What is the Early Departure Fee Clause in my Wedding Room Block Contract?

The early departure fee clause  is commonly found in most Wedding, Youth Sports, or Family Reunion room block hotel contracts.

The language and terms of the clause will vary by hotel and but the objective is the same.  
The clause allows the hotel to charge a fee to any of your guests who check out prior to their scheduled departure date.
The terms of what constitutes an early departure, as well as the cost will be outlined in the clause.   
Simply stated if any of your guests check out early, then the hotel can charge them a fee.

Why do hotels include this clause?
Hotels include the clause in order to offset lost revenue from a guest not staying over, as well as the opportunity cost of not being able to resell the guest room once it has been cancelled.

Why is this important, can you give me an example?
After a night of enjoying your wedding reception, your great Aunt decides that she wants to sleep in her own bed.  
Instead of staying at the hotel, she checks out early and drives home.  
If the contract or Letter of Intent contains an early departure fee clause then your Aunt will most likely be charged a fee.
The fee is typically charged to the credit card used to make the reservation or the credit card provided by the guest at check in. 
While most hotels will inform guests of the fee upon early check out, it  is not always clearly communicated.
This can be a source of frustration for your guests when the charge shows up on the their credit card a few days later.

Can I negotiate this clause out of the contract?
Having the clause removed from the contract will depend on many variables.
However, the one factor that will heavily influence the hotels decision is projected occupancy levels.
If a hotel is projecting high occupancy levels over the nights of your wedding room block then a cancelled room represents a risk of lost revenue.

Consequently they will be less likely to strike the clause from the contract.
If however a hotels forecast occupancy is projected to be low, then the opportunity cost is much lower and they might be willing to strike it from the contract.

Negotiation Strategy
If you find the hotel sales manager is unwilling to remove the clause, then suggesting a modification to the clause such as a reduced fee might be a better solution.

Basing the modification on a measurable outcome such as occupancy level will offer the best chance of success. 
The modifications can be made to the clause directly or outlined in the contract concessions.  
Two examples of a possible modifications or  concessions are listed below. 
- Hotel will not charge early departure fees for any night where occupancy falls below 75%. 
- Hotel agrees that the early departure fee will not exceed $25.00.  Negotiate the amount based on standard fee. 

Final Thoughts
Early departure fees are common in most contracts or LOI's, but should not deter you from reaching an agreement with a hotel. 

It is however worth taking the time to review and understand the details.  If you don't feel comfortable with the terms then you shouldn't sign the contract.