by Mimi Almeida | October 01, 2011

The master account, also called the master bill, is a record of the charges made during an event, with the resulting balance paid directly by the group. Following are tips on how best to set up such an account.

Establish Credit To save yourself some time and trouble at the back end of the meeting, it's good policy to address the issue of a master account at the start of your contract negotiations.

The master account, which typically allows for post-event payment of room, tax, incidentals, and food and beverage charges, is a privilege in today's market. Many hotels are closely scrutinizing the amount of credit they are willing to extend up front, based on factors including past payment history.

To be approved for direct billing, you need to fill out a credit application at least 90 days prior to the meeting (you can request this in your contract). You should return the completed application 60 days prior to the meeting. The contract should specify that the hotel must inform you of its acceptance or rejection at least 45 days before the event and that if written acceptance or rejection isn't received within the time frame, the hotel will be deemed to have granted credit for the full estimated cost of the master account billing.

When drafting your contract, be sure to specify a date when the bill should be received to avoid a protracted reconciliation process, and consider adding language limiting the amount of time given to vendors and hotels to submit late or delayed charges.

Simplify Tracking In the letter of operation (the document that outlines information about the event, including directives about your master account billing requirements), simplify things by requesting that specific charges be grouped together, so you'll end up with several smaller master bills.

For example, one master account could include room, tax and incidental charges; a second could be set up for food and beverage charges, etc. This system allows you to track and reconcile charges more easily than combing through pages and pages in search of a specific charge.

Give the property the names of all persons authorized to sign to the master bill, and reiterate that only charges noted on the letter of operation, presented with appropriate backup and signed by one of these individuals, will be paid.

Keep Tabs During the event and immediately after it takes place, take the following steps.

Schedule daily meetings with the property's accounts-receivable department while you are on-site, so you can check daily charges to the master account and quickly address any possible errors.

Initial the bills that appear to be correct, and make notations on those that require additional review.

If you notice errors on the final bill, address them in writing as soon as possible. List the specific items and reasons why they are being disputed.

Send a check for the total undisputed amount while review is under way and communicate that you will settle the final amount within 30 days of receipt of the revised bill, upon presentation of appropriate backup (receipts, etc.).