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Students book hotels one year in advance for Final Exercises, paying nearly double typical rates

Hotel management anticipates selling out as graduation approaches

For in-state students, driving to Charlottesville for the day of graduation is sometimes easier than finding hotel accommodations.
For in-state students, driving to Charlottesville for the day of graduation is sometimes easier than finding hotel accommodations.

Students are forced to find accommodations for graduation a year in advance — and pay room rates approximately double the standard price — as a result of hotels reaching capacity months in advance for graduation weekend. In fact, many Charlottesville hotels have been fully booked for a calendar year prior to the Class of 2023 graduation. 

For graduates with family from out of state, finding a room for the weekend is vital to attending the ceremony. Fourth-year College student Maggie Lynn said her family from Chicago booked their room at Hyatt Place Charlottesville back in May 2022 — a full year before her graduation. 

“Because we live so far away, we have to be on top of it,” Lynn said. “Otherwise, no one would be able to come.”

For in-state students, driving to Charlottesville for the day of graduation is sometimes easier than finding hotel accommodations. Fourth-year College student Annemarie Cake said most of her family was driving to Charlottesville for the ceremony, although her parents managed to book a hotel for the Friday night before graduation.

Cake said one thing that helped get the reservation — and a discounted price — was her uncle, who works in the hotel industry.

“People previously that have gone through U.Va. graduation say that the hotel booking is very quick and very fast, and it’s best to book early on because the hotel rooms do go by quickly,” Cake said. “Everyone knows, and so you’re forewarned, so you booked everything in advance.”

Advice — and sometimes warnings — about booking graduation hotels early spreads throughout the University community, according to Cake. One of these sources is the U.Va. Parent Network on Facebook, in which parents discuss booking a year in advance.

“Places start filling up immediately,” one user said on Facebook. “365 days in advance — starting at 12:01 a.m. Don’t wait.” 

Carol Miller-Meads, the general manager of the Holiday Inn in the Charlottesville and University area, said most of the hotel’s rooms were sold out by December 2022. Miller-Meads said their system allows them to book rooms 350 days in advance.

Although the Holiday Inn is open up to sale almost a year in advance, they have restrictions in place for graduation weekend, including a two-night minimum and a no-cancellation policy. Graduation dates are usually announced through the academic calendar at least two years in advance. Booking early, however, could be a way of saving money.

“If I book early, do I get a better rate? Most likely yes,” Miller-Meads said. “We’ll put a rate out there and let it go, and then once we get to the point you don’t have that many rooms left to sell, then you yank your rates up higher.”

According to the Holiday Inn website, a standard room with two queen beds currently goes for $428 per night for members and $450 per night for non-members on graduation weekend. Comparatively, the same room costs $234 per night for members and $246 per night for non-members the consecutive weekend — around half the price of graduation weekend’s rates.

Other hotels show the same rate discrepancies. At Graduate Charlottesville, only a handful of rooms are still available for graduation weekend, and reservation availability changes constantly. Currently, one deluxe king room costs around $843 per night for May 20, according to the website, compared to approximately $478 per night for the following Friday night.

“We anticipate selling out as we approach graduation,” said Sheldon Johnson, the general manager of Graduate Charlottesville, in an email statement to the Cavalier Daily.

Alternative options include booking through vacation rental companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

Because of the difficulty in reserving, many students and their families choose even more unique options, such as staying in dorms on-Grounds. Dorm reservations are made on a first-come, first-served basis, and are comparatively affordable at either $110 or $130 per night without tax. Currently, on Ground accommodations are fully booked for Graduation Weekend 2023. 

“If more of my family was going to come, then they could have stayed in dorms or something, because there were really no other options,” Lynn said. “But they ended up not coming because nothing was available, and it was too late for them to come.”

In the midst of the Class of 2023 graduation, bookings will soon open for the Class of 2024 graduation. Following the same pattern, these reservations will likely fill up a year in advance.

“We’ve already got people calling for graduation weekend next year,” Miller-Meads said. 

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