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Hotel Guests Rebel Against Internet Overcharging: Consumers Won’t Pay More No Matter Where They Are

Phillip Dampier September 1, 2009 Editorial & Site News, Internet Overcharging, Recent Headlines 16 Comments

hyatwif In 2007, we took our first major trip away from western New York in 20 years and spent two weeks an hour away from Calgary, Alberta.

After two weeks in Kananaskis Country, Banff, Calgary, and other spots all over southern Alberta, we came away with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly:

The Good

  • Alberta is like Texas, only without the anger: Friendly people everywhere
  • Amazing Canadian Rockies contrasting with vast flat prairies and never-ending views of canola, buckwheat, and other crops
  • The only place that could convince me to purchase and wear a cowboy hat (they are functional after all)

The Bad

  • A Dodge Charger is considered a “small” rental car on Alberta’s vast paved (and frequently unpaved) roadways
  • Calgary’s love of photo radar and red light cameras, which must sustain the city’s revenue base
  • You’re in “pop” country, and you’d better like Pepsi because Coca-Cola is hard to find.  A “can of pop” on a menu means exactly that.  Ask for ice.
  • There are no bumper stickers in Alberta — there are “deckles.”  I contemplated phoning the CBC to find out what a deckle was until I realized they meant “decal.”

The Ugly

  • Internet access in hotels we stayed at was either non-existent, slow, or erratic.

Now before you say vacations should mean a break from the Internet, know that for those of us who spend a lot of free time taking care of websites like this, that is the equivalent of asking someone to take a vacation from electricity.  I don’t do camping.

It turns out my experience is becoming less common, as hotels realize sharing a DSL line among 50+ guests on a Linksys wireless router stuck on a shelf in the lobby is just not going to cut it.  Instead, hotels and motels not only in Canada but across the United States have beefed up their broadband… and discovered they could make a killing by overcharging guests to access it.

Now consumers in growing numbers are deciding the “daily fee” for broadband common on hotel bills, often ranging from $10-15 a day, is a dealbreaker.  They are taking their business elsewhere, even if it means foregoing a luxury hotel to stay in a middle-of-the-road chain with the screaming kids in the pool downstairs, as long as the Internet is free.

USA Today reports that for some consumers, charging any fee for Internet access at a hotel is unacceptable.

Frequent business traveler Randall Blinn refuses to stay at hotels that charge for Internet access.

“It really irritates me that the more expensive hotels charge for Internet access when the inexpensive hotels provide it for free,” says Blinn, a computer consultant in Louisville.

Blinn is one of many travelers disturbed by hotels that charge a daily fee for Internet access. He says he books less-expensive hotels with free Internet access, even if his company will pay for a more expensive hotel that charges for online access.

Some 40 percent of hotel chains in the United States have a daily fee for Internet access.  For the hotels that charge, it’s just another source of revenue, just like charging for in-room telephone calls that consumers learned to avoid by using their cell phones.

For Blinn, who has spent about 50 nights in hotels this year, any charge is unacceptable. If he must stay at a hotel that charges, he says, he leaves the hotel for a fast-food restaurant or a coffee shop that provides free Internet access.

A few weeks ago, Blinn says, he spent a lot of time in the concierge lounge of the Marriott hotel in Salt Lake City, because the hotel was charging for Internet access in rooms but not in the lounge.

Some consumers have found methods to avoid the daily fee, ranging from arguments with hotel personnel demanding that daily fees be waived (one went as far as to turn in all of the personal care items left in his room, which he argued cost more than Internet access did anyway), to strategically choosing to stay adjacent to lobbies or other public areas where free Wi-Fi was available, hoping to jump on the wireless signal from their rooms.  Others bring wireless data plans from their cell phone provider, and use those networks for wireless access, bypassing the hotel altogether.

Some hotels automatically waive fees for their most frequent guests, typically enrolled in premium guest club memberships.  But for people like Blinn, having to pay for Internet access for 10-14 days of hotel stays isn’t worth it to “earn” free Internet.  He simply avoids any hotel that charges for access, and let’s them know why.

Jeff Weinstein, editor in chief of Hotels magazine, a trade publication, suggests that kind of complaining will probably put an end to the “daily Internet access fee.”

“I think the message from consumers about this is getting louder, and you will continue to see more (hotel) brands move toward free access over the next year or two,” he told the newspaper.

Below the jump, learn which hotel chains charge guests for Internet access, and which do not.

Some of the nation’s biggest hotel groups charge guests for Internet service in their rooms. Here, by brand, are the policies¹ and number of U.S. hotels of 40 chains. Some may not equip all rooms with Internet service, or may not charge frequent or higher-paying guests.
Fee No fee
Clarion² 163 Aloft 27
Conrad 3 Andaz 1
Crowne Plaza 159 Ascend Collection³ 22
Doubletree 200 Baymont Inn & Suites 233
Embassy Suites 192 Best Western 2,078
Four Seasons 28 Cambria Suites 14
Gaylord 4 Candlewood Suites 228
Grand Hyatt 11 Comfort Inn 1,461
Hilton² 254 Comfort Suites 576
Hyatt Regency 100 Country Inns & Suites 460
InterContinental 23 Courtyard by Marriott 747
JW Marriott 22 Days Inn 1,681
Kimpton 46 Econo Lodge 796
Le Meridien 10 Element 4
Marriott 327 Fairfield Inn 589
Morgans 10 Four Points by Sheraton 95
Motel 6² 948 Hampton Inn 1,640
Novotel 1 Hawthorn Suites 87
Omni 36 Hilton Garden Inn 431
Park Hyatt 4 Holiday Inn Express 1,690
Red Roof² 344 Holiday Inn 758
Renaissance 77 Homewood Suites 263
Ritz-Carlton 60 Hotel Indigo 23
Sheraton 203 Howard Johnson 348
Sofitel 9 Hyatt Summerfield Suites 30
Hyatt Place 138
St. Regis 8 Knights Inn 299
Studio 6 51 La Quinta 738
The Luxury Collection 14 Luxe Worldwide³ 56
W 25 MainStay Suites 37
Waldorf Astoria Collection 13 Microtel Inns & Suites 299
Westin 111 Quality Inn 942
Radisson 141
Ramada 547
Red Lion 45
Residence Inn 567
Rodeway Inn³ 362
Shilo Inns 52
Sleep Inn 386
Sonesta Collection³ 3
SpringHill Suites 226
Staybridge Suites 154
Suburban Extended Stay 64
Super 8 1,889
TownePlace Suites 173
Travelodge 365
Wingate by Wyndham 161
Wyndham Hotels and Resorts³ 59
1 = fee may also provide guests with other services; 2 = no charge at some hotels; 3 = some hotels charge (one in Sonesta chain charges)
Source: Compiled by USA TODAY from information provided by hotels

Currently there are 16 comments on this Article:

  1. KP says:

    I recently stayed at the Hampton Manhattan Times Square North, which I picked for location, price, free breakfast and free internet. In the end, I didn’t take the laptop but it turned out I was able to access the internet at a couple of free terminals near the breakfast room (excellent for short-term access like checking e-mail but don’t expect to spend more time than you would in a phone booth because you can’t sit down). If you’re thinking of staying in NY City this place is excellent value. It’s interesting that different brands of the same parent company have different internet charging policies, eg, Hilton & Doubletree charge but Hampton doesn’t.

  2. Brion says:

    It may not seem like a big deal to the hotels, but for frequent travelers those hotels can lose a fair amount of business just because of a simple stupid policy that probably doesn’t “net” them all that much more money.

    If I were to stay at a hotel that charged for wi-fi access (and I actually wanted to use it), I would probably tell them at the end of my stay that I won’t be returning because of their policy, petty though it may seem.

    Hotels (unlike motels) are about services and convenience. Many services are free (such as complimentary shampoos, towel service, turn down service, and often a continental breakfast) so why would something as innocuous as Internet access incur a fee? One answer is probably the argument that their ISP access is expensive (and as we all know in some places it may very well be), but being a hotel and not an ISP they could simply throttle connection speeds and/or put daily usage limits on it if ISP cost was their concern. You’d still probably lose the business customers with degraded service but you might not lose the tourists.

    In all, it may be worth considering a trade — turn in your complimentary soap and shampoo for free Internet access. In that way you can choose what’s more important to you. Of course, if you want to be considered a premier hotel you’d simply offer both for free and maybe charge a very slightly higher price for the rooms.

    Seems as silly and arbitrary as a recent trend in coffee shops shutting off their free wi-fi (mostly due to people who sit there for hours with naught but a cup of coffee hammering away at a laptop).

    Let me be clear…I’m not advocating caps of any sort. If access cost is the problem for hotels then it comes back to ISPs likely overcharging for access. If access fees were lower it would foster more adoption and encourage more use by hotels.

  3. Tim says:

    Seems like every time I stay in a hotel, they want you to pay for internet access. I stayed at one that wanted $10/day! I said no thanks!

  4. Smith6612 says:

    This article does bring up a few comments that I have myself.

    1: My last trip to Canada, I was staying in a Hotel. They provided everyone with free Wi-Fi, however the Wi-Fi was running off of Linksys routers (one per every 3 rooms), had a lack of DHCP space every night which meant everyone had to get on as soon as possible or leave their PCs on to get an IP address, and the entire place was running off of a single Bell T1 line, which meant that despite fighting for DHCP space on the network, we were fighting for bandwidth that was sometimes slower than an ISDN line. If you wanted bandwidth, you’d have to use it in the morning/afternoon or let things run past 11PM where the bandwidth started to free up. I could tell it wasn’t my wireless/wired signal as I would ping sub 1ms latency inside of their network, but as soon as I hit the Bell T1 gateway, latency was at 500+ms.

    2: Twice a year I’ll take a vacation to Pennsylvania at a mountain resort. In the past, the resort had free Wi-Fi in the main lobby and in the shops of the building, and outside by the pool and in the parking lot. In the Hotel rooms, they had paid Wi-Fi which was $5 a day. They had their Wi-Fi network well maintained, with plenty of DHCP space, however they had a single T1 line as well as a Verizon 3Mbps/768kbps DSL line running. This caused two problems. Despite the DSL line usually being free, the remote it was coming out of was always saturated despite me testing 2200kbps/384kbps on that line (someone is limiting my upload? I got the same upload speed on the T1). The T1 was usually the one being used a lot, however on many days both of these lines would be maxed, and the gateway between the T1 and the DSL would be overloaded all the time (I’d be pinging inconsistent 1ms-500ms latency to it). Not to mention, the fact that they had two connections with a different IP address, whenever their Dual WAN router switched the connection I was on, it would break some of my applications which only allow a single IP address to be logged in at one time. Every time this happened, and it would happen frequently at night, I would get moved onto another connection and I’d be forced to log back into the service I was using, sometimes having to try 4 times to log in until I finally get placed onto a connection for a few minutes, just to log in again. During the summer time, the place removed their T1 and DSL line from the free Wi-Fi service, and instead installed a 10Mbps/???Mbps DOCSIS 3.0 Cable connection (I tested 6Mbps upload on an NDT test with their cable modem once via Free Wi-Fi, that was when not many people were online during the middle of a busy day D:), and gosh what a difference one cable modem made. I no longer saw slowdowns, latency was great and I didn’t have an issue with swapping IP addresses. However, despite them having this fast of a cable connection and with a super expensive T1 out of the question, they were still charging the same price in the Hotel for Wi-Fi which was ridiculous, and in some rooms you couldn’t get reliable signal. I used only the Free Wi-Fi there, and gosh is it wonderful. No disconnects, if an access point goes down, there was always another one in range for my laptop to instantly roll over to with no interruption of my service, and yeah. It was just the way their connection was set up and their paid Wi-Fi prices is what is annoying (I won’t pay for Wi-Fi anyways unless you give me a T3/fiber optic line and it’s for a few dollars a month). Besides, the place is using Linksys routers and they have the antennas set up so they get the max possible range, with each access point running on either Channel 1, 6, or 11, unlike many places with adjust the antennas so the signal is shotty in most places and/or use the same channels for each access point.

    3: At a local place I help out at a lot, I had given them a 6 year old Linksys router which I set up for them to put their unused DSL connection to good use. I manage the network, and the place has found good uses for the free Wi-Fi in the building as for the router, and people appreciate the free Wi-Fi. I do have to restart their DSL modem from time to time due to the poor phone line (which I’ll fix up for them soon so they can get 5Mbps service instead of the 1.5Mbps service which they have right now) but things are rock solid. I have the router set up in such a way so that someone hammering the upload won’t slow down browsing or downloading, and there’s more than enough IP room. 6 year old Linksys BEF11S4v4 and it works like a charm.

    4: At a local theme park I visit a few times during the year called Darien Lake Theme Park Resort (I’m sure some WNY people here know of the park), they have a hotel there with Free Wi-Fi running off of a Frontier 3Mbps DSL connection. That is one thing I appreciate and the DSL service there is fast, however it isn’t in the hotel rooms so I have to use it in the lobby. I did get word though that they want to install Wi-Fi in every room, so if they did do that, I would love to see that happen then. Just as long as they don’t charge for it, I’m perfectly happy with just using it in the lobby for the moment.

    5: When I head up to Frankenmuth, MI for the summer music festival, I’ll typically stay in a campground which offers Wi-Fi. They have a single router and 4 hi-gain antennas set up throughout the park which give excellent signal. Before in the past they would charge only a few dollars for Wi-Fi which would last for your entire stay. Since then they’ve moved the Wi-Fi to entirely free, all you have to do is walk in, ask for a username and password and they’ll let you on for your stay. They are using a 1Mbps/384kbps DSL connection with a static IP though, so of course they were making some profit off of the Wi-Fi at the time. But aside from the occasional day where the DHCP server will crap out or the DSL line getting saturated, it runs pretty good.

    Honestly, all these hotels really need is a decent 5Mbps/1Mbps Internet connection, at least a maintained network and a router or two with a bunch of very high gain antennas plugged into it and they can very easilly provide free Wi-Fi with minimal cost.

  5. MMiller says:

    Howdy! Not everyone in Texas is “angry”! We may have a different way of doing things out here, but I don’t know very many people that express a lot of anger, in fact a whole bunch more will go out of their way to help. (The media tends to highlight the more angry folk but it really is rare.) And don’t forget we are in this fight with you, don’t put us down!

    Back to topic: When I was in San Francisco a few months ago, I think I remember the hotel I stayed at charging around $10 a day for internet service. I didn’t pay it and it was kind of nice being offline for a few days.

    The hotel my wife used to work for in downtown San Antonio, one of the Marriots, offered free wi-fi, but you had to know to ask for the username/password.

    • Michael Chaney says:

      I would classify us Texans and more feisty than angry. We’re polite and chivalrous, but we don’t take to kindly to being pushed around. ;)

  6. Tim says:

    Holy cow, you are from Texas? Only steers and …. are from Texas… :-) Just joking, gotta love Full Metal Jacket and the Gunny, lol.

    People from the South are very nice and courteous for the most part. Northerners, well, it is hard to tell especially in the cities. :-)

  7. Uncle Ken says:

    “Besides, you guys got summer this year and we didn’t, so you owe us.”
    You flipped? I don’t call massive 100 degree days in a row as summer or
    nice. I have been to Texas more times then Phil can count and the people
    are very nice…So are their beef steaks. It just don’t get any better! Phil look
    at your calendar…. 90 days or less we can have 3 feet of snow on the
    ground. :-)

    • Smith6612 says:

      What’s wrong with snow? :D Sure it’s a pain to drive in and shovel (yes I don’t use a snow blower/plowing service), I find it relaxing when it isn’t windy like it is 90% of the time here during the winter. I wonder how many wind storms I’ll get here this year, and how many times the lights will start to flicker as well. The blizzard that came through last year was nasty besides nearly knocking out power. Fall and Winter are the windy seasons here. Spring and summer are generally quite calm and normally steaming hot, though this summer was a flop that also had a rare sighting in my area of a few tornadoes. The summer of 2003 I believe was one of the driest and warmest summers I can remember.

  8. Uncle Ken says:

    Mr. Smith nothing wrong with some winter. Our growing season will be
    over in less then 30 days. This year it was a joke….That weird mold we
    get from time to time. Nuked the tomatoes, cucumbers, and potatoes.
    Storms we had plenty of wind. I just thought I would remind Phil just
    how close winter is. He loves walking in cold slush. His idea of summer
    and mine differ somewhat but it is all fun

    • Smith6612 says:

      Heh, speaking of mold I did have a bit of food spoil due to the humidity (a few weeks ago the humidity got to my refrigerator. I had to use a mini fridge and a 16 year old freezer in my garage with tons of ice to save my food). When that happened I wound up setting my programmable thermostat keep the air conditioner running for most of the day, cooling the house to 72-74 degrees. Sure, the electric bill did go up a little bit, but doing that did repair my refrigerator from the iced up coils in the freezer (A/C kept the humidity down for it), I slept a lot better and I didn’t have any food spoiling from the high humidity.

      But not to mention, our plants outside did take a beating from the cold and lack of rain. Our hanging plants were doing great during the end of June, and around mid-July they started to die out. They just started coming back again since the weather is warming up enough. But yeah, this summer was a dud. I barely used our pool here.

  9. Uncle Ken says:

    Mr. Smith I just thought I would to try to lighten things up
    a bit. The ISP’s said fall and they meant it. These people
    are going to do it and nobody is going to stop them.

    • Smith6612 says:

      Can you refresh me on what this is again? Is this about the Time Warner caps that they’re working on or is this something else?

  10. Uncle Ken says:

    Mr. Smith my fault. I had to say something a little on topic so phil does not get mad.
    The ISP”S said they would do the cap and tier in the fall and it is now fall.
    They found out meters are not and were never needed and actually a mistake.
    TOS= We can change anything we want anytime we want to.

    • Smith6612 says:

      Just what I thought. Of course a lot of companies love to hide behind their “wall of text” that I’m sure hardly anyone reads as it contains the same language to get changes done. I’m personally starting to hate such a practice considering how overused it is now. Personally, I believe that people will be more likely to read the TOS as well as follow it if they remove 90% of what is in there (the legal crap) and make it more straight forward and direct to the users. Heck I actually use a TOS analyzing program to pick out those parts I’m talking about to read the TOS. It does a great job paraphrasing and editing the TOS of all of the usual legal language and giving me what I want immediately. Of course, if ISPs want to implement caps again, I’m sure they will get the same treatment they got back in the spring time.

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