HotelChatter Annual WiFi Report 2012: FAQ

2012 Hotel WiFi Report :: Best :: Worst :: International :: U.S. Cities :: FAQ :: Infographic

Making sense of the internet connection in your room.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. How much does it cost a hotel to install and maintain a WiFi network? Is it really expensive or are hotels just gouging us again like they did with telephone calls?
We've asked this question over and over again of hotel owners, general managers and sales/marketing directors and each time they say that installing and maintaining a WiFi network is an expensive cost. The way they tell it, the hotel has to charge guests for access just to break even. But that's not true.

We've spoken with a few internet service providers and some candid hotel executives about the cost of WiFi and for a 250-room hotel, the cost is about $2.50-$4.50 per room, per month. Hotels on average charge $13.95 a day for WiFi. You do the math. If you still need help, check out our infographic breaking down the costs.

In short, the cost of hotel WiFi is purely a marketing decision. Many hotels resist giving the WiFi up for free because they would be turning their backs on an easy source of revenue. But Michael Strauss, director of finance for the Bryant Park Hotel in Manhattan which recently began offering WiFi for free, said, "[WiFi] is like electricity and water now. We don't charge our guests for that. It's expected." Let's hope that more hotels can be as brave as BPH and start offering it for free.

2. How can I avoid paying twice or triple for multiple devices?
Sadly, pretty much every hotel that charges for WiFi will charge you per device, per laptop, iPad, etc. which can resort in upwards of an extra $40 a night. This may seem like pure profiteering on the hotel's part but there is a plausible technical explanation. The initial WiFi networks installed in hotels several years ago did not have the capability to accommodate multiple devices in the room. So now it's up to the hotel to upgrade their systems to accommodate all of our can't-leave-home-without-'em gadgets. In the meantime, hit up the hotels that offer WiFi for free. Otherwise, it never hurts to ask the front desk nicely to remove the charge especially if youíre staying more than a few nights.

3. The signal is crap. What do I do?
Your first option is to see if thereís an ethernet cord available. Sometimes plugging in the old-school way will help your connection. (But we know, it sucks because you wanted to work from bed.) If that doesnít work, call down to the front desk and complain.

Some hotels will have an in-house tech expert to walk you through the issues and can even reset the server. Most hotels, however, will have you call a tech support person off property who will do the same thing and either reset the server or manually connect you to the internet via your IP address.

If none of that works, you might need to switch rooms if possible. Otherwise, itís Starbucks City, baby, where you will promptly write a negative review of the hotel on TripAdvisor.

4. I just paid $14.95 a day for internet and it was so slow the whole time. Is there a way I can get my money back?
Yes, by telling the front desk that the signal sucked and that you deserve a refund. If the toilet didnít work, the hotel would give you a new room or else refund your stay. Why shouldnít it be the same for internet?

This brings us to another important point about hotel WiFi--the quality of the signal. Usually, the signal is slow for three reasons--either the hotel is skimping on the quality of the service provider, the maintenance costs or on bandwidth (usually it's bandwidth that hotels refuse to upgrade.) Yet hotels should really be looking at their WiFi offerings much like they look at room refreshings--something that should be done every three to five years. Guests won't pay premium dollar for a bed that's falling apart or a room that has wallpaper peeling off the walls. The quality of internet is almost no different.

5. I want to download and watch the entire third season of Friday Night Lights during my vacation. But the hotel is telling me I will have to pay extra for that. I can check my email, update my FB status and surf the web for free, why do I have to pay for this? Isnít free, free?
If the reason the hotel internet is getting choked during our stay is because you had to download an entire season of hour-long episodes, weíre gonna be pissed, especially if we are trying to work. Thereís no reason why your watching habits should force the rest of us in the hotel to suffer. If you want to fantasize about Tim Riggins, pay up for the bandwidth or else save it for when you get home.

In the future, as bandwidth costs continue to drop, paying for downloads may not be an issue. But right now hotels arenít making the move to install massive amounts of bandwidth. So tiered payment plans--where basic internet like web browsing and email are free but movie-streaming and other uploads/downloads will cost extra--are a good compromise for the hotel and the hotel guest.

6. I travel a lot for work and Iím sick of paying for WiFi when Iím in hotels. I also donít have a expense account to write these charges off. What do I do?
Sigh. Sometimes we think that itís the biz travelers with their expense accounts thatís keeping pay-for WiFi alive. But if youíre in business for yourself you can invest in a WiFi card like Virgin Mobile or those from Sprint and Verizon. These run about $30-$60 a month depending on the service. To be honest, we have had some issues in hotels with these cards. We donít know for sure if there is some tricky interference going on but we have noticed stalling in hotel rooms (especially in Vegas which is its own WiFi Hell.)

If youíre leery of making this investment, we suggest sticking with one brand and racking up loyalty points like crazy. Many programs offer it free for all members but Starwood, Marriott, Hyatt and Hilton require upper echelon status before they give it to you free.

Otherwise, take a careful look at the promotions or packages offered on a hotel's website. Many of these will throw in internet along with free breakfast and the like. And don't forget about hotel collections such Leading Hotels of the World, which offers its members free WiFi at hotels and resorts around the world.

For more questions about Hotel WiFi, check out our answers from last year and 2010.

Have you logged on in a hotel recently? Let us know your Best and Worst Hotel WiFi Experiences Here.

2011 Hotel WiFi Report :: Best :: Worst :: International :: U.S. Cities :: FAQ :: Infographic