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Travel news, consumer advice and trip reports for the Northwest and beyond.

April 29, 2013 at 1:40 PM

Why are some hotels still making us pay for Internet access?

Starbucks and other coffee shops offer Wi-Fi.  (Getty Images / Justin Sullivan)

Starbucks and other coffee shops offer Wi-Fi. (Getty Images / Justin Sullivan)

When will hotels stop charging extra for Internet access?  It’s a great way to alienate customers. And it seems like it’s the more expensive hotels that really sock it to guests with extra charges for Wi-Fi or Ethernet access.

  On a recent trip to Amsterdam, I paid more than $300 a night for a room at the Crowne Plaza hotel.  Comfortable room, good location, but overpriced (as many hotels in Amsterdam are). And so I was thoroughly annoyed to find out that Internet access would cost about another $25 for 24 hours.

  It wasn’t that it was so much money, compared to the room rate.  It just annoyed me to be dinged with extra fees when already paying a lot.  Besides, online access is becoming a basic amenity for travelers, sort of like running water.

      Feeling gouged, I complained (politely) to the hotel’s front desk.  I didn’t get a discount on Web access, but I was told about the hotel’s business center, way down in the basement, which had a couple of computers with free online access. I made my little protest stand and used those computers during my stay, refusing to pay the in-room rate.   

      More recently, I voted with my wallet for a stay earlier this month in Whistler, choosing a Pan Pacific hotel since it offered free Wi-Fi (plus a discounted room rate and free breakfast).        

    If you can’t find a hotel with free online access, here are some strategies for avoiding paying the hotel fee.  

- Some hotels have free Wi-Fi in the lobbies.  Ask when you check in.

­- If you’re a frequent guest with a hotel chain or staying for more than a few nights, ask for the online charge  to be waived (even if you’re not an upper-tier guest in the hotel’s loyalty program for which some chains drop the fee).  It can’t hurt to ask.

-  Find a coffee shop with free WiFi, such as Starbucks. In Europe, lots of budget travelers head to McDonald’s for the free WiFi.

- Watch for hotel promotions that include perks such as free breakfast and free Wi-Fi.

FOLLOW-UP: Free Internet coming to Crowne Plaza and more

InterContinental Hotels, the parent company of Crowne Plaza, Holiday Inn  and seven other hotel brands, contacted me after seeing this blog post to reiterate that it will provide free Internet in its hotels to all its loyalty-club members starting in 2014.  Its elite members will get free in-room Internet starting in July this year.  That’s a big step since InterContinental is one of the biggest hotel companies in the world with 4,600 hotels in almost 100 countries.

The decision followed  a survey about Internet access in hotels that InterContinental had carried out in March.  Those surveyed were not happy about being charged for Internet access. Among the survey results: 

-43 percent of adults surveyed said that they would choose not to stay in a hotel that charged for Internet.

-23 percent of respondents said that free Internet in rooms and throughout the hotel is the most important amenity when staying in a hotel for business, compared to seven percent who chose room service.

-Travelers from China placed the most importance on online connectivity – with nearly half (47 percent) listing it as the most important thing to them when staying in a hotel for business, followed by those from Russia (26 percent), the U.S. (23 percent) and India (22 percent).

- Travelers from the UK (18 percent) and the U.S. (14 percent) both listed paying for internet as the second most annoying thing when staying at a hotel after noisy guests (22 percent and 24 percent respectively).

The survey was carried out in March by YouGov Plc and  8,306 adults were surveyed – in China (1,016), France (1,005), Germany (1,032), India (1,011), Russia (1,018), UK (2,070) and the U.S. (1,154).

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