Respectful Insolence

Good Wi-Fi, Bad Wi-Fi

It’s rare for me to be gone so much in such a short period of time. Two meetings in two weeks, one in San Diego and one in Washington, DC, and I’m bushed. One thing that continually irks me on the two or three occasions each year when I go to meetings is how blatantly hotels rip customers off for high speed Internet access. Most of the hotels that I end up staying at for these meetings are pretty nice hotels. Some of them are even very nice. You’d think that they’d throw in high speed Internet access and/or wi-fi as part of the package. After all, even a budget hotel chain like the Baymont Inn and Suites provides complimentary high speed Internet access at most of its locations. You’d think that the big boys like Marriott, Sheraton, or Hyatt would be able to do the same at their high end hotels.

You’d be wrong, for the most part.

Case in point, the Marriott in San Diego, which is where I stayed a couple of weeks ago. The hotel charged $9.95 a day for high speed Internet access. Although that’s in general a ripoff, it’s actually not the most expensive that I’ve encountered. In some hotels, I’ve encountered prices as high as $14.95 a night. At big hotels, though, unfortunately, somewhere around $9.95 a night seems to be standard. At the Marriott in San Diego, the Internet access included was by Ethernet cable, which was not ideal but tolerable. But then I tried to use the wireless Internet access in the lounge and was met with a sign-in screen telling me that I needed to go the business center to get a login. So I checked it out, and guess what? They wanted me to pay a separate fee to have access to the hotel’s wireless network! I was so annoyed that I didn’t even bother to find out what they were charging per day to use their wireless access in the lounge, because as soon as they told me wi-fi wasn’t included in what I had already paid for high speed Internet access, I told them very pointedly that I wasn’t interested and that it was extremely lame of the hotel to be trying to charge me twice for Internet access.

This experience with Marriott was pretty consistent with what I found here in an article listing the hotels with the worst wi-fi policies, in this case the commentary on the Marriott in Boston:

Once again, the Marriott Flagship makes the worst list, partly because of inconsistency across the Marriott brands (Residence Inn, Courtyard and others offer free WiFi) and partly because you need a Ph.D to comprehend the Internet policies at some of their flagship hotels. First off, there’s no free wifi. You can pay $9.99 for 24 hours in the lobby only. Or you choose to do a T-Mobile Hotspot option but $6.99 a minute roam charges apply. In the rooms, you can pay $9.95 for tethered ethernet access which will include any phone calls, local and long distance, that you make. Or you can head down to the business center and get free WiFi on the few computers offered there but will have to wait your turn and then have the next person in line breathe down your neck while you check your email. Marriott Flagship, you lost us at “No Free Wifi.”

When it comes to Internet access policies, the Marriott flagship hotels suck. Big time. It’s obvious that, to the big Marriott flagship hotels, wireless Internet is nothing more than a profit center. No doubt the management figures that most of the people staying at such hotels are there for business and thus aren’t paying for the hotel room themselves, making them ripe for a little “profit enhancement.”

Now let’s contrast this to the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, where I stayed for the AACR. This is a 76-year-old, but nonetheless very luxurious, hotel. It wasn’t cheap, but it was all that was left because the AACR apparently underestimated the demand for hotel rooms at this year’s meeting; so I stayed there. Omni Hotels have the right idea, as all Omni Hotels have complimentary high speed wireless Internet access.

Again, this is consistent with what I found in this article about the hotels with the best wi-fi access discussing 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.

Occasionally the signal from the wi-fi in my room was a little bit weak, but for the most part it functioned flawlessly, which, given the distance from the convention center, wasn’t for that much time at all except for the first night there.

Of course, hotels have every right to charge whatever they think the market will bear for Internet access, and it is not unexpected that they might try to gouge for it if customers put up with it. In the future, I’ll remember that Omni Hotels are much more customer-friendly as far as their policies regarding Internet access go, while Marriott Hotels apparently view Internet access as just one more way to separate its customers from more of their money.

Comments

  1. #1 Dave Munger
    April 7, 2006

    When we stayed at the Embassy Suites in Anaheim, they charged $9.95 for wifi, but the internet connection was so slow, I finally just broke down and hooked my computer up to the phone lines. My DSL provider charges $5 an hour for roaming dial-up access via an 800-number.

    Guess what — dial up was faster and more reliable than the $9.95 hotel “service.”

  2. #2 Abel PharmBoy
    April 7, 2006

    A great and most useful post – I concur with your Marriott comments. I stayed at the Marriott Renaissance at AACR in DC, paid more than the room rate at the Omni Shoreham, and got hit with that good ol’ $9.95 for hardwire Ethernet in the room (no Wi-Fi in the room!), then had to pay another $9.95 to use their Wi-Fi service (from the same provider) while working at the lobby bar. Next time, I’ll have the sense to politely ask Orac’s secretary to book my room.

  3. #3 bigdumbchimp
    April 7, 2006

    Hilton / Hampton has a good free 802.11b in every one of their hotels I’ve stayed in…..just make sure you’re near the WAP.

  4. #4 Greg Baumbach
    April 7, 2006

    Yeah, I’ve switched to Hampton over Courtyard for the free wireless. It’s funny…the free wireless hotels appear to have better connectivitity than a lot of paid wireless / wired hotels I’ve used over the past few years. Go figure.

  5. #5 anjou
    April 7, 2006

    We stayed in a pretty nasty Motel 8 one night on our way from a gorgeous day of wine tasting near Charlottesville to the Rennaisance in DC for AACR… go figure– wifi free at Motel 8. Dirty, and spartan, but probably a third the price for a room, yet they give free wifi. I agree, when youre paying 3 times the price wifi certainly should be free!!!!

  6. #6 Lab Cat
    April 7, 2006

    I have also found this to be frustrating.

    Atlanta Aiport charges $28 (or something like that) per day. And there didn’t seem to be a cheaper or a more reasonable rates for an hour or two if you had a layover. It was over a month ago that I had a layover in Atlanta and I don’t remember the details.

    Rip Off.

    My BnB in Atlanta on the other hand (I was at the ACS meeting last week) gave me free wireless connection.

    I don’t understand why it has to be so expensive. I pay $15 /month at home, so why do hotels and airports need to charge so much per day? It is obviously the new telephone surcharge scam.

    We should start a list of good hotels etc. and use them and tell the other hotels that the reason we aren’t stay there is because of their lack of wireless service.

  7. #7 pelican
    April 7, 2006

    Yes, yes, yes! … and I would add that the last time I stayed at a Hilton, not only was their wireless $12.95, but their network was unsecured and *ripe* with problems- my firewall hasn’t ever had so many attacks in 45 minutes … I got too freaked out and unplugged. I concur with LabCat’s idea- I’d join that list.

  8. #8 Rob Knop
    April 7, 2006

    My observation with hotels is that the more you pay, the less you get.

    You’re much more likely to get free high-speed Internet access at a low or mid-range hotel (Best Western, Holiday Inn) than at a high-end fancy schmancy hotel.

    You’re also more likely to get a complimentary breakfast– maybe just a continental, but perhaps also with some sort of hot buffet. At a fancy schmancy hotel, you’re probably going to pay $18 for the breakfast buffet.

    And the saddest thing of it all : the most important thing is how good the night’s sleep you get. In my experience (admittedly anecdotal evidence), there is little or no correlation with the cost of the hotel stay and how good your night’s sleep is. The most important thing to me is how thin the walls are and who is next to me…. Well, the walls are never thick enough in hotels, regardless of how much you spend, and it’s pure chance if the person next to me is going to watch the TV late into the night, or have kids on a different schedule, or otherwise generally make noise.

    I guess I’m grouchy about all of this :)

    As for why hotels charge so ridiculously much for Internet access: because they can. It’s the very same reason that the soda machines in hotels (moreso in more expensive hotels) charge $2.00 for a bottle of soda that would be $1.25 anywhere else, or $16 for a continental breakfast buffet, or $20 for a small bottle of ibuprofen: because they can. Because you’re in an enclosed environment where it’s much more convenient just to get things locally than it is to figure out where the nearest 7-11 or AM/PM is. And, because many of their customers are putting it all on an expense account and don’t care anyway.

    -Rob

  9. #9 Qoheleth
    April 7, 2006

    Like Lab Cat, I too was at the ACS conference in Atlanta last week. The Westin, on top of my $180/night room, wanted $15/day for wired access. At least I knew about this beforehand, so I had looked up free WiFi spots in Atlanta, and found this listing of free WiFi spots in Atlanta. (Even with a nice Google Maps interface!) Including the Park Avenue Deli, just a few blocks from the convention center. Needless to say, I had lunch there every day.

    Oh, and I had driven to Atlanta rather than flown, because I was making some side trips along the way. The $50/night Microtel I stayed at in the Cincinnati suburbs? Free WiFi, of course.

  10. #10 Dan
    April 7, 2006

    Can’t speak to all the hotels, but the Hilton & Sheraton’s (W, Sheraton, etc) give you free wifi if your a medium tier member in the loyalty club (usually 10 nights /yr). Wyndam gives it free if you just sign up for their loyalty club.

    That said, I think the midrange Hampton’s are probably the best deal for most uses — but only if you have a vehicle. In many cases, they are not in walking distance of various events/public transit.

  11. #11 Greg P
    April 7, 2006

    I think this is something to bring up with specialty organizations and meeting organizers. It’s conceivable they may have their minds “clouded” by various freebees they get in exchange for scheduling a meeting at a particular location.

  12. #12 Videodrone
    April 8, 2006

    Oh Mighty Orac,

    Let me spin tails of woe as only one who travels far too often can.

    First, there is a direct (inverse) correlation to the cost of the rooms and the creature amenities provided in the basic room costs, for my humble self one of life’s necessities (especially when traveling east, and as I live in the far western regions of CONUS this comprises most of my travels) is an in room coffee pot (for the sake of brevity I’ll pass on my definition of coffee, save to say that I have a standing order at Peets and most folks consider my lighter afternoon brew to be stronger than espresso) – look, there are some things that are not meant to be shared, being between me and my first cup of coffee after a sleep deprived night (is there any other when traveling?) is simply not a healthy place to be. – hey, I have enough problems maintaining a marginally socially acceptable façade, don’t push it!

    Road warrior tips, Best Westerns and Hampton inns have free WiFi and I’ve been known to resort to a fast food lunch in their parking lots to log in, Wyndham does give you free wired (sub DSL but so far acceptable – I’m currently at the midtown ATL Wyndham – and a beer or other drinks) in your room when you arrive if you sign up for the free membership. For the more technology literate look up “net stumbler” and “aircrack” there is ‘free’ wifi in a lot of places – with a bit of arcane knowledge and patience… and besides, these days most any reasonably affluent zip code will provide an abundance of ‘free’ bandwidth ‘wardriving’

    One of the worst places for me is Lost Wages, which is later this month (the dreaded NAB)- at least they now have some decent brew and eats.

    Not to add to anyone’s concerns about traveling but besides the bed bug epidemic in NYC, you don’t want to come in too much contact with your (hotel/motel) bead spread (if you’ve heard what I’ve heard…) or carpet

    Your humble Scribner,

    OccamsEgde

  13. #13 Qoheleth
    April 10, 2006

    Almost forgot in my earlier rant: another area where the reasonably-priced hotels beat the expensive catering-to-business-traveler hotels is the in-room cable TV. The expensive hotels give you what I’ve come to derisively call “hotel cable”: just the broadcast networks, plus eight to ten cable networks. Oh, you can get CNN, ESPN, maybe TNT, but if you, like me, are a fan of the Food Network or the Cartoon Network, you’re out of luck. If you’re lucky enough to get The Weather Channel at all, it’s some genericized national version and not the local version for the area you’re in. Meanwhile, the reasonably-priced hotels are much more likely to give you a standard full basic cable lineup, with fifty to sixty channels, including the edition of The Weather Channel which is actually appropriate to the city you’re in.

  14. #14 Cisco Dude
    April 10, 2006

    Most Hyatt’s and Red Roofs have gone w/ T-Mobile.
    Expensive, cuz they do site surveys and use
    high-end Cisco gear. And have a 24-hour
    helpdesk, and similar setup/access at T-Mobile
    Hotspots, Starbucks, etc… they have to pay
    for that thru access charges.

    Free wireless usually means it works great if
    your room has the WAP, not so great if you are
    down the hall… and good luck getting a night
    desk clerk that knows anything about wireless
    when it won’t work…

  15. #15 Porlock Junior
    April 11, 2006

    http://www.geektools.com/geektels/

    A cooperatively maintained listing of internet sevice in hotels everywhere. Usually reliable. Contribute to it, and it will get even more reliable.

    Think you’ve got trouble? Try London. If you can find Internet access at a hotel (not a lot of it west of the City), you can expect to pay 10 POUNDS a night; of course, the purchasing power parity of 1 dollar here = 1 pound there has held with reasonable accuracy for a long time.

  16. #16 Ken Liu
    May 11, 2006

    The absolute worst rip-off has to be the Zurich Marriott. 35 CHF (about $28) for 24 hours of WIRED access. For each IP. If you have two separate laptops (i.e. two travelers in a room), you have to pay twice!

    Add that to the seemingly-complimentary 7 CHF bottle of Evian (price noted in tiny print) and 38 CHF/per day parking and you have a pretty expensive trip on your hands.

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