·Kimpton Hotels: Kimpton once again tops the list as the undisputed hotel WiFi kings. The brand improved their now legendary free WiFi service in the last couple of years, by extending their fast, reliable WiFi network to your upstairs room, at many hotels. Yup, at most Kimpton hotels you *can* actually sack out with your computer on the bed wireless and happy. This scenario is oft-advertised by other hotel chains, but hardly ever a reality. Kimpton doesn't count on their lobby WiFi network to reach the top floors of their buildings, instead, at the hotels we visited, Kimpton actually had two separate WiFi networks--one for the lobby and the other for the guest rooms. Both networks are easily accessible by clicking on a standard terms and conditions. Furthermore, during our Kimpton visits, friendly staffers went out of their way to ask us if we were getting a good reliable WiFi signal in both the lobby and our room, and guess what? We were. Kimpton Hotels tend to appeal to business travelers, hip leisure travelers, and globe-trotting bloggers.
·Omni Hotels: The grandaddy of free hotel lobby WiFi is an old favorite of sales execs and travelling politicos all over. Why? We spoke with some folks at Omni who actually encouraged people to utilize their free WiFi lobbies for business meetings. This means guests and non-guests alike can utilize the simple, quick, reliable free lobby WiFi to do everything from checking email to tapping in to online applications. Just click on the hotel's internet Terms & Conditions and off you go. While there is plenty of room to stretch out and plug in at most Omni lobbies, don't expect WiFi up in your room. Upstairs you will have to settle for free tethered ethernet access.
·André Balazs properties: André Balazs properties are a group of smaller boutique hotels located only in New York, LA, and Miami, however these guys get how to offer hotel WiFi. At the Standard properties & LA's Chateau Marmont, which are mid-end scenester hotels occupied by ad execs and film folks, AB offers free "click & go" WiFi in the lobby and the pool areas. Meaning you click on the RoomLinx agreement and you are off and running. However, at the more exclusive and upscale Mercer hotel in SoHo the free WiFi is available in your rooms and you will need a user name and password to utilize it. The WiFi credentials are given to guests by staffers. Meanwhile, uptown in Times Square, at the lower end "boutique hostel" Hotel QT, the free WiFi is also confined to guest rooms. Why? Well, the QT lobby is a tiny space mostly occupied by a bar and pool, and is definitely not the kind of place you want to hang out checking your email, thus the "guest room only" free WiFi seems to make sense to us here.
Maybe it was the thin Art Deco walls, but we had a great experience with hotel WiFi at the Raleigh in South Beach. The signal was strong in the lobby, in our room, and even out by the pool. You have to admit, nothing is
more decadent geekier than working on a laptop, in a cabana, poolside at South Beach.
Bottom line, AB has free Wifi with good service, good reliability, and the properties seem to have a decent handle on what WiFi application makes sense for what properties--fairly advanced thinking here.
·Holiday Inn Express:/Marriott Residence Inn. The budget traveller favorite with great hotel WiFi was our toughest call. Believe it or not this category is full of hotel chains and brands that attempt to bring you free WiFi. However, these two stood out for the following reasons:
Holiday Inn Express: For the most part, these guys seem to choose Nomadix as their WiFi provider, which is a good thing. Kimpton appears to use this same provider, which is a sensible choice for network reliability, etc. At the Holiday Inn Express in Los Angeles, all that was required was an agreement to the hotel's terms and conditions and we were off. So if you don't mind staying at the Holiday Inn instead of some place more glamorous your money is well spent here. Additionally, the Holiday Inn Express in Europe is rumored to have free WiFi at the London-Victoria HI Express and the Frankfurt Germany HI Express. It can be excruciatingly painful to find reliable free hotel WiFi on the continent, so if Holiday Inn can get a jump on that market they might be on to something.
Marriott Residence Inn: Ok, ok, we didn't find a Marriott Residence Inn that would bring you a wireless bridge if your in-room signal was fading like the terms & conditions suggested. However, the signal was so strong in the rooms we tested you hardly needed a bridge. Most Residence Inns also come with free WiFi in the lobby, and these guys really cater to business travelers and guests staying for the long haul. We consistently ran into other business folks using the plug and play "WiFi desks" along the window of some Residence Inns, and at one location we found a group of folks pounding away on the reliable WiFi network at 3 AM, while snacking on the continental breakfast. The kicker? We aren't even sure these folks were hotel guests.
· Klein properties: Sunset Tower in Los Angeles and City Club in New York. Now, we know that hotelier Jeff Klein only has these two properties under his belt which makes it easier to have a standardized WiFi model. But we think these hotels are definitely on to something with the way they do hotel WiFi. The Sunset Tower is basically like working from home. Network shows up in your available list, click it and you are on. No slow, clunky agreement pages to deal with, and no superfluous WiFi provider home pages to navigate around. It is as easy as stealing WiFi from your neighbor (we kid, we kid.) Both hotels offer in-room free Wifi. The City Club requires a password but did not discriminate against our non-guest testers. Klein's hotels target the bicoastal jetsetting crowd who need to stay connected. If you are not among the NY-LA crowd, you can't tap into Klein's excellent hotel WiFi, but we are hoping he expands, or at the very least, other hotel GM's mirror the Klein model at their hotels.
Joie de Vivre Hotels: JDV Hotels are a group of smaller boutique hotels located only in California. Their two newest hotels, Hotel Vitale in San Francisco and Hotel Angeleno in Los Angeles come with free, reliable WiFi in both the lobby and the guest rooms. However, keep in mind that this company's legacy properties are still hit or miss, as far as WiFi goes, and some of them even charge guests for wireless access.
Sheraton: Sheraton is currently teaming up with Yahoo! on a wireless access pilot program. The program, currently running in San Diego and Boston, allows guest and nonguests to use lobby WiFi by signing up for a "wireless badge" of sorts. Yeah, it feels a lot like going to a conference or something just to get your hands on a little free WiFi, but the program has promise.
Hilton: What is up with Hilton? At one Hilton you can be told to pay $9.99 for WiFi in your room or in the lobby, and at the next Hilton you can be flying around barrier-free WiFi as good as your home or office network seconds after turning on your computer. We sure hope the Hilton hotels move to the latter model en masse ASAP.