent bout of cabin fever, I found myself hunting for a motel in nearby Sioux Falls with an indoor waterpark.  There are only two such places in Sioux Falls.   On a previous outing, we stayed at “Hotel A” and had an enjoyable time.  This year, however, Hotel A was booked.  I attempted to book a room at “Hotel B” online.  The online reservation system would not let me reserve for five people.

Normally, I would have sneaked the third child in, but because waterpark wristbands were involved, I knew we’d be one short.  I phoned the hotel directly.  The clerk refused to let me book room for five people.  She wanted me to buy a suite.  I explained that my third child could sleep on the floor and that a suite was more money than we wanted to spend.  No deal.  I threatened to take my money down the road to their competition (figured she didn’t know they were booked). No deal.  She was willing to let me walk away.  I then asked why it was unacceptable to have five people in a room.  She informed me that it was a “violation of fire code.”   I hung up in frustration.

I was baffled for a couple of reasons.  #1.  How is having a child sleep on the floor any more of a fire code violation than having a crib brought into a room?  #2.  If it truly is a violation of fire code, how does “Hotel A” get away with it?  I was beginning to suspect that this was all an elaborate scheme to force people into booking suites.  What happened to the concept of a rollaway bed?  More and more hotels seemed to be getting away from this.

Because I apparently have nothing better to do with my time, I  went online and did some investigating.  It was very simple to find a contact e-mail address for the fire department.  I e-mailed the department with the name and address of the hotel and posed my question.  Is it truly a violation to have five people in one room?

To my amazement, I received a reply within the hour from the division fire chief marshall.  He stated, “Fire and building code requirements generally do not regulate individual sleeping rooms relative to occupant loading other than a requirement for more than one exit where an occupant load exceeds ten people.  The statement ‘violates fire code’, in this case, is incorrect.”

I decided  to call Hotel B again and ask them to explain themselves.  I was forced to leave a message with a secretary.   A short time later, the fire marshall took it upon himself to phone the hotel and set them straight.  I only wish I could have been in the room to see the look on the manager’s face when she received that call.  Shortly thereafter, the manager phoned me.  Apparently, the managers had a huddle, did some investigating and discovered that this policy was a corporate policy, not a government policy.  The corporate policy allowed two people per bed plus an additional person on the floor.  I was granted my reservation.  An apology was issued.  A promise was made that staff would receive training on this matter.  I told the manager that I believe a lot of hotels do not realize how much money they are losing with this policy.  When I hunt for hotel rooms online, I will keep searching until I find one that will allow me to put three kids in a room.  I informed her that her clerk was willing to let me walk away with a few hundred dollars’ worth of business rather than let me put a child on the floor.

Most people are probably not willing to go to these lengths to get a room.  My determination stemmed from running across this issue frequently, plus a desperate need to get my kids to a waterpark in a town with limited choices.  If you’re in a situation where you have your heart set on a certain hotel, or you’re in dire need of a room (like my friend with the sick child), take action.  When a clerk refuses to provide your family of five with lodging, ask for the reason behind this.  If you’re told it’s a corporate policy, ask to speak to a manager.  If you’re told it’s fire code, call them on it.  It’s simple to find contact information for a local fire department.  Heck, you could phone them while you stand at the front desk!  Be firm, polite and persistent and see how far you can get.

Have you had a similar experience?  How did you handle it?  Have you ever called the fire department to check the “fire code” claim of a hotel?  Please share your thoughts.

If you want to find a room that will accept families of five, six, or more without problems, I recommend starting at SixSuitcaseTravel.com, or if you’ll be traveling in the UK, find rooms for five at http://www.roomfor5.co.uk.

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23 comments so far

23 Comments to “Three’s a Crowd? Finding a Hotel Room for a Family of Five”

  1. Trisha on 06 Feb 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Wow! I’m really surprised by this story. Our family of 5 has stayed in our fair share of hotels, but I’ve never encountered this problem. I’ll definitely be more aware of it now, though! Thanks for posting :-)

  2. D Murphy on 06 Feb 2010 at 8:36 pm

    Wow, certainly opens your eyes!!! I always thought it was fire regs but wondered why it applied to some hotels and not others.
    Try http://www.roomfor5.co.uk for loads of hotels that allow families of 5 or more in a hotel room!!!

  3. jen on 07 Feb 2010 at 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the great post! I had no idea that this was an issue, but now that we have 5 kids (6 month old baby), it’s good to be aware!

  4. Katherine on 07 Feb 2010 at 10:54 pm

    So glad you posted this. We have always been in this situation from day 1. (triplets) We too just keep looking for the hotel with the pull out couch and say there are 4 in the room. We don’t even bother asking for a roll away anymore.

    I am more than willing to bring along an air mattress for one of the boys to sleep on, and fortunately for us they don’t care what they sleep on. I’ll be printing out this post to keep filed so I can refer to it when making our next reservations – which is tomorrow. Thanks.


  5. minnemom on 08 Feb 2010 at 7:36 am

    Trisha, count yourself lucky to not have encountered the “5 in a room” problem. You must be traveling to all the right places!


  6. minnemom on 08 Feb 2010 at 7:38 am

    D Murphy,

    I added a link to your site in the post–sorry I forgot to do it originally because I know you’re providing a good service for UK travelers.


  7. minnemom on 08 Feb 2010 at 7:40 am


    Maybe you’ll be lucky and won’t run into this problem, but at least you won’t be surprised if you encounter it.

    I’m also frustrated at hotels that just say “sorry, no availability” instead of telling you that it’s because you’re trying to put too many people in a room. It’s interesting to see how many rooms suddenly become available if you change the search parameters.


  8. minnemom on 08 Feb 2010 at 7:42 am


    Traveling with triplets must be an adventure in itself even without room difficulties. Thanks for sharing your solution, and good luck making your reservations.


  9. Theresa on 08 Feb 2010 at 8:21 am

    Remember that most hotel employees aren’t trying to be mean, they just have limited authority and are trained to give certain answers.

    Hop on over to http://www.SixSuitcaseTravel.com , where we’ve done the research for you! We have almost 3000 hotels for six, some rooms eight, in US, Canada, and Mexico.

    The last thing you want at the end of the day traveling with kids is frustration with your hotel room.

    You can feel good about booking through SixSuitcaseTravel as we provide direct links and give 10% of our affiiate income to http://www.BlessingsinaBackpack.org

    Thanks again Linda for an informative post and all your help.


  10. [...] Over at Travels with Children; one of Linda’s readers, Jenny,  looked into the no room for five because of fire code reason.  [...]

  11. Theresa on 08 Feb 2010 at 9:07 am

    I’m still thinking about this.

    Tell me, do you think it would be easier if hotels just charged for the fifth person? Would that be acceptable to families and the hotels?

  12. minnemom on 08 Feb 2010 at 9:31 am


    I suppose a line does have to be drawn somewhere. I wonder what the reasoning is? I can understand that hotels don’t want huge groups of people cramming in a room to save on costs. But why not let a family in a room if they have a way to make it work?

    Personally, I don’t like putting kids on the floor, but we have some little fold-up cots that we’ve used for our preschoolers at times. We’ve hauled in our own portacrib because we didn’t trust the “crib” that the hotel would provide. Some people don’t mind putting three in a bed, or one on the floor, etc.

    I’ve seen campgrounds that limit to six people or “one family.” Sometimes they’re quite clear that this means parents and their children under age 18.

    Charging for an extra person would make some sense, especially in places that have a free breakfast or some other amenities that would involve an extra cost for the hotel.

    Ultimately, it’s about the bottom line, I suppose.

    I don’t mind that hotels have rules or limitations on how many people they allow in a room, but 1) their staff should all know the rules and be consistent, and 2) they should say it like it is–this is corporate policy–rather than blaming it on fire codes or some other outside source.

    Choice Hotels has probably the clearest reservation system. For each room that is available, it will tell you the maximum number of people per room, and sometimes will allow an extra with an “extra bed” (crib or rollaway) option. I like that they’re up-front about it.


  13. Jenny on 08 Feb 2010 at 12:06 pm

    I’d be OK with paying an extra charge in a reasonable amount. Say, $10 per extra person?

    Please do not take my experience as the standard everywhere. Fire codes probably do vary from place to place. Do your homework with the local authorities.

    I just wanted to let people know that it is possible that this fire code business may not always be correct and it’s worth verifying. It’s simple to do.

    I agree that the clerk probably didn’t know the fire code thing was untrue.

    And to the gal traveling with triplets, I’m in awe of you. :)

  14. [...] Today, we welcome back Travels with Children and guest writer Jenny.  A while ago, she told us of her experience with a hotel that said fire codes were the reason for restricting the number of people who slept in a room.  [...]

  15. Bridget Smith on 25 Oct 2010 at 1:11 pm

    Wow I love this post! We are perpetually sneeking three kids into rooms and my oldest hates it. It also make for very complicated situations, where does the third lurk while mommy checks in if Daddy isn’t around? Your blog has me thinking…maybe I should take a more direct approach. Thanks for sharing this!
    .-= Bridget Smith´s last blog ..Mondays are for Dreaming- A California State Park Roadtrip =-.

  16. Sandy Nielsen on 04 Dec 2010 at 3:39 pm

    This quandary was also discussed in a Washington Post article, referenced in my blog post: http://blog.sleeps5.com/2010/09/family-of-5-some-hotels-are-right-for.html. I love that you called the Fire Marshall! That is great information to use next time I call a hotel’s front desk.

    With 3 children each, my cousin and I started http://www.sleeps5.com to help other parents find hotels in Europe. We provide direct links to the hotels and do not receive any commission from bookings. We spend HOURS researching and emailing hotels as our hobby! Our European cities include London, Paris, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Florence, Salzburg, Vienna, Madrid, Barcelona, Copenhagen, Athens, Santorini, Lisbon, and more.

    And, since starting the website in 2006, we’ve expanded the cities to include San Francisco, Seattle, New York City, and Washington DC. I’m currently researching Chicago and Istanbul, but it’s taking a loooong time, what with being a mom to three children and all…! (not much spare time)

    Happy Travels!


  17. Steve on 28 Feb 2011 at 12:08 pm

    In the UK (and some of Europe) hotels won’t even allow a family of 5 in a room when one is a baby. Whether we ask for a cot (crib) or have the baby in the bed with us, they just won’t allow it. We’ve had this problem with cruises too. They all say it’s to do with health & safety but I can’t find why it would possibly be an issue. Have to start sneaking in!

  18. Rebecca on 10 Aug 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Thanks for posting this. I am running into the same issue trying to reserve a room for my family of 5 for my sister’s wedding in Las Vegas. However, the fire marshal in Las Vegas has not been as helpful. Instead the fire department representative I spoke to told me the following 4 things:

    1) That I should lie to the hotel to make a reservation.
    2) That even if it is not a true fire code violation, they understand why the hotel would say this, since otherwise guests would not respect the hotel’s rules.
    3) After a 10 minute investigation into the fire codes (and I am appreciative that they went to the trouble take this time to do the research) – I was informed that the code seems to imply that there is actually a limit in all residental dwellings of 3 people in Clark County. I am fairly confident this in incorrect since it would limit couples to only one child – or mandate that the couple separate in the event that they had 2 children.
    4) When I said, ‘So the lesson here is that Las Vegas is not family friendly. It is only a place for making babies, and not for bringing your kids’, I was informed that I had hit the nail right on the head.

    I guess I’ll have to lie – apparently that’s what they do in Vegas. Also, while the hotel does have adjoining rooms, they cannot guarantee adjoining rooms – so that’s also not an option.

    Glad to know I’m not the only one facing this problem!!!

  19. minnemom on 10 Aug 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Rebecca, that’s crazy! Thanks for taking the time to share your experience. Linda

  20. Stacey on 18 Sep 2013 at 11:54 am

    Hi all,

    I work at a hotel and we are currently trying to find out what our fire codes are. We understand there are bigger families out there but sometimes you just need to get 2 rooms instead of one. Our rooms are built to hold 4 people COMFORTABLY. If you want to be uncomfortable and squeeze more in then we could say thats on you but we also have the cost of cleaning up after you and feeding you breakfast. People don’t realize all the costs that go into a hotel room. We put soap, shampoo, conditioner, shaving cream, lotion, shower caps, coffee, tea, creamer, etc in all of our guest rooms. Not only do bigger groups go thru all that is in the room, they will ask for 10 times more. Also with a bigger group you are going to want more towels and more linens and more pillows and more everything which then has to be washed when you leave. It really does make the cost go up for the hotel depending on how many people you have in your room. Before I worked here I was in the same mindset as all you guys. “Why do they care how many people I have in my room?” “How dare they tell me I have to pay extra for more people!” “Like its really a danger to have more than 4 people in a room.” So other than the cost side of things it really is a danger. All room layouts are different, with our particular hotel though, in a room with 2 double beds there is really no place to put a rollaway that isn’t blocking an exit. Now what happens if there is a fire and you can’t get your 3 kids out of the room? We aren’t doing these things to be a pain in anyones ass people. And as a front desk agent I have to follow what my manager says. So if you have an issue with something that the booking agent says, call the hotel manager directly. They are the ones making the rules…

  21. tracy on 13 Feb 2014 at 8:32 am

    Thank you so much for this post! I challenged the “fire code” thing at a hotel this morning! Your post was an inspiration!

  22. LaurenS on 10 Jul 2014 at 5:47 pm

    Thank you so much for this post. I have 3 children and am wanting to stay at a particular hotel that doesn’t allow me to book online with 3 kids. We actually stayed at that same hotel when my youngest was a baby, and I just said 2 kids when I booked the room online. We never hid any of the kids at check in and they never said anything. But since my youngest is almost 4 and looks older than he is, I was concerned. So I just called the manager thinking that I might challenge the fire code reason, thanks to this article. But she just told me that we wouldn’t be turned away. It was just that they couldn’t fit a rollaway bed in the room. I told her that my 3 year old sleeps with us in bed at home anyway, so we didn’t want an extra bed. She said that was fine. She only said that it would be against fire code to have a roll away bed as it would block exits. So I’m glad I called.

  23. Jenny on 11 Mar 2015 at 9:09 pm

    Hi, I’m the original poster and was just re-visiting this. I would like to respond to the comments from Stacey.
    1. You said that more people go through more supplies (soap, etc.). True, but if five people were to share two hotel rooms instead of fitting into one room, how are they using fewer supplies? It seems to me that five people would use the same amount of supplies and eat the same amount of breakfast regardless of whether or not they’re in one room, two rooms or a suite.
    2. We do not use a rollaway. It actually seems like very few hotels have them anymore. You are right that they take up too much room. Our third child sleeps on a mat between the beds.
    3. You can go ahead and hold firm to the four people in a room rule, but this is what will happen: 1. Rather than pay double for two rooms, some people will just stay home. 2. Most towns have more than one lodging option. We will just find another hotel that is more forgiving and they will get our business.
    As I said in my original post, there are many, many, many families out there with three or four kids. You are eliminating a lot of potential clients with this rule. I don’t know much about running a business, but it seems to me that a successful business would want to attract and satisfy as many customers as possible.

    Finally, to anyone else reading this, we have actually found a more affordable option for our family: Private vacation homes. Disney’s Value Resorts will not allow you to put more than four people in a room. The prices of their suites and Fort Wilderness cabins are outrageous. You can rent one of thousands of offsite private vacation homes for less than a regular room or suite at Disney. You can have multiple bedrooms, bathrooms, full kitchen, washer and dryer, private pool, game room, etc. for a very reasonable price. Check out websites such as vrbo.com and homeaway.com. We have rented vacation homes everywhere from Hawaii to Florida and have really enjoyed this type of lodging.

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