Hotel WiFi is the 21st century’s hospitality equivalent of hot water. It should be reliable, always-on, and included in the rates. Just as we would balk at paying a surcharge for hot water in our $200 hotel, we should collectively balk at shelling out extra for an element of our stay that is now so standard.
This has become easier over time as hotel guests’ most-hated extra fee has disappeared or gotten scaled back. As survey after survey points this out and millionaire business owners skip hotels with these fees as a matter of principle, hotel owners are finally ceding to the pressure and realizing these fees are hurting their bottom line more than they’re helping. Even beyond brand equity and TripAdvisor sentiment, it’s costing them bookings. Earlier this year, Loews Hotels was the latest to say they’re completely scrapping the practice of charging for
hot water Wi-Fi.
If you want to join me in refusing to pay even one Wi-Fi line item on your hotel bill in 2015, here are the strategies you can employ.
Book at independent hotels.
If there’s one general rule of thumb you can apply across the board, it’s that expensive chain hotels charge for internet accesss, while even the priciest independent ones do not. In a decade of travel in Latin America, for instance, I haven’t run into one non-chain hotel that charged for it. These hotels are generally better in tune with what matters to their guests and they’ve heard loud and clear that this matters a lot. From Irish Bed & Breakfasts to guesthouses in Bali, it’s rare you’ll see a charge at these places and if you do, you can almost always get it removed before booking or on the spot.
Get a loyalty card.
One way chain hotels that do still charge for internet access have appeased their best customers is to give the ones with a loyalty club membership an “always free” pass. Fairmont Hotels was one of the first to do this: show your card at check-in and you get a complimentary access code. Marriott recently followed, saying you won’t pay if you book direct with them. The huge Intercontinental Hotels Group annouced that they will soon apply this across the board. It’s free to join these programs, so a few minutes of your time to sign up will set you up right, plus you’ll earn some points you can turn into a free night’s stay later. Win-win all around.
Starwood has long been a real Scrooge, only offering it free if you’re a Platinum member of their loyalty program which requires 50 room nights a year to be booked. (For those keeping score, that’s roughly one night out of every single week…) But they’ve bowed to the pressure and will give up the fees soon if you’re a loyalty member and if you book direct through their website.
Eventually you probably won’t even need to do that. Hyatt is saying anyone and everyone, including those who didn’t book direct through their website, will have Wi-Fi included in their rates starting in February.
Stay at a Cheaper Hotel
One of the great ironies that drives travelers crazy is the more expensive the hotel, the more things they’re going to try to add onto your bill. Except for a few enlightened hotel brands like Kimpton, Habita, Secrets, Joie De Vivre Hotels, and (recently) Taj Hotels, luxury and “included” don’t go hand-in-hand at corporate chains.
Take it down a notch or two though and you’ll get a lot more for your nightly rate. This starts with most of the cheapest motel chains but extends up to good mid-range and extended stay brands. You’ll usually get reamed at JW Marriott and Ritz-Carlton, but not Courtyard or Springhill Suites. You’ll pay out the nose at Starwood Luxury Collection, W, and St. Regis properties, but not at Starwood’s Aloft, Element or Four Points brands. Blame it on the business travelers who never see the bill and therefore don’t complain. If you’re not one of them, downgrade your chain hotel room so you can upgrade your amenities.
Carry your own signal.
I have a T-Mobile pre-paid USB stick that I can use to access the internet from any place with a cell signal, which includes that chain hotel wanting to charge me $20 a night just to check my e-mail. With the USB stick, 20 bucks gets me two or three weeks of data instead of one night. There are other options from other carriers, including some that can be used internationally. If you’re techie enough you can also tether your phone, or just plain use your phone’s data plan to reply to e-mails instead of pulling out the laptop.
There has long been anecdotal evidence that hotels were blocking signals to these devices in order to keep reaming their guests, but now that Marriott has been fined $600,000 for doing this at Gaylord properties it manages, that should sufficiently spook others from following this shady practice.
Leave the hotel.
If you’re stuck at a backward-thinking hotel because of a convention or you got a great deal on Hotwire, put on your walking shoes. With everyone from McDonald’s to Starbucks to Panera Bread offering free Wi-Fi (plus about every independent coffee shop or bar these days), you can probably just stroll out the door and get connected. Take the money the hotel wanted from you and spend it on a nice lunch instead while you get your work done. The prices will be lower on the food and drinks probably and you’re rewarding good business behavior instead of bad.
Got another strategy you will employ for avoiding connection fees at hotels? Share it in the comments!