How to prevent getting slapped with unfair charges on your master account

Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio May 1998 Current Issue
May 1998 Back to BasicsPLANNER'S PORTFOLIO:

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How to prevent getting slapped with unfair charges on your master account

Beware Hotel Billing Errors

Many in the meetings industry agree that three things are certain in life: death, taxes and hotel billing errors. We asked planners and hoteliers to identify the 10 most common problems - and offer solutions.

  1. Master Account Abuse
    Problem: Speakers, VIPs or even attendees make unauthorized charges to the master account - for anything from extra A/V to a platter of caviar.
    Solution: Specify in advance who is authorized to make or approve charges. If anything without proper signatures appears on the bill, refuse to pay it.
  2. Altered in Transit
    Problem: Remember the "telephone" game? Same concept here: As charges travel from department to department before the final folio is compiled, the bill tends to lose or gain numbers.
    Solution: Make one hotel contact responsible for keeping tabs on your bill, from beginning to end.
  3. Mystery Charges
    Problem: Bizarre line items appear on your bill - like the $1,000 ice sculpture that belonged to a concurrent event in the other ballroom.
    Solution: It's likely that someone in accounting was a digit off in coding the charge to the proper party. Scrutinize bills line by line. If a charge looks unfamiliar, ask to see a copy of the signed invoice.
  4. Uninvited Guests
    Problem: The master account includes the names of strangers - along with their room charges.
    Solution: Have the front desk confirm attendance against the rooming list at check-in (or later to avoid delays). Cross-check against the final bill.
  5. Freeloaders
    Problem: Attendees are instructed to bypass the front desk and pick up their room keys, then stop down later to leave a charge card imprint. Invariably, some fail to do so, and their room charges are billed to the master account.
    Solution: Assign someone the task of "reminding" offenders. (A voice mail message from the CEO might work.) Ask the hotel for a list of names.
  6. Lost guarantees
    Problem: You estimate 100 for a dinner. Four days out, you guarantee 90. Exactly 90 show up, but you're billed for the original estimate of 100.
    Solution: Put all food-and-beverage guarantees in writing, and be sure they get to the right person on time. Check banquet bills on site, and have copies of guarantees on hand to point out errors.
  7. Tax on Gratuities
    Problem: You expect to pay tax on food and beverage, but sometimes the gratuity is taxed, too.
    Solution: In some states, mandatory "service charges" are included in the amount taxed. Laws vary, but planners may be able to avoid paying tax on tips if all of the following apply: Contracts clearly state that the charge is voluntary; the charge is stated separately on the invoice as a gratuity or tip; and the entire gratuity is distributed to the employees, with no part accruing to the hotel or facility.
  8. Bulk Billing
    Problem: Most major hotels in the United States itemize every charge. Not so overseas.
    Solution: Spell out in advance what you expect to see on the bill. If you want taxes, alcohol or other items separated from the totals, say so. And, ask to see a sample bill from another event; if it's not in the detail or format you prefer, discuss options.
  9. The Disappearing Planner
    Problem: What's faster than the speed of light? A homesick meeting planner dashing out of the hotel after the closing session.
    Solution: If you can't (or won't) review the bill on site, take the "pay as you go" approach: Keep tabs on charges throughout the event. Sign each banquet bill before leaving a meal function. And review the master account daily with your hotel contact.
  10. Aftershock
    Problem: You were too busy to check the bill before checking out. Two weeks later it arrives on your desk. You open it and clutch your chest - the meeting blew the budget. It seems those miscellaneous on-site charges you thought would be minimal were anything but.
    Solution: Use a worksheet to anticipate the grand total. List everything you expect to see on the master account, and ask your hotel contact before the meeting to point out mistakes or omissions. Very few billing mysteries should remain.

Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner in Atlanta.

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