Fine print fiascos: Conference attendees stuck with organizer's hotel bill


I've always been a believer that if "you broke it, you bought it." If you cause someone to lose money, you should pay them. If you've incurred a bill, the business has a right to collect the money. But this kind of stuff can be taken a little too far. And The Westin Casuarina Hotel & Spa in Las Vegas has done exactly that.

Here's how the story goes. A bunch of people attended a four-day dental conference at the hotel in October. The conference was organized by the Coaching Center of Austin, a consulting group that reportedly ended up not paying about $50,000 owed to the hotel. But The Westin apparently found a handy solution. They'd just collect the money from those who attended the conference.

What? You heard it right. The hotel started charging the credit cards of attendees over $600 each, calling it a "pro-rated amount per attendee," according to the story. Their reasoning? The hotel's fine print says that guests can later have their credit cards charged for unpaid charges. Yet, guests say that they thought it meant their personal unpaid charges related to their rooms, not unpaid charges by the conference organizer.

And I'm pretty sure that's what we all believe when we sign up for a hotel room. That we'll be liable for our own personal unpaid charges, not those of a broke consultant who isn't paying their conference charges. What a crock!

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.