Vegas Hotel Charges Attendees For Unpaid Convention Fees

The Westin Casuarina Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas has begun charging an unpaid $50,000 convention fee to the attendees who already paid before they attended back in October. The company that set up the event, Austin-based The Coaching Center, hasn’t paid its bill yet, and “president Suzanne Black said she was trying to arrange a payment plan when she was told by Westin management that the hotel would recoup the bill from attendees.” Now people are finding charges anywhere from $600 to $1200 on their credit card bills. Even the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority has said this isn’t standard practice, but Westin says it’s got fine print that proves it can hold you liable for any charges left unpaid on your visit.

“Conventioneer says hotel asks attendees to pay charges” [Houson Chronicle] (Thanks to David!)
(Photo: Starwood Hotels)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. statnut says:

    “Westin says it’s got fine print that proves it can hold you liable for any charges left unpaid on your visit.”

    But the arguement could be made, and maybe I’m wrong, I’m not a lawyer, that those charges arent the responsiblity of the attendees. It sounds like a very slippery slope IMO.

  2. Thomas Palmer says:

    Ouch, whatever happened to just pay a flat $20 and have a room for the night? Or I guess it is a flat $100 today.

  3. DJBS77 says:

    One word….Chargeback!!

  4. qwickone says:

    @statnut: I’m with you on that one. Can’t people claim that they never agreed to be held liable for those particular charges?

  5. LorneReams says:

    Isn’t that like charging the customers of a restaurant for an unpaid electric bill? I have no idea how that will fly. Seems like this could border on wire fraud if they customers were not told before the charges go through, especially if they signed off on the lesser bill already.

  6. FreemanB says:

    Unless the attendees signed a contract to arrange for the convention space(Highly unlikely), they can’t be held responsible for anything beyond what they were charged for their rooms. Even if they received discounted rooms and free meals for attending the conference, that was an agreement between the organizer and the hotel, and the attendees were not party to it.

  7. 12-Inch Idongivafuck Sandwich says:

    Yeaaaaaa…having some knowledge of that industry within that city, that is certainly not standard practice.

  8. timmus says:

    It’s astounding what card merchants can get away with when they have enough capital. If I tried this on my customers, my account would be shut down immediately. Visa and Mastercard should be crucified for not stepping in and prohibiting this kind of abuse.

  9. Parting says:

    CHARGEBACK! Unauthorized charges like that, that’s basically fraud.

  10. DeafChick says:

    Chargeback. The party responsible (The Coaching Center) are the ones who need to pay the bill; not the attendees.

  11. shocker says:

    The good news for Suzanne Black is that next year’s conference most likely won’t come with a $50k price tag, as all its attendees will be able to fit comfortably in her room at the Motel 6.

  12. AMetamorphosis says:

    Similar experience with The Adam Mark in Philly.
    Fought with CRAPitol One for 2 YEARS to get them to take a 300+ bill OFF my credit report.

  13. rmz says:

    Lawsuit.

    I almost never say that, but in this case…lawsuit.

  14. The good news for Westin is they won’t have any further trouble with all those pesky conventioneers coming to their hotel. For any conventions.

  15. Grandjester says:

    Bunch of experts here today, who seem to have read the contracts between Westin and The Coaching Center as well as any registration documents of the attendees.

    Read the fine print people!!!

  16. chicagocooper says:

    Not that I advocate this but if they did that to me I would want burn the place down. Talk about pissing off their customers.

  17. davebg5 says:

    @Grandjester: The courts frequently find the fine print of contracts unenforceable. I would say that a stipulation that you can be held liable for lack of payment by third party over a contract signed by said third party (and not you) would be such an instance.

  18. Pylon83 says:

    While I seriously doubt that they will get away with this, I too am bothered by all of the arm-chair non-lawyers who like to claim that it’s unenforceable. No one has seen the agreement, no one knows the details. While in reality, it’s likely to go away, it’s not certain and it’s all pure speculation at this point.

  19. nursetim says:

    This will do wonders for their convention business.

  20. thirdbase says:

    Can it be paid with Slot Club points

  21. johnva says:

    @Pylon83: While yeah, we don’t know what’s in the fine print, I would definitely still file a chargeback just to see what happened in this situation. And I would encourage all other conference attendees to do the same. Even if they have a legal right to do this (which I doubt), the deluge of chargebacks might make it not worth it to them and discourage them from doing this in the future.

  22. Grandjester says:

    @davebg5:

    Yes, but the attendees signed a contract as well, which none of us are privy to. Likewise, we have not seen the contract with the hotel for The Coaching Center, nor the “contract” all guests sign when checking into the hotel.

    I am not supporting/endorsing Westin’s case here, merely pointing out that we are engaged in complete speculation.

    Is it complete douchebagger on Westin’s part? Yes.

    Is it legal? WE DO NOT HAVE ENOUGH INFORMATION TO MAKE THAT DETERMINATION.

  23. Beerad says:

    @Grandjester: Okay, I did. Per the article: “When Dible questioned the legality of the charges, he said he was referred to language on his hotel room invoice holding him liable “for this bill” if he, the company or a third party fails to pay for “any part or all of these charges.””

    So, he had a hotel bill and was notified that if anybody failed to pay “that” bill he would be liable. He paid the bill. Where’s the problem again?

    If the hotel room invoice referred to the convention booking charge, that’s one thing. But of course it didn’t — would you agree to pay a hotel invoice saying you might be charged $50,000? No, I didn’t think so.

  24. johnva says:

    @Grandjester: Even if it’s legal, I find it to be appalling customer service. I can’t believe a hotel would piss off dozens of guests (at least) over such a relatively small amount of money involved in a dispute with a third party. They deserve to lose business worth much more than $50,000 for doing this.

  25. Trai_Dep says:

    @Eyebrows McGee: Second that. Once word of this gets out, Westin’s dead to the Convention market, just on principle. Brilliant!

  26. quail says:

    A majority of hotels have in their agreements at the time you sign into your room that you are liable for un-accounted expenses. This is to cover them if their maid walks into a room and finds that the last occupant walked out with the shower curtain or if you entertained groupies all night in your suite. The hotel can charge your card in those cases for the loss of property and/or the clean up.

    A convention organizer not paying their bill, however, does not mean that the convention attendees are liable for that obligation. Westin will have some big court costs, and bad PR if they continue down that path. Who knows, they might win; but will it be worth it for them? (My money is that they lose big in court and in the marketplace with those tactics.)

  27. Juggernaut says:

    @Grandjester: Do the writers on this blog really need to hear you say “read the fine print”? It’s almost always just speculation, that’s the beauty of a blog. Your pissy answer (along with a few others)strikes me a douchebaggery at it’s highest point!

  28. legwork says:

    I’d speculate this is an act of local, probably pissed off, maybe desperate management. Corporate will fix it.

    Meanwhile, it sounds like a choice opportunity for the competition. ‘Bob, I need a jingle for “We won’t fuck you.”‘

  29. Rectilinear Propagation says:

    @Beerad: I totally agree. How can anyone hold you responsible for charges that aren’t on your bill or invoice? That doesn’t even make sense.

  30. EJXD2 says:

    I’m surprised there hasn’t been any discussion about how brutal a convention at this property would be.

    The Westin is close enough to the strip not to be a total dud and Ellis Park across the street has a surprisingly good steak dinner, but man the inside of that Westin is depressing.

    It just wreaks of “I’m not cool enough to stay on the strip.”

  31. xanax25mg says:

    Im more amazed at people that actually stay at the hotel where the conference is at, since the “special attendee rate” is still exorbinant compared to what you can get elsewhere. For example, I am attending teh Academy of Eating Disorders conference in Seattle next month. The conference hotel, a Westin no less, charges $190 a night as their special conference rate for a single. I am booked 3 blocks away at a Holiday Inn for $98 via Orbitz. Conference rates are almost universally more expensive than you can find not only from competing hotels in the area but often you can find interent pricing better than teh quoted conference rate.

  32. rjhiggins says:

    @xanax25mg: Three blocks??? I don’t think so. Try seven. Which is fine, but somebody sold you a bill of goods.

    Some people like staying right where the convention is. It makes it much easier to meet up with people, make dinner arrangements, etc.

    Plus, the Westin is much closer to attractions, restaurants and shopping. The Holiday Inn is, frankly, close to nothing. Finally, some people prefer a high-quality hotel like the Westin to a Holiday Inn.

    If the Holiday Inn works for you, fine, but I think there are valid reasons more people don’t go that route.

  33. lemur says:

    @rjhiggins: Right, on! I don’t have the money to pay for a fancy hotel but some people attending conventions have their bills paid by their employers. Often, those people directly benefit from being on site because, as you mention, it makes networking easier.

    People have to decide for themselves what makes sense for them. At this point in my life, I tend to do what xanax25mg suggests. At the same time, I’m not necessarily looking for the cheapest option no matter what.

  34. lore says:

    Wouldn’t it have been easier to spread the $50,000 across ALL hotel guests during that time period, instead of just those who attended the convention? Sure would have made it easier to slip through unnoticed…

  35. scoosdad says:

    @Trai_Dep: I just forwarded the link to the original article to a friend of mine who books conventions for his company all over the country. I told him, “well cross Westin off your list!” I think he already had, but for other reasons.

    I’ve seen the final bill for some of these big conventions; it’s amazing the charges big hotels slip into the final invoice, and if you’re not diligent, you end up paying for all kinds of dubious things, or even for other convention’s fees. A big hotel once “accidentally” put a $40,000 charge for another company’s banquet on his tab.

  36. scoosdad says:

    @lore: Yeah, that would have made it slightly more ethical. [/sarcasm]

  37. xanax25mg says:

    @rjhiggins: Point taken, but let’s not ignore my other point that often at the same hotel the internet price is still far cheaper than the “discount” conference rate. I foudn this out at another conference back in DC a few years ago, at a Westin again I think. The “special” conference rate was $160 a night, but expedia had the same room, same nights for $105.

  38. ClayS says:

    I’m sure that the guests that used Amex cards for their rooms will not be paying any add’l charges. Amex has incredible customer service and really looks out for their cardholders.

  39. ClayS says:

    @xanax25mg:
    Guest rooms rates are extremely negotiable when you are booking a convention (150+ rooms).

  40. scoosdad says:

    @xanax25mg: A good convention organizer will always negotiate a better rate for his attendees than anything else available at that hotel. That’s usually true for a smaller convention where it’s limited to one hotel, but for bigger Las Vegas style conventions where practially every big hotel in the city is needed, it’s impossible to negotiate with every hotel for a preferred rate, and so the hotels themselves dust off their own “special convention rates” that you speak of. That’s when it pays to go looking.

    My friend the convention planner has a clause in his standard contract with the hotel that penalizes the hotel if they offer a lower rate to the public than they’re giving his members. One year at a Marriott on the day of check-in, one of his late registering members found a special internet-only lower rate that the hotel was offering and brought it to his attention. Because of that (it was done by Marriott corporate and not by the local hotel itself), the hotel had to charge all of his attendees that special low rate for their entire stay. We’re talking hundreds and hundreds of room-nights too. Sweet.

  41. KIRZEN2007 says:

    Sounds like an abuseful and incorrect use of a clause on the hotel registration card because the management is desperate regarding the outstanding balance from the convention organizers.

    Having worked in hotels for a few years, this clause is included incase the person who is “paying for your stay” refuses to pay after you’ve departed. For instance, if you book through Expedia or Travelocity, you pay the booking company, and they pay the hotel, or if you’re staying on your company’s credit card and they refuse the transaction, the hotel can charge you for your stay to recoup the loss, leaving you to fight it out with the third party who agreed to pay for your stay at the hotel.

    This doesn’t give them the right to charge for anything that isn’t a direct function of your stay. The convention management didn’t agree to pay for something that ‘you’ used, they agreed to pay for something that ‘they’ used, the space and the ammenities so that ‘they’ could hold a convention. What the hotel is saying is that the convention is a function of the guests, that as a group they used the ammenities of the hotel with a third party guarenteeing payment. But that’s not “quite” correct. The nature of the relationship is that the convention company booked, signed for, and agreed to pay for it, with the intention of charging people.

    Think of it this way, if I were to rent a banquet room at a hotel (and promise that after the event I’ll pay them $5000), and stand infront of the door and collect $100 from everyone entering the room (hoping that more than 50 people show up, obviously), and then instead when I get a low turnout I run away with all the money, laughing and giggling and pumping my fists in the air… The hotel doesn’t get to stand outside the room and demand $65 from everyone leading to recoup their $5000… because the hotel didn’t sell the people -in the room- the space.

    That’s the important detail, who did you rent the space to. If you rented it to the guests with the guarentee that a third paty would pay for it, you could recoup, but since you rented it to the third party directly, you have to persue the third party.

  42. plustax says:

    This seems similar to the tatics doctor’s billing departments do to patients when the insurance company is stonewalling them out of payments. Send the bill to the patient and say it’s due immediately or worse bill the credit card on file. I’ve been told they do that to get the patient to do some yelling at the insurance company to pay out what they originally agreed to. It always gets me yelling. It seems the Westin was tired of waiting.

  43. Buran says:

    @Grandjester: I’ve been to a convention at a Westin before (around two years ago, in Pittsburgh, PA) and I never agreed to any charges beyond paying for my room. I would have charged back any additional fee the hotel attempted to charge.

    I can’t imagine this being any different — I paid for the convention fee straight to the convention and the room fee went to the hotel.

    Any attempt by either to stick an additional charge on my card would be met with a chargeback.

  44. Crazytree says:

    sounds like a huge FDCPA and FCRA lawsuit in the making.

  45. @Pylon83: I too am bothered by all of the arm-chair non-lawyers who like to claim that it’s unenforceable.

    There’s nothing wrong with healthy speculation that holding customers liable for a corporation that doesn’t pay its bills is not a reasonable expectation, even if the person read the contract when they checked in.

    The agreement is like a software click-wrap license: it’s not easy to find the contract before you show up. Once you get there, what are you going to do if you disagree? Go home?

    They could put anything in there, like “By staying here, you agree to give us the rights to your first-born son.” People would still sign it, but I’m fairly confident that Westwood would not successfully obtain any children.

  46. D-Bo says:

    @Grandjester: Why bother coming in here to discuss it if others aren’t entitled to their opinion?

  47. ludwigk says:

    @johnva: I don’t live in a world where $50,000 is a ‘relatively small amount of money’. The Westin hotel deals with many, many transactions that are around $20-1000 each, so to them, $50,000 is certainly not a trivial amount.

    I’m not at all advocating what Westin is doing here (conference attendees are already paying crazy conference fees) and I think it is down-right shitty. But, I am not surprised that they *gasp* wanted to get paid for delivering a service.

  48. ChuckECheese says:

    @Juggernaut: Pissy douchebaggery is also one of the beauties of blogs. I always enjoy the fracas.

  49. erratapage says:

    @ludwigk: I don’t live in a world where $50,000 is a ‘relatively small amount of money’ to me. But a very large company like Westin should balance the cost of pursuing these guests (along with the negative publicity and commiserate negative retention rate) against the cost of the risk of not being able to collect its fee from the conference organizer. And don’t be surprised if they have… large companies often believe this sort of action will lead to more money in their bottom line.

    Personally, I think it’s fraud, and I won’t have anything to do with Westin now or in the future. I’ve booked hotels for many events in the past, but I wouldn’t book a dogshow in a hotel that might treat my guests this way.

  50. Grandjester says:

    @D-Bo:

    Nothing, but many here treat thier opinion as FACT.

  51. johnva says:

    @plustax: The difference being that most doctors’ offices make you sign a form saying that you’ll pay them if your insurance refuses. In this case, it sounds like the hotel never did that.

  52. Pylon83 says:

    @Michael Belisle:
    It’s the legal conclusions that people draw that bother me. Much of it is unsupported speculation, and they truly believe it is correct. Unfortunately, such unsupported legal conclusions lead other people to believe that it’s correct, and it simply fuels the publics general lack of knowledge, or incorrect understanding, of the legal system in general.

  53. deVious says:

    @legwork: rofl.

  54. lemur says:

    @lemur: “Right, on!” -> “Right on!”

    Eeek. The: punctuation! fairy, ate, my… brains!

  55. vastrightwing says:

    Hotels are like Best Buy: they lie. The price advertised is never the price you actually pay. There are always undisclosed fees. I’ve been hit with “Room safe” fees, waste fees, convention fees, resort fees, energy fees, pool fees, mandatory bell hope fees, not to mention all the local city taxes, state taxes and federal taxes, airport taxes and fees. Heck, I’ve had a bill where the extra fees were higher than the room charge!

  56. Syrenia says:

    Is it too late to add them to the Worst Company in America voting?

  57. Concerned_Citizen says:

    I find it laughable that instead of going after the company running the convention that actually owes you 50k, you go after all the attendees that did pay their bills. In addition to disputing this charge, I would go back and dispute the original room payment. Them knowingly applying fraudulent charges to your bill should be more than enough reason to invalidate the whole bill. Than I would cancel the credit card or at the very least get a new one with a new number issued.

  58. dialing_wand says:

    As an SPG member I find this shameful – legal or not. I wrote a quick note expressing my displeasure.

  59. @Pylon83: But this is the Internet. Everyone is qualified here: “I’m not a doctor, but I play one on the Internet.” It’s like a quasi-real-life MMORPG.

    And yes, I am a qualified rocket scientist.

  60. Ariel.Sanders says:

    Douchebags get such a bad name here…

  61. ThePlaz says:

    I stayed at the Hyatt Place in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. It’s a very recently renovated AmeriSuits. It has a very friendly staff.

    Photos: [flickr.com] (first 4 rows about)

    I would highly recommend staying with them again