$10 Cups Of Coffee, $5 Cookies And $175 For Wi-Fi: The Ugly Truth About Hotel Conference Costs

storm troopers at conference tableA glass of filtered waters costs $7.50. An order of whole-wheat ricotta pancakes goes for $39. A cookie will cost you $5.25. A bowl of pretzels is 40 bucks and Wi-Fi will set you back $175 per computer. These are just a handful of price quotes my wife received from a chain hotel in Washington, D.C., while planning a recent meeting for the hospital she works for in our nation’s capital.

If you’ve never planned a meeting at a hotel in an expensive city you might not be aware of how outrageous the prices can be. Hotels take advantage of the fact that the employees who plan conferences aren’t spending their own money and often don’t care what the prices are. But some people, like my wife, lose sleep over the high prices even though they aren’t spending their own money.My wife helps manage a research study for a group of children’s hospitals and every time she has to plan a meeting, she’s outraged by the sky-high prices because every dollar they spend on meetings is a dollar they can’t put to better use in the study, which seeks to find a cure for an often fatal disorder that affects children.

She showed me the list of food, beverage and tech options for their most recent conference in D.C. and I had a hard time deciding which item was the most egregious. Here are a few ridiculous examples:

Bottle of water or soda- $5.50 each
One gallon of coffee- $97- Works out to almost $10 per 12 oz. cup.
Iced tea- $87 per gallon- Works out to almost $9 per 12 oz glass.
Roasted Chicken Breast topped with Prosciutto,
Provolone and Pesto atop a
White Bean and Fennel Ragout- $50.00 per guest
Traditional Eggs Benedict- $41 per guest
Bowl of chips or pretzels- $40
Wi-Fi- $175 per computer

But those fees are just the tip of the iceberg. Hotels can really crush you on the A/V and technical charges. At this hotel, if you need an LCD projector to show a power point, they charge you $1,500, and even if you bring your own projector, as my wife did, they still charge you a mandatory setup fee of $800.

Perhaps the most laughable fee is a $250 charge for putting on “background music” during a reception. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could sell $2 bags of chips for $40, get $250 for popping in a cd of elevator music, and charge $5 for cookies or a bottle of water that costs you only 25 cents?

My wife has also planned meetings in other parts of the country where prices are lower than these but still way off the charts. With prices in D.C. as they are, one can only imagine how much U.S. taxpayers squander on government agency meetings. Hotels in D.C. all shift their prices for government employees to match the maximum allowable reimbursable per diem, which currently fluctuates between $169-$226 per night depending on the time of year.

Foreign Service Officers who relocate to D.C. temporarily between assignments have a sliding scale per diem, where they receive the full per diem for the first month and then lesser amounts for subsequent months and many hotels will gladly give them the lower rate after the first month is up if they agree to pay the inflated rate for the first month. It’s all a nasty little scam and the taxpayers are the ones who get screwed.

Hotels claim to offer conference participants and other groups special rates but always double check what’s being offered. Often times you can find a better rate right on the company’s website. But sadly, you can’t go online to get a better price on cookies, bottled water, Wi-Fi and all the other goodies the hotel charges meeting participants through the nose for.

(Photo via Ha-wee on Flickr)