March 01, 2001
Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio March 2001 Current Issue
March 2001 lawandplan.gifPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

The Law & the Planner

By Jonathan T. Howe, Esq.


Armed with a strong contract, planners can avoid paying for surprise extras

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.

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 Agreement.

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.

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

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