Which Hotels Are Still Charging for Wi-Fi? Which are Free?

After years of relentless pressure from guests and a pounding in guest reviews, most hotels have now stopped the practice of directly charging you for internet access. Few hotels are charging for Wi-Fi via a line items on your bill after waking up to the fact that this service is now as essential and expected as hot water.

They’re still finding ways to soak you for using your devices in their property though, either by charging those who haven’t signed up for the chain’s loyalty program, giving you lousy speeds so you’ll upgrade to “premium Wi-Fi,” or bundling it into a dreaded “resort fee” of some kind that’s just an outright money grab. 

In some cases they’ve loosened up their security along the way too, so you have to be extra diligent to protect yourself, especially if you’re doing online banking or directly inputting your passwords. It’s wise to access some kind of VPN service, accessing a fast USA server from Surfshark, for example, to put another layer of protection between you and the hotel’s open Wi-Fi system.  

hotels with Wi-Fi charges make it difficult to get work done

For years, guests repeatedly listed free Wi-Fi as the number one amenity they looked for in a hotel, whether it was TripAdvisor, Hotels.com, or JD Power and Associates doing the survey. Despite this clear evidence, along with customers complaining every chance they got in reviews, many properties hung onto these fees as long as they could, using them to collect a fee that wasn’t commissionable and to supposedly recoup their investment in equipment. (Though last time I checked, we don’t pay an extra fee when they upgrade their mattresses. The investment is recouped in the rates, as it should be.) 

The higher-priced the hotel, the more likely it was to keep charging you, with Four Seasons and Ritz-Carlton being some of the last holdouts, charging extra as recently as 2023 for some properties.  Now these charges have mostly disappeared, but in name only. They’re now often bundled as something else and could cost you even more. 

Hotel Wi-Fi Fees as Loyalty Incentives

Hilton Garden Inn, Houston, Texas

If you do still run into a hotel Wi-Fi charge somewhere, it will usually be at a higher-end brand of a major chain and it will be directed at guests who have not joined the loyalty program. Even this practice has disappeared at most properties, but if you do run into it, signing up for the likes of Hilton Honors, Fairmont Presidents Club, or Marriott Bonvoy will wipe it from your bill. 

Naturally, hotels do this so they can hit you up with marketing e-mails and try to entice you to stay more often, so if you hate the whole idea of that, use a separate e-mail address where you send commercial newsletters. These programs can really pay off though by racking up points, especially if you get one of their credit cards. You’ll get a big sign-up bonus that’s equivalent to a few nights of free stays. I’ve made out handsomely with ones from IHG and Hilton

One gotcha that you can still run into here and there: the chain hotels will say you don’t have to pay for Wi-Fi if you belong to the loyalty program, but only if you book direct. Customers still sometimes get a nasty surprise if they booked through a third-party site like Expedia. Thankfully this is becoming rare, but pay close attention to the bill when you check out and raise a ruckus if necessary. 

Hotel Junk Fees, Otherwise Known as Resort Fees

In the good ole days before travel companies got addicted to add-on junk fees to pad their bottom line, you stayed at a resort because it had lots of resort amenities. Your room rate may have been high but you got a nice pool, a full gym, tennis courts, bikes to use, maybe some fun activities to join. 

Resorts still offer all these things, but now many of them act like a budget airline trying to charge you for anything beyond the basic service—your bed and bathroom. They charge $30, $50, or more for a “resort fee” that includes items your typical budget hotel has bundled in their rates. Often they’ll still justify this charge for silly items that should be a given like gym access, pool towels, or yes, your Wi-Fi. 

Certain vacation destinations seem like they have colluded in a back room and agreed that they were all going to soak their customers so that none of them sticks out for doing it. Good luck finding a large hotel in Las Vegas that doesn’t add a fee on top of the room rate. At Caesars Palace it’s a hefty $52 per night, times 3,980 rooms. The only major one we’ve experienced is Virgin Hotels Las Vegas, a welcome exception during our stay.

Unfortunately, Virgin is now not so cool after all as they’ve let the accountants with pocket protectors take over. You’ll now pay a $45 resort fee that includes things like “complimentary Wi-Fi.” No, it’s not “complimentary” any more: you’re charging us $45 for it. It’s also laughable that this fee includes “in-room streaming services” that we’re already paying for through our own subscriptions and two bottles of water we could buy at Costco for 25 cents each. 

Among the Clearwater Beach Hotels in Florida, you can count on one hand the resorts that don’t levy an extra fee for items usually included in the rates in the rest of Tampa Bay. 

You’re more likely to run into these at beaches than elsewhere. Check out the resort fee at this Ritz-Carlton in Puerto Rico. It’s $150 per night! 

resort fee at a Ritz-Carlton

Resort Fees by Another Name

The current administration in the USA has declared war on junk fees via the FTC, but so far the industry has fought back hard with their lobbyists and instituted every delay tactic they can think of. So if anything, the problem has gotten worse as consumer advocate Christopher Elliott noted in a recent column

Junk fees — hidden, mandatory extras added to your final bill — have mushroomed in recent months and travelers are crying foul. The government is waging a public war against these annoying extras, but businesses still love hitting their customers with extras because fooling them into paying more is highly profitable.

These fees can go by many names, especially when the hotel charging the fee isn’t anything close to a resort. They’ll sometimes call it an “amenity fee” or something even more creative to disguise the pick-pocketing. 

Sometimes instead of a resort fee they’ll call it a “service charge,” especially at high-end resorts like Four Seasons, Montage, or Rosewood. This can end up being a hefty part of the bill. At the Ritz-Carlton Reserve in Los Cabos, for instance, a $900 room charge will include $135 per night as a service fee. The otherwise lovely Rosewood Mayakoba in the Riviera Maya charges 15% as a service charge, an extra $300 on a $2,000 room.

If you ask about this charge, they’ll probably say it’s for the service staff, not for the amenities, but it seems odd that customers who get a $20,000 tab at the end of their vacation are asked to pay extra for funding staff salaries. To make it more confusing, the restaurant and bar bills will still have space to add a tip on top of this every time you sign! “Don’t I have to pay a service charge anyway?” guests will ask, confused about what to do. 

At least at the Rosewood the fee is disclosed and is already in the bill. When I stayed at the Live Aqua in San Miguel de Allende, some customers were fuming at check0ut because this was added on at the end to a room charge they thought was pre-paid.

Hotel accountants love these fees though. Since these charges are not commissionable, that’s a big chunk of change they don’t have to factor into what they owe a travel agent or booking service. 

How to Avoid Paying for Wi-Fi

resort fees in Las Vegas

Only if you avoid the weekends (from Sahara Las Vegas website)

In an amusing irony, budget hotels are more likely to include every amenity in their room rate that  more expensive ones are, even under the same corporate umbrella. So you’ll rarely run into Wi-Fi charges at the likes of Holiday Inn Express or Hilton Garden Inn, though you may at Intercontinental or Waldorf-Astoria. Watch out for add-ons billed as a “service charge” or “amenity fee,” sometimes buried with the taxes. 

If you need fast Wi-Fi for work or streaming, pay close attention to the reviews on booking sites. Sometimes the free Wi-Fi will be very slow, as I experienced at a hotel recently that only had 1 mbps speeds. To do better, you had to pay $15 a day for premium access. 

The best tactic is to be super-diligent about reading the itemized charges before you book a hotel. If they’re going to charge you if you’re not a loyalty program member, join up so you can surf the web like you’re used to. If Hotel A has a resort fee and Hotel B down the block does not, then vote with your wallet and choose the one with no junk fees. 

If you’re in a city like Las Vegas where it’s difficult to get around these extra charges, you may want to look into alternatives like Vrbo or Airbnb. That was the route I took last time I went to a convention and we ended up with twice as much space, still in a great area. There was one fee add-on, for a cleaning fee, but it was less for the whole stay than a night or two of resort fees at many of the largest properties. 

And the Wi-Fi worked great… 

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