Shouldn’t Internet access be free at all hotels?

Courtesy Dell Computer

Why is it that economy hotels have free in-room Internet access and luxury hotels charge for the service and, at some, limit its use?

On my last visit to Paris, I decided to stay at a Charles de Gaulle Airport hotel for the last night because of a very early morning flight the next day. As if it wasn’t bad enough that they were charging 25 Euros ($34) per day for Internet, I learned when I logged into their network with my laptop that I was limited to connecting just three devices for my wife and myself during each 24-hour day.

I’m typical of today’s “connected” business travelers. I travel with a laptop for work, a tablet for entertainment and a smartphone for communication. Many business travelers have two smartphones, one for business and the other for personal use. That would be over the limit at my Paris airport hotel. My wife and I were over the limit, as she had her own tablet and smartphone.

The hotel pointed out that in their lobby WiFi was free. To me, that was barely different than when in San Francisco a few years ago I complained to the hotel clerk about the daily Internet charge, and the clerk told me I could get free WiFi down the block at McDonald’s.

The issue of Internet charges and limitations are world-wide. For example, in Los Angeles, where I travel frequently, if I stay at the Hilton at Los Angeles International Airport, room Internet access costs $12.95 per day, but 15 minutes down the road at the Hampton Inn, a Hilton brand, a clean, comfortable room there has free Internet.

Years ago it made sense to charge hotel guests for Internet access. It required wires in the walls, patch cables, tech service for guests, expensive hardware, and it always seemed to break down. Plus, years ago, not many travelers used the Internet while traveling, so it was hard to justify charging everyone for it via the room rate.

Today, Internet use is ubiquitous. Just about every traveler is using it regardless of age or whether traveling for leisure or business. Its cost to hotels has dropped. Wiring to each room is no longer necessary; the equipment is far less expensive, and tech support and service is rarely needed.

It doesn’t make sense to me, as a traveler, to charge separately for Internet anymore. It should be part of the room rate, like towels or TV use. If a luxury hotel like the Waldorf raised their room rate $20 to $420 to eliminate their $20/day Internet charge, I doubt many would notice the higher room rate, but I’m sure they would notice that the irritating “nickel and dime” charge for the Internet was eliminated.

Quick tip: If you’re upset with the Internet charge in your hotel, complain, and if you belong to the hotel’s loyalty program, like Hilton Honors, make sure they know it when you ask them to waive the fee. It worked for me in Paris.

Should all hotels provide free in-room Internet access for guests?

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  • Bill___A

    I think when it is something that just about everyone will use, such as internet, it should be included in the room. Certainly we have reached the point where it is reasonable to embed internet access into the room rate, the same way that basic TV, toilets, and the like are embedded with it.
    In answer to your issue about number of devices, carry a travel router. The Netgear Trek is one that has easy to use software and will likely solve your problem.

  • John Baker

    And I normally get free breakfast at lower end hotels but breakfast costs about the same as a nice dinner at high-end hotels. Somehow, I don’t think those that normally frequent the Ritz are going to choose a HI Express for the free wi-fi and breakfast.

  • KarenFawcett

    It irritates the hell out of me when there isn’t free WiFi – and sometimes there isn’t in (some) places I want to stay. But, when given a choice of comparable hotels, one with WiFi and the other not, I will book the one that offers connectivity.

  • mehunt

    I’m 64 and can remember family vacations in the late 50’s and the early 60’s when it was pay TV in motels (mom & pop and Holiday Inn ) – put a quarter in the machine for I can’t remember how much time. That was pretty well gone by the mid to late 60’s.

  • mike313

    When hotels try to charge me for internet usage, I ask for the manager and challenge the logic for the charge by asking what is the difference between providing internet access and providing water for showers and electricity for lights. By pointing out the absurd illogicality of providing water and electricity for free, while charging for internet, I usually win my case and the charges are dropped.

  • B4988

    I find it interesting to hear so much “whining” about the cost of the internet in hotels and so little about all the airline fees! I’m sorry, but what family does not need seat assignments? or at least 1 free checked bag? it would make boarding easier and eliminate a lot of the overstuffed carry-ons.

  • NedLevi

    A travel router is a great idea and I take one to turn wired connections to wireless. In this case, it didn’t help due to the hotel’s methodology for logins. Fortunately, the hotel management listened to my complaint and allowed me access to all devices for my wife and myself.

  • NedLevi

    Likely not, but John, should they have free Internet too? If you’re paying $400/night for a room, shouldn’t Internet come with it.

  • NedLevi

    For the most part, me too Karen.

  • NedLevi

    I remember those times @mehunt. I remember the vibrating beds too. Those beds, ugh. Times have certainly changed since those simpler days.

  • NedLevi

    B4988, I don’t think we’re whining about the Internet fees charged in hotels at all. I’m certainly challenging the notion that it’s okay to charge for it at luxury hotels while almost universally it’s free and less expensive hotels, and challenging the idea that its necessitated by only some travelers using the service. That latter issue may have had validity years ago, but no longer. Considering most everyone uses the Internet in the hotels these days, I look at providing the service as no different than providing towels, other linens, and free TV.

    As to planes, I’ve complained about them in columns many times. I don’t like them, but this column is about hotels. At some point in the future, a column about airline fees may once again come out of my computer.

  • John Baker

    Ned … my point is that none of the higher end hotels seem to offer it. If it was that big of a selling point, don’t you think they would? Just like the free breakfast at HI Express. Their residents don’t care about it so they don’t offer it.

  • Ann Marie Morrison

    I’ve come across hotels that charge for parking!! $20 a day if you are a guest at the hotel plus charged $15 a day for internet. Needless to day, we did not use the internet and street parking was nearly impossible in downtown Baltimore so we had no choice but pay for parking. Never stayed there again.

  • pauletteb

    I think the reasoning is that higher-priced hotels appeal more to wealthy travelers who don’t care and business travelers whose companies will absorb the extra cost. But with most companies looking for ways to cut costs, I’m not sure that “reasoning” is still reasonable.

  • bodega3

    I honestly don’t care if a hotel has internet or not. But in selling travel, I have to look for hotels that offer it and I usually book Best Westerns or Hampton Inns for those needing a connection. Ned, you and I have had the conversation before about your addictions to electronics. Looks like it has increased ;-)

  • MeanMeosh

    Ned, the issue here is that at higher-end hotels, there is a very different dynamic at work than at low-and-mid tier hotels. First, many of the people who stay at Hiltons are business travelers, the majority of whom aren’t going to care about the extra charge since they’re going to expense it anyway. That’s assuming their company doesn’t have a corporate contract where WiFi is included in the rate, as with my former employer, or that they don’t have high enough status to get complimentary WiFi. Second, to your point about the hotel with the $400/night rate, to John’s point, my guess is the extra $15 isn’t going to bother them. Granted, it stinks if you’re self-employed or otherwise responsible for your own expenses. On the other hand, an extra $10 or $15 is a huge deal at the Comfort Inns I stop at in small towns on my road trips, where the room rate might be $60-70 a night and the clientele is likely more budget-conscious. I guess this is a long way of saying that the hotels that charge $10+ a night for internet do it for the same reason my late dog used to lick a certain part of its anatomy – because they can.

  • NedLevi

    Actually, it’s more than an irritant to not offer free WIFI based Internet than having it is a selling point. At least one hotel chain has picked that up via complaints, guest reviews, etc. Earlier this year, Loews Hotels & Resorts began to offer free Wi-Fi at all 18 of its hotels, including the ones in Hollywood, Santa Monica and San Diego. I’ve spoken to some Loews managers who are on the front line and speak to guests regularly. They tell me their guests have gone out of the way to speak to them to tell them how pleased they were that the brand offers free WIFI now, and tell them how much pay for WIFI in the rooms irritated them in the past. So managers noted some regulars who opted to stay elsewhere due to the cost of WIFI are back with them.

  • NedLevi

    I agree, and I believe it’s getting less and less reasonable.

  • NedLevi

    Naw B., it’s about the same. Being able to maintain communication for business especially, and also for family is very important.

  • NedLevi

    I think it does matter to business travelers and well-to-do folks, but those who stay at luxury hotels aren’t going to stay at cheap hotels to save on the Internet.

    On the other hand, the luxury brands are getting lots of complaints about the cost of WIFI Internet Access based on my conversations over the last year or so with hotel managers and staff.

    Once one or two luxury brands break the mold, the others will likely be forced to follow their lead. This year Loews Hotels & Resorts did just that. Other brands are considering dropping the charge, or thinking about giving basic Internet for free, and very high speed Internet for a charge which is below their current Internet charge for any level of service.

  • Mel65

    I answered “no” because to me “should” implies a necessity. In room WiFi, while a nice-to-have, is not a necessity.Personally, when I travel for business, I stay in Hamptons, and other hotels of that ilk because I like to check email in the evenings, etc.. Our corporate policy doesn’t allow me to stay in “high end” hotels, anyway (then we’d have an article on slimy gov contractors bilking the tax payers for luxury hotels!) But, when we travel for vacation, we stay in “nicer’ places and I don’t care as much about WiFi because I like to disconnect. Personal preference *shrug*… but just because you WANT a hotel to provide an amenity that YOU think is necessary doesn’t make it so and doesn’t mean they should.

  • Mel65

    I would respectfully disagree. Water and electricity/lights are necessary for basic hygiene and comfort. Internet access is a desirement, not a requirement. I’ve stayed in lovely rustic non chain establishments which flat out refuse to put in an infrastructure for internet/WiFi. Would you argue that it’s ridiculous for them to provide you with water but not internet, as well?

  • Mel65

    Was it a limit on the number of devices connected at one time or the number you were allowed to register? Because seriously, why would anyone NEED to have a couple of laptops, tablets and smartphones ALL accessing WiFi at the same time for just 2 people? And depending on how it’s set up, it’s possible that having a half dozen devices logged in and downloading various things could impact bandwidth and latency for other people staying there…

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The number of parking spaces in the typical downtown area of a large city is usually limited because real estate is at a premium.

    It is more common for guests at hotels in the downtown areas to use taxis, shuttle services, public transportation, etc. because of the limited parking spaces since they do not want to deal with 1) the time to find a parking space or 2) the time to wait for valet service to retrieve their car. It will be unfair to include the daily parking fee in the room rate since everyone does NOT park cars.

    Sometimes the parking garage is NOT owned by the hotel; therefore, their rentfeeetc, for the space is based upon the actual number of parking spaces used.
    The parking fees, if any, are fully disclosed on the hotel website of the hotels that Iwe stay at. If you don’t want to pay for parking then find a hotel that doesn’t charge for parking or use another mode of transportation such as taxi, shuttle service, public transportation, etc.

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    I voted ‘No’ because I believe that business owners should set their own pricing and let the market determines the ‘winners’ and ‘losers’. Sometimes I will have clients or prospects that will tell me that the prices for the services and products that I offered are high. Sometimes, I will respond back with “I think that your the prices of your services and products are high too” and they will respond back with reasons why their prices are at a premium; you don’t know why we must charge that price; etc. At this point, they will get the point.

    Personally, I stay at hotels with free Wi-Fi. Sometimes, I will have to attend a conference, seminar, trade show, etc. where I don’t have a choice in the hotel. Sometimes, I will contact my preferred hotels and say “I have to attend a conference at a hotel down the street from your hotel. I want to stay at your hotel since I am an elite frequent guest. Can you lower your room rate by X to compensate for the taxi costs or can you give me a ride to this hotel in your shuttle van?” Most of the times, I will get a favorable response. On the other hand, I will contact the GM of the conference hotel and ask for free Wi-Fi in order for me to stay there. Sometimes, I will get a ‘Yes’ for my request.

    Join the hotel frequent guest program…a frequent guest in the Omni program gets free Wi-Fi.

  • Ann Marie Morrison

    We drove 4 hrs to get to Baltimore with 2 young children. A majority of the people staying at the hotel owned lot also had to park. There was zero street parking available and the hotel was taking advantage of that.

  • LZ126

    I think it all boils down to “Who pays?” For business travelers whose employers pick up the tab and who typically stay at full-service hotels, they could care less whether the downtown Hilton or Marriott imposes a separate internet charge. But for self-employed and leisure travelers who pay their own way, they’ll stay in a Hampton Inn or Residence Inn, using the free wireless and complimentary breakfasts and evening snacks (while business travelers, in contrast, pick up the phone and order room service).

  • ArizonaRoadWarrior

    The amount of time that you travel to the hotel and who you were traveling with is irrelevant to the price of parking.

    What was the hotel? I like to check out the hotel website to see if it states “if street parking is unavailable then we will charge you $ 20 a night but if street parking is available then there are no charges for parking”. This is what you are implying by your statement that “the hotel was taking advantage of that.”

    I have stayed at several hotels located in the downtowns of several cities across North America and street parking is limited. When I have traveled to Asia and Europe, it is even worse.

    I have friends and business associates that work in downtown areas of cities that have to pay for their parking and it is a lot. The average price for monthly parking in Manhattan is $ 541 (2011 average,

    Here in Phoenix, there is a premium to park in covered parking spaces to avoid the sun damaging the paint on your car.

    When the price of land is $ 2,000 per sq ft (there are 43,560 sq ft in an acre) in some downtown areas, people are not going to construct parking garages and offer free parking. They need to recover their investment and make a profit.

    Personally, I usually will take a taxi, shuttle service, public transportation, etc. when I have to be in downtown to avoid the hassles with parking. If I end up with driving a rental car or my car, I know that I have to pay for parking.

    For the past week, we stayed at a Marriott brand hotel near Disneyland. The hotel was nearly full but the parking lot was pretty open (no charge to park). The majority of the guests at the hotels were on tours (i.e. tour buses) or used taxis and shuttle services to get to the hotel. Unlike hotels in downtowns with business travelers where you expect them to take them to use taxis, shuttle services, etc…even leisure travelers do not drive cars to non-downtown hotels.

    The bottom line is that it will be unfair to increase the hotel room rate to include parking when not everyone will park a car at the hotel parking garage.

  • TMMao

    “Its cost to hotels has dropped.” Not where I work — a 20Mbps line for guest internet is now up to $2000/mth, and that quickly becomes overloaded when 20 guests are surfing.

    “Wiring to each room is no longer
    necessary; the equipment is far less expensive” Again, when our hotel replaced the wired routers with wireless, a box is still required in each room due to the concrete construction, and those new wireless routers cost 5X as much as the old ones.

    “and tech support and
    service is rarely needed.” With guests having several devices each, at least one or more is bound to have connection problems. That has resulted in our tech support line receiving 3X as many calls as before.

    All of these have added tremendously to the cost of providing guest internet, and building it into the room rate only penalizes those guests that don’t need it. The main difference between necessities like water or power, and in-room internet is that the former are not considered limitless resources while the latter is. How many guests will leave the lights on or the water running at all hours? But they have no qualms about connecting four devices and downloading multiple megabytes of movies for the flight home, all of which has a cost to the hotel.