The summer traveling season is officially upon us. With the uber-competitive luxury hotel industry fighting for every customer, chains are continuing to offer various loyalty programs and incentives to earn your family's business.
Whether you're traveling with infants or teenagers, odds are there's a hotel willing to cater to your every need. From kids-only check-in to parents' nights off, many hotels realize that happy kids mean happy parents.
The Basics: Age (and Height!) Requirements
Many hotels will offer free stays and/or meals to children of a certain age. It's a good start. Be sure to check what the age limits are.
At Intercontinental Hotels' (IHG) Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express, which has several newly rated five-star locations, the cut off is for age 12 and younger, who both stay and eat free.
At the Four Seasons and Starwood's (HOT) Westin, children under five eat free. At Westin, children between the ages of six and 12 eat for 50% off. At several Hilton resorts, it goes by height: free breakfasts for children 3 feet 9 inches or shorter (taller kids eat for half off).
Note that there are often differences between the hotel locations and the resorts in this practice, so be sure to ask about the specific hotel's policy before booking.
Luxury Camping for Kids
While some families are content with pool time, others need to be a little more engaged. Whether you want to drop the kids off for some supervised fun or have activities the entire family can enjoy, more and more hotels and resorts are offering programs that mimic the summer camp experience.
The Four Seasons in Jackson Hole, Wyo., takes the summer camp experience to heart. The location -- just miles from Grand Teton National Park -- gears up its younger guests with a backpack full of everything they need to explore the natural area; including a compass, binoculars, and sun photo paper. While the kids have to return the backpacks at the end of the visit (as is the case with many hotels offering such programs), they're given a souvenir to take with them.
The Westin offers a similar backpack program geared toward exploring the resort with a membership bracelet, disposable camera, canteen, and a collectible travel passport.
Hilton is so welcoming of traveling families that they treat the children as the true guests, and the parents as their companions.
At several international locations, the hotel has adopted the "My Little Hilton" program, which includes a kids' check-in, welcome presents and games, and music boxes and baby monitors. Also, when parents book a second room for children, the accompanying room is 50% off.
When booking at the Mandarin Oriental, the hotel asks not only the number of children traveling, but their ages and names, as well. The hotel then provides, at some locations, customized welcome gifts, as well as age-appropriate toiletries and in-room amenities that range from cribs and socket covers to game consoles.
Want some alone time? The Four Seasons offers complimentary child care for all guests, and many other hotels can arrange for non-complimentary sitters at the front desk with 24 hours' notice.
Ask before you book
When booking (either through a travel agent or directly) be as specific as possible about your inquiry into amenities. It's not enough to say you'll be traveling with children. Providing your kids' ages, as well as a little bit about what they, and you, like to do will make the difference toward a family vacation that is truly relaxing and enjoyable.
Be sure to ask what age-specific programs are available, as well as any particular needs your family may have. Ask again upon arrival, as franchised hotels may be offering their own promotions. And then just sit back and relax. After all, you're on vacation.
Motley Fool contributor Molly McCluskey owns shares of Starwood. Follow her on Twitter at @MollyEMcCluskey.