Geez, why don’t hotels just make it free already?
Greed is one reason--charging for WiFi is the new charging for telephone calls--but there’s another issue at hand--the owner/operator struggle. Most hotel brands don’t actually own the physical property that the hotel is located on. Instead, they sign a management contract with the hotel’s owners and then runs all the operations under the brand name.
The owner has to commit to some of the hotel brands' standards and programming (services, amenities, decor etc.) but free WiFi isn't always on that list.
DoubleTree by Hilton offers free WiFi in the public spaces of all their hotels but not in all rooms. That’s a decision that's left up to the owners, said John Greenleaf, global head of DoubleTree by Hilton Hotels. But making WiFi free everywhere is something they think about.
"It’s something were always looking at doing, to try and meet both the guests’ and the owners’ needs," Greenleaf said.
As other franchised brands grapple with the Free or Not Free issue, independent hotels or hotels that are developed, owned and managed by the same group, tend to take a different stance on WiFi.
Andrew Zobler, CEO of the Sydell Group, which owns and operates several properties including The Nomad Hotel in New York and the just-opened Line Hotel in Los Angeles, has free WiFi at all his hotels. Being the owner and operator makes free WiFi easier to enforce but it's also something Zobler feels strongly about.
"To charge for WiFi is just terrible. It's like charging for water, something you just don't do," Zobler said. "Having really good WiFi and having it free is critical."
Critical to the guest experience which in turn is critical to a hotel's bottom line. More and more guests are making their booking decisions based on whether or not a hotel has free and/or working WiFi.
The last-minute mobile booking app, HotelTonight, will steer away from listing a hotel if they've received bad feedback about the WiFi offerings.
"We curate our hotels based on guest experience. And slow WiFi is considered an amenity that doesn’t work," said Sam Shank, CEO and founder of HotelTonight, comparing a hotel with bad WiFi to a one that advertises a full fitness center but in reality, only has a few dumbbells and one cardio machine.
If guests complaints about WiFi charges or badly working WiFi aren't enough to convince hotels to change, maybe the very real threat of losing precious booking dollars will. In the meantime...
Where can you find free, working WiFi during your next hotel stay?
For starters, consult this list of hotel brands that are known to offer free WiFi. If you really want to stay at one of the hotel's on the offending list above, look at their websites for special offers and package deals as those often include WiFi.
You can also get free WiFi by becoming a member of a hotel loyalty program. Some brands offer it free to all members, some only for elite members.
Lastly, several hotels offer free WiFi to guests who book directly through their website. Mandarin Oriental Hotels started doing this last year. Guests have to sign up and create a profile as well as book a published rate through the hotel, but after those hoops, you should save about $20 a day on internet fees.
What if you need more bandwidth to stream the Harry Potter movies, er, Game of Thrones?
If you’re staying in a franchised hotel brand that offers free WiFi, chances are you can pay for more bandwidth and faster speeds.
Marriott International doesn't have free WiFi at their flagship brand but their select service brands--Courtyard by Marriott, Fairfield Inn and Suites, Springhill Suites, Residence Inn and Townhill Suites--have a tiered WiFi structure in North America and Central America.
The structure is pretty simple—basic internet browsing is free but if guests need more bandwidth, they can pay for "Enhanced High Speed Internet." This way, everyone can get the bandwidth they need, without bringing down the hotel's network.
"We quickly identified how our guests’ growing reliance on the Internet was causing bandwidth issues," said Violeta Seidell, Vice President, Project Services, Marriott International. "Therefore, we created minimum bandwidth standards and infrastructure improvements that would take into account the trend of transferring larger files, as well as streaming content."
The "enhanced" rate varies from property to property but Marriott Rewards Gold and Platinum Elite members will be able to get the enhanced internet option for free. Marriott International plans on rolling out the tiered structure globally later this year.
Hilton Hotels launched a similar program for their "focused service" brands-- Hampton Inn & Suites, Hilton Garden Inn, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites. Guests can still get basic internet for free but to stream an HD movie, they can pay $3.95 for more bandwidth. This new tier is in place at 700 properties in the U.S. with plans to take it worldwide by the end of this year.
But what if the free WiFi isn't actually working WiFi?
Here are some quick tips to get that WiFi up and running.
1. Make sure you're connected to the right hotel network.
2. Make sure you've entered the right password, name or room number.
3. Turn your WiFi off then back on.
4. Try another site other than Google.
5. Try a different browser.
6. Call the front desk and ask for tech support, along with "a little something" for your troubles
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