Early, conforming antibiotic treatment in elderly patients hospitalised for community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is a key factor in the prognosis and mortality. The objective was to examine whether empirical antibiotic treatment was conforming according to the Spanish Society of Pulmonology and Thoracic Surgery guidelines in these patients. Multicentre study in patients aged ⩾65 years hospitalised due to CAP in the 2013–14 and 2014–15 influenza seasons. We collected socio-demographic information, comorbidities, influenza/pneumococcal vaccination history and antibiotics administered using a questionnaire and medical records. Bivariate analyses and multilevel logistic regression were made. In total, 1857 hospitalised patients were included, 82 of whom required intensive care unit (ICU) admission. Treatment was conforming in 51.4% (95% confidence interval (CI) 49.1–53.8%) of patients without ICU admission and was associated with absence of renal failure without haemodialysis (odds ratio (OR) 1.49, 95% CI 1.15–1.95) and no cognitive dysfunction (OR 1.71, 95% CI 1.25–2.35), when the effect of the autonomous community was controlled for. In patients with ICU admission, treatment was conforming in 45.1% (95% CI 34.1–56.1%) of patients and was associated with the hospital visits in the last year (<3 vs. ⩾3, OR 2.70, 95% CI 1.03–7.12) and there was some evidence that this was associated with season. Although the reference guidelines are national, wide variability between autonomous communities was found. In patients hospitalised due to CAP, health services should guarantee the administration of antibiotics in a consensual manner that is conforming according to clinical practice guidelines.