Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March
The Law & the Planner
By Jonathan T. Howe,
HIDDEN HOTEL CHARGES
Armed with a strong contract, planners can avoid paying for
Lately we’ve received calls from perturbed
planners who are finding strange charges sneaking onto their hotel
bills. These costs, never mentioned in the contract nor in
discussions with the property, are appearing on individual room
bills and master accounts.
Among the major culprits:
Resort fees. This charge, which is applied
automatically, supposedly covers the availability of various
leisure activities and other amenities, including newspaper
delivery to your room, free local telephone calls and staff
gratuities. Fees might range from $5 to $25 a day.
Tax on gratuities. This surprise charge might
appear on the bill, depending on the state or local law governing
the meeting venue.
Early departure fees. Understandably, hotels
want guests to pay a price for reserving a room for a certain
number of nights and then checking out early, before the
reservation period has expired. Fees as high as $75 are appearing,
regardless of whether the room is resold.
PUT IT IN WRITING
The only recourse against such fees is a carefully worded contract.
Clauses can be inserted stating there will be no additional fees
charged to a guest other than the contracted room rate. Following
is some specific wording that might be helpful.
There shall be no additional mandatory charges made to any
guest except as follows: ____________. If not specifically set
forth, the hotel shall not charge or post to any room ledger or
master account any amount except those that are agreed to and
signed for by the guest in advance or set forth in this
In addition, amenities to be available to guests at no charge
should be spelled out in the contract. This gives the hotel no
opportunity to add charges.
Guests can be billed individually for use of services normally
covered by an automatic resort fee, such as fitness facilities.
Other extras can be anticipated, if not avoided. Gratuities might
be subject to tax when a specific tip or service charge is outlined
in the contract, rather than left to your discretion. Most states
and local governments assess taxes on the charge. Some, however,
will not tax the portion that actually goes into the banquet
staff’s pockets. Find out up front how it works in the municipality
where the meeting will be held.
I have some empathy for the early departure fee, especially in a
resort environment. When a hotel guest decides to leave early, the
property is left high and dry. To their credit, many hotels are now
disclosing the departure fee up front.
Still, if your agreement says no fees other than those set forth
in the contract can be charged to your attendees, then the early
departure fee, in my opinion, would be contrary to the contract if
the attendee booked within your block.
OTHER PET PEEVES
A few more words of caution: Scan contracts for the phrase
“applicable union rules.” These rules might require services you
don’t want, such as a minimum number of union musicians if you have
entertainment from a volunteer group. Learn what’s contained in the
“incorporated by reference” documents items referred to in the
contract but not actually spelled out before signing.
Also be wary of phone access charges. By contract, planners can
eliminate the hotel’s ability to charge attendees to dial toll-free
numbers. You probably won’t be able to negotiate other phone
charges that are in the hotel’s published tariff.
Again, your contract can protect attendees and help you avoid
that extra gouge.Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.,
is a senior partner in the Chicago and Washington, D.C., law firm
of Howe & Hutton, Ltd., which specializes in meetings, travel
and hospitality law. Legal questions can be e-mailed to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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