Back in January 2016, we wondered about which hotels still charged for Wi-Fi, particularly since surveys from TripAdvisor and Hotels.com found free Wi-Fi high on the list of amenities that most guests want. More recently, Christopher Elliot, consumer advocate and journalist with a strong focus on travel included free Wi-Fi as the top amenity that guests expect in an article he wrote in USA Today.
Guests may expect free Wi-Fi, but they aren’t always getting it, particularly without hotel brand loyalty. In January 2016, the list of hold-outs ranged from a Motel 6 in Middleburg Heights, Ohio near Cleveland to the Ritz-Carlton New York at Central Park. Each of these hotels had a charge to connect into cyberspace.
A few years later, not much has changed in the “totally free without strings attached” Wi-Fi landscape. In many cases, the path to free Wi-Fi requires becoming a loyalty member of a hotel brand. The Ritz-Carlton New York at Central Park is one of those hotels. So are many of the others affiliated with Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, or other corporate chains.
Your rewards membership to Marriott hotels like the Marriott Cleveland Airport also gets you free basic internet, however, there’s a $5 charge for high speed. Non-rewards members pay $14.95 for basic and $19.95 for high-speed internet.
In general, there are several free WiFi trends at hotels that have become standard. The first is to provide it free to everyone, which is ideal and guest-friendly. The second is to make it free to loyalty program guests, which only requires a free sign-up and furnishing a number at check-in. The last option is like a trick from an evil magician: Wifi is included in the “resort fee,” even when the hotel is not a resort and properties half the price have it included in the rate, as they should.
Since our last look, the Westin Cleveland Downtown still charges for internet use for non-rewards members, but if you book a package like the “Batter Up Package” free Internet use is included along with free valet parking and a complimentary charcuterie board from the hotel’s restaurant Urban Farmer.
Unfortunately, in other cases, Wi-Fi is offered as a bundle with other amenities under the umbrella of “resort fee.” At the Boca Raton Resort and Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, the $35 resort fee gives guests: access to Wi-Fi, welcome drinks, two fitness centers, beach chairs, and beach towel use, golf driving range use, and a Mizner’s Quest Discovery tour. Some of those are add-ons you wouldn’t expect in the rates perhaps, but when WiFi is as essential as hot water to most guests now, it seems like a ruse.
In some tourist locations, such as Las Vegas and St. Petersburg Beach in Florida, the dreaded resort fee has become an epidemic. Nearly every hotel, chain or otherwise, has joined the cartel and decided that WiFi needs to be thrown in with other normally free items (like “gym access”) to justify an extra hand in your pocket. If you can find one of the good ones that bucks the trend, reward them with a reservation!
In general, independent hotels, such as B&Bs and inn, nearly never charge anymore. Neither do most of the budget and mid-range hotel brands, though now there are two tiers of service usually. If you are just checking e-mail, the free WiFi is usually fine at a Holiday Inn Express or Hampton Inn. If you need to transfer huge files or stream Netflix, however, you might have to pony up some extra cash. In most of Latin America, internet access is included unless you’re at a Four Seasons property, one of the last holdouts still trying to milk their guests for extra charges just to connect.
About that Motel 6 in Middleburg Heights, Ohio. Wi-Fi is now free, but if you want a high-speed internet connection, there is a fee.
One of these days we’ll get to a point where WiFi fees and pickpocketing resort fees seem as antiquated as charges for hot water or maid service. Until then, reward the hotels that include it in their rates and avoid the ones asking you to pay extra just to be a part of the modern world.
Post by Jamie Rhein, member of Midwest Journalists Association.