The real madness in hotel Internet fees

by Janice Hough on August 10, 2012


This isn’t the first, nor will it be the last, post about hotel WiFi and other Internet fees. Like most travelers, I hate paying for Internet on the road.

It’s especially annoying when almost any budget hotel will throw in free Internet, while the nicer properties can and do sometimes charge ridiculous rates — as much as $10 an hour in my experience, although the daily rates are less.

Fairmont hotels give free Internet to members of their frequent guest programs, which anyone can join. Omni and Kimpton Hotels have free Internet for everyone.

Some independent deluxe hotels will not charge for getting online as well (Red Carnation Hotels in London, the San Regis in Paris, the Villa Magna in Madrid and Peninsula Hotels, for example). But, the big chains — Westin, Marriott, Hyatt, Sheraton, etc. — still charge, with few exceptions.

Putting as positive a spin on it as possible, I understand hotels need to make money somewhere and the lucrative in-room telephone business is just about gone, as even children have their own cellphones. So I complain, but I should be resigned to paying an access fee.

Many hotels offer both free access and paid access — free WiFi in the lobby and public areas and they charge for it in the rooms.

Many business travelers travel with their own portable WiFi access. Plus, many who don’t can at least expense the cost to their companies.

There is no rhyme or reason. It’s maddening.

However, there’s one charge I have a very hard time accepting from hotels — a WiFi charge PER device. Many solo travelers have more than one device — a business laptop, a tablet and a smartphone.

One family I sent on vacation last year told me they had seven devices between them. While that may be overkill, it’s reasonable to assume one per person. That means a family of four signing onto the Internet on WiFi networks that cost per connection can easily spend $100 a day on Internet.

Personally, my husband has a portable WiFi access device our family can use when together, and when I travel with my son or a friend in those situations we usually end up sharing my computer to limit our connections. But it’s a silly rule.

If it were just a matter of not overloading and thus slowing the system, I could understand if a hotel put in a “one device per person” rule. But as is, the separate charges are about one thing: money.

Hotels are always looking for an edge in marketing. At one point it was beds, at another point high tech showers. Which chain wants to step forward and introduce, if not free Internet, some sanity into WiFi pricing?

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  • Rajul

    I totally agree with you about the short-sightedness of imposing internet charges on guests, particularly in 4 or 5 star hotels. Over on my London Hotels Insight blog we’ve been naming and shaming some of the culprits with the highest internet fees, almost always 5 star hotels (and guess what, they never bother mentioning it on their websites before you book!). We’ve also found that it’s the free WiFi luxury hotels that tend on average to get better guest reviews as this recent analysis shows:
    http://londonhotelsinsight.com/2012/07/25/top-10-most-expensive-london-hotels-are-they-worth-it/
    Let’s hope that the big brands and expensive 5 star hotels that engage in this practice eventually see sense!

  • mapsmith

    I wonder if the reason for the “better hotels” like Westin, Marriot, Sheratons, Hiltons, and Hyatts charge while Ramada, Choice, Best Western don’t might just be that the “lower Level’ are Vacationers while the Better ones deal mostly with Business travelers? And Business Travelers probably have more devices and take a much bigger bandwidth than vacationers.

  • karlakatz

    The Hilton in Mesa, AZ, charges 10.95 per day, per device, per room, AND per location in the hotel. I opted for just 1 device (laptop), and 1 location (my room). With unlimited data on my iPhone I was able to utilize 4G service, and still have access to the ‘net elsewhere in the hotel (albeit, reading a smaller screen, and typing with thumbs). This is borderline outrageous, and I very politely handed them my loyalty card upon departure; “Nice hotel, but I won’t be returning to this property”.

  • Tom Adkinson

    I recall a conversation with the manager of a luxury hotel in Tampa. His expression fell when I told him my issue was about in-room Internet fees.

    He said he had been beaten up multiple times over the issue, agreed with me and pleaded that I be adamant on my comment card and complain to the chain’s corporate offices.

    “One day, one of my competitors will knuckle under to the justified criticism. The day after, the other chains will follow suit for competitive reasons,” he said.

    That’s why I always make an issue of it — politely — at every stay where a fee is imposed. I seldom pay the fee, by the way. I’ll find a way to avoid it, and I’ll let the hotelier know that not only did he miss out on my revenue, he also earned my enmity.

  • Tom

    Since there are numerous hotels which do not charge fro WiFi, we have put a policy in place at our company that Internet service charges are the employee’s responsibility. This envourages them to select hotels where WiFi is avaialble at no additional charge. If the company also saves money because the hotel itself is less expnsive, then that is an added bonus.
    Once hoteliers realise that this is costing them far more money in loss room rental (which is supposedly the business they are actually in) as well as associated food & beverage revenue than they are making in WiFi charges, I suspect we will see the fees go away in most properties.
    Encourage them!! Do not patronize hotels that charge for WiFi.

  • http://profiles.google.com/saucywench S E Tammela

    The best reaction? Review, review, review. TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, Google+, the works. Express your horror at the disgusting charge for the wi-fi at XYZ Hotel. People read those reviews, but until the wi-fi charges start to hurt their business, why should they stop doing it?

  • Anonymous

    That’s great that you’re able to implement such a policy at your company. The problem is, if you work at a mega corporation like me, you’re effectively limited to staying at whatever hotels are deemed “preferred” by the front office because they have contracts with them, which are usually the big semi-luxury chains that charge the highest internet fees. I think you have a good idea, but I suspect it would be easier in theory than in practice.

  • Anonymous

    I agree that the “per device” fees are silly, though I suspect some properties do this to discourage excessive usage, which then makes the WiFi dead slow for everybody. But at the same time, I think some of the calls for “free” WiFi are over the top, essentially equating internet access to “basic needs” like water or electricity. Hate to break it to you, but you aren’t going to die if you can’t tweet about how great the toilet is in your room at the Ritz for a few days. Enjoy your vacation for a change and disconnect for a couple of days. It’ll be the best $21.90 you ever saved.

  • Frank

    really???…..another article about paying for Wifi in a hotel. Overplayed.

  • Jim

    My phone is a mobile Hotspot. I connect my phone to my tablet and have free wi-fi where ever I am and can get phone service. Just remember that it wears down the battery quicker so make sure you keep your phone charged.

  • Matthew in NYC

    There is a wonderful application called Connectify (search for it). It enables you to turn your laptop into a hotspot using said paid connection. There is a lite version for free and a souped up version for sale. I downloaded it after connecting using the wired connection in my room and discovering I would have to pay for each device. I then searched “how can I turn my laptop into a hotspot” and downloaded Connectify.

    On my two most recent hotel stays, I paid for internet but was able to connect my laptop, two iPhones, one Blackberry and an iPad to the fast connection, which meant we could access e-mail and the internet wirelessly without racking up roaming charges. I tend to bite the bullet and pay for my internet rather than trying to share the limited connectivity available on the free wifi in the lobby, where anyone can be looking at your data if they have the right tools. On my recent stay for 7 days in Aruba, I was charged $70 for the week, it relieved me of spending my life waiting for mail to download in the open air lobby with all the other guests trying to access free wifi.
    Hotels charge because they can, the infrastructure isn’t free and nobody is paying for phone calls anymore.

  • North Texas

    Try the ZyXEL MWR102 – Portable Travel USB Powered
    Wireless Router. One of the best $35 investments I have ever made and I found the recommendation in an article (Ned Levi?) on this very site.

  • janice

    Frank, thanks for your opinion as always, my point is a smaller one though – okay, fine, if they have to charge, let them charge. I think the per device fee though is outrageous. Could even see a cap – you don’t want 10 people charging their internet to one room but an internet fee should cover one device per person in the room, IMHO.

  • DCTA

    Didn’t we have this conversation about hotel phone use fees for years and years and years? It’s the same discussion. The hotels are looking for another revenue stream – they’ve lost that revenue stream from phones and now they are using the internet for that revenue. I don’t think we have a right to free wifi (or phone for that matter) but I do think it should be disclosed at the point of reservation, not at check in.

  • http://astro.dur.ac.uk/~gelbord/ Jonathan_G

    FYI, if you travel with a Mac laptop, you don’t even need any extra software. For years, Macs have had the ability to connect to the internet over one port and share this over another (ethernet, WiFi, BlueTooth, etc). Thus, if you make use of a wired internet connection in a hotel room, you can then use your laptop as a WiFi hub for any other devices you have. To do this, explore the options in the Sharing panel of System Preferences (note that one of your options is to configure the ad hoc wireless network to require a password, helping to keep your machine secure…)

    I don’t know if there’s anything similar on Apple’s iOS devices (iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch).

    As for the hotel WiFi fees, what galls me is that three days of access at a hotel could cost as much as a month of high-bandwidth access at home. It’s no small wonder that my employer refuses to pay these fees.

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  • TM

    Your iphone has 4G? What decade are you from?

  • HI Innkeeper

    Until technology allows one wifi signal to be shared by all devices in the same room, this is the only way to limit the available bandwidth for other guests.

    Some guests think nothing of downloading entire movies onto their devices for the flight home, hogging the bandwidth that is shared among all other guests.

  • http://emaxhotelmarketing.com/search-engine-optimization.php Hotel SEO Florida

    The service given by hotels is different for different guest.

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