Hilton Complimentary Internet Access In Lobby Costs $10 A Day

At Hilton Washington Dulles Airport hotel, everything is complimentary! That’s because to them “complimentary” actually means “for a price.” Last week, a linguistics professor tried to take advantage of their “Complimentary High-speed Internet access on the lobby level,” which is how they describe the service on their website. He quickly discovered that he’d have to agree to a $9.99 charge in order to get the free service.

On his blog Language Log, Geoffrey K. Pullum writes,

I went and asked at the registration desk. And here is what Hilton Hotels thought “complimentary high-speed Internet access” meant: if you are a guest, and you register for Internet access in your room, and agree to have the $9.99 charged thereto, then after that you can also use your laptop in the lobby for no extra charge. So if you pay $9.99 for the relevant 24 hours it’s free.

Pullum was pretty surprised at this rather creative interpretation of the word “complimentary,” so he explained to the manager why it was idiotic by using an analogy:

Suppose (I invited the assistant manager to imagine) they said there were complimentary apples on the lobby level, and when you went to get some they explained that they actually meant that if you went up to your room and paid for an order of room-service apples to be brought up and signed for, you could then bring one down and eat it in the lobby area. Would you not be mildly surprised?

In the end, the manager had Pullum log onto his hotel account and pay for the $10 Wi-Fi charge, and then she reversed the fee. As far as Pullum is concerned, this solved the problem—”I don’t tell this story to criticize Hilton Hotels,” he writes—but of course it doesn’t solve it for anyone else who reads the description on the official hotel website and shows up expecting free Internet access in the lobby.

“Complimentary Internet in the lobby” [Language Log] (Thanks to Lisa!)


Edit Your Comment

  1. nybiker says:

    From [dictionary.reference.com]

    noun 3. something given or supplied without charge, as lodging, transportation, or meals, esp. as an inducement to prospective customers.

    What part of that does Hilton not understand?

    My suspicion is that they don’t want neighborhood people hanging out in the lobby and using free wi-fi. But they have to make it clear in the ad.

    • Mackinstyle says:

      @nybiker: Interesting thought, but I don’t think the Internet is a scarce commodity or something. Do kids really think, “hey after school, lets all get our laptops and iPhones and head to the Hilton for some serious Facbooking!”

      I’d call them crooks but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and call them dumb instead.

    • Coles_Law says:

      @nybiker: From my experience, Hilton sets the bar for paying the most and getting the least. I’m surprised they didn’t have one of those taxi meters mounted by the toilet paper dispensers so they could charge you by the foot.

  2. AppleAlex says:

    reminds me of a hotel I stayed at. the sign stated that guests can enjoy Wi-Fi but of course it’s $3 a day

    I hear all Courtyard hotels have free Wi-Fi

  3. MalcoveMagnesia says:

    Customers should consider themselves lucky to even get access to $10 “Complimentary” Internet.

    I’ve stayed at hotels in Europe where in-room Internet access can set the guest back between $30 – $40 per DAY.

  4. cluberti says:

    I can understand the charge – it appears you’re paying for ‘net access, in the hotel room and the lobby, for $9.99 a day. However, calling it “complementary” without denoting that it’s complementary *only if you pay for ‘net access in your room bill* is false advertising at best.

  5. LJKelley says:

    Hotels that charge will lose out. I specifically search for hotels that offer free internet. It doesn’t cost them that much and makes my hotel experience that much better. I’m not gonna pay $10 for a day when I pay about $35 a month for 10Mbps service at home for an entire month.

    • CheritaChen says:

      @LJKelley: Same here. It’s surprising how many of the supposedly “finer” establishments had fees for internet access and/or wi-fi when I last booked a trip. I chose a Comfort Suites instead, whose free in-room wireless access was exactly as advertised: in-room, wireless and free.

    • HFC says:

      @LJKelley: I refuse to stay in a hotel that charges for Internet access. Every hotel should have, at least, free access for its guests.

  6. SatisfriedCrustomer says:

    With today’s advertising, the word “free” is on the cusp of dividing into two dictionary definitions. (1) at reasonably low cost; (2) [Obsolete] free of charge; having no cost.

  7. morganlh85 says:

    I’ve been to a lot of hotels that charge for internet in the room but have “complimentary” internet in the lobby. In every case, the internet was ACTUALLY complimentary.

    • theblackdog says:

      @morganlh85: I had the reverse happen to me. At the Omni Hotel in Atlanta, you got free internet if you were a guest and had your laptop. However, if you didn’t have a laptop, you could pay for internet at their “business center”

      To add to the fun, you were at least allowed to print boarding passes for free, but only if they were airlines that had an agreement with the hotel. Guess who was flying on an airline that didn’t have the agreement?

    • GitEmSteveDave_ H1N1 Symptoms List says:

      @morganlh85: I performed a marriage at a Ramada two weeks ago, and there was free WiFi. Ironically, the room the reception was in had horrible WiFi reception.

  8. LoadStar says:

    Obviously the hotel meant to say “complementary,” not “complimentary.” As in, “Something that completes, makes up a whole, or brings to perfection” (def. courtesy Answers.com)

    Of course, that’s a stupid feature to advertise. Why not also advertise there is a “complementary seating area in the lobby” as well?

  9. dwasifar says:

    I once asked a manager of a high-dollar hotel (the Orlando World Marriott, in this case) why it is that expensive hotels generally charge for internet access whereas you often find it free in cheaper hotels like Motel 6. His answer may or may not be true, but it was entertaining; he told me that the expensive hotels were first to offer internet access for guests, and many of them are stuck in service provider contracts written back when bandwidth and hardware were hugely expensive. Cheap hotels came to the party later and were able to get better deals on their contracts.

    I think this is probably about one-third true and two-thirds self-serving. The larger reason is likely that people who stay at expensive hotels won’t be driven to Motel 6 by a ten dollar daily fee. Probably a lot of those fees wind up on expense reports anyway.

    • bohemian says:

      @dwasifar: I always assumed it was the expense account theory. Most business oriented hotels or big hotels in major cities charge an arm & a leg for net access. Since people can expense it most people pay it without complaining. Since most business travelers will need internet it is pretty much free money.

      Those who are not on an expense account get screwed. My solution was to figure out ahead of time where places that had free wifi were nearby.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      @dwasifar: i believe that. i used to work at a hotel that got a 2 year contract on ethernet in the rooms and as soon as it ended they caught up with the crowd and put in free wireless in each the guest rooms and in the lobby.
      [incidentally, 2 separate systems so if one crashed, there was a backup by going down to the lobby or up to your room. it worked beautifully to have the redundancy]

    • davere says:

      @dwasifar: A friend of mine travels for a living, staying at any one hotel for 2-4 weeks at a time. He always calls, asks for the manager, explains his long stay and requests that the Internet fee be waived for him.

      It has worked for him every time. Of course, most of us normal people don’t ever stay at a hotel for that long.

      • Toof_75_75 says:

        @davere: I work for a small company so I try and save money for the company where possible. Anytime I’ve gone to a hotel that charges for internet I just ask for the fee to be waived and I’ve never had a problem. Usually when I bring it up I am met with, “Yeah, that’s one of the most common complaints we get about the hotel. We can go ahead and waive that for you.” They usually seem to understand that it is silly for them to charge $10 a day for what is nowadays a basic amenity.

  10. qwerty001984 says:

    This is why you don’t stay in a hilton hotel. They nickel and dime you for everything. Cheaper hotels are nicer anyways and have free parking/internet.

  11. ColonelK says:

    I bet you can get complimentary Wi-Fi in your room too … if you pay $9.99 for the “lobby” Wi-Fi plan.

  12. LTRS says:

    As a Hilton Honors Diamond VIP (and very frequent traveler) I think I can explain the issue here – or at least what I have experienced, since one of the “Diamond VIP” benefits I can choose is free internet access (in my room, but it mirrors the lobby issue).

    It’s pretty pathetic, really, but the problem is that the hotel’s hardware / software set-up cannot differentiate between registered guests eligible for the perk (or lobby dwellers) and those paying in their rooms for 24 hours worth of internet service. Many Hiltons simply do not have a mechanism to input a password that would tell them that you fit in to one of these two categories.

    Some do have a mechanism for this, and if their staff is well educated they will give you a password if you ask.

    But some don’t have any mechanism to even do that, so you have to let them charge you, and then reverse the charge. Just check your bill to make sure they do it! I, myself, got tired of the hassle, and I just bring a broadband card with me when I travel now (and choose a different “VIP Benefit.”

    I suspect most people don’t complain, so Hilton does nothing to address this problem that has been going on for years now.

  13. That's Consumer007 to you says:

    Let’s see… FTC, BBB, Atty General Consumer Protection Division, (Consumerist.com was good start, but myriad of other sites too…)

    Local Wash DC reporters might find it fun too…and that’s before the EECB and creative protest signs outside…

    All depends on how far the OP wants to take it. I love the apples analogy.

    • That's Consumer007 to you says:

      @Areyouagoodlittleconsumer: Might also want to stage a “free internet” party in the lobby with all kinds of ugly types with laptops screaming “Why can’t I get a signal? Waaaaaa!”

      Hopefully the jerk who placed the ad without the asterisk on that line as it should have been will learn the lesson.

  14. adrew says:

    I stayed at the Hilton in Austin this weekend for a convention and they had a similar setup: free wireless in the lobby, but ~$15/day for wired or wireless access in the rooms.

    The free network in the lobby and the un-free network up by the rooms were both named hhonors, so maybe his laptop was connecting to the base station on the 2nd floor? Perhaps a re-scan was in order?

    It worked fine for me. It was nice and fast, even with over 2000 student convention attendees hammering the hotel’s network.

  15. Baka-no-Kami says:

    I don’t know how often or what hotels the rest of you stay at, but I never would have interpreted ‘complimentary internet on the lobby level’ to mean I could use my laptops wireless for free in the lobby.

    To me, the Hilton’s terms mean that I have to pay to get my laptop on the wireless, period, but they have a crappy little ‘office’ in the lobby with a public terminal for people that didn’t bring a computer, or don’t want to pay the fee. Or possibly LAN jacks in the lobby for people to plug into. I’ve seen it both ways.

    I think it’s much more plausible that the desk clerk thought the OP was asking how to use her laptop in the lobby, and not asking where the complimentary lobby access was.

    • shiznannigan says:

      @Baka-no-Kami: This is what I came here to say. I’ve seen a few hotels with complimentary access on a few desktop computers in a room near the lobby (with 10 cents/page printing).

    • ScarletsWalk says:

      @Baka-no-Kami: While that is a good point and could have explained the problem, the story doesn’t indicate that that’s what the case is. If he had said “I’d like to access it here please” and they said “Oh, I’m sorry sir. It’s not wireless, but please use our computer over there in the corner for free,” then there’d be no story.

      Based on the article, it seems NOTHING was available for free (ie complimentary) in the lobby.

    • vastrightwing says:

      @Baka-no-Kami: Hotel = rip off from the moment you walk in. Safe fees, mini bar fees, telephone fees, TV fee, etc. And these fees are exorbitant! When I stay in a hotel, I assume everything will be priced sky high and before I even turn on the T.V., I check to make sure they don’t charge me to turn it on. I’m not kidding. I won’t use the phone, won’t use the internet, won’t use the mini-bar, nothing… the price to convenience factor is way out of whack!

  16. Dukebruno says:

    I’d be awfully careful about using any unencrypted WiFi, free or otherwise. We recently had an employee do some updates to the Company website while she was using free WiFi in an airport waiting area. Apparently the login to the FTP server was captured “over the air” and the next thing we knew the site was infected with that malware that installs fake anti-virus onto visitors’ PCs. We had to clean up the server and change the password. Productivity is fine but it can be dangerous.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      @Dukebruno: Ftp is a big part of the problem. I have been using secure Internet protocols (Kerberos and then ssh) for 14 years.

      If you must use insecure protocols use a VPN connecection

    • rekoil says:

      @Dukebruno: The lesson here is “don’t run servers that allow employees to transmit their passwords unencrypted”. Even FTP has a secure counterpart, SFTP. Turn it on.

  17. Stephen Colon says:

    Isn’t Doubletree a Subsidiary of Hilton? I stayed at the San Jose Double Tree a couple months ago for a business trip, and they had 100% free internet access. Town and Country in San Diego charged me something like $7 for a day pass just recently (~1 Week I think), but I had the fee reversed by asking nicely.

  18. SubPrimeLender says:

    I think there are internet kisoks in the lobby of many hitons that are free , I think that may be what they are referring to. They should clairify – the charge is for the wireless access

  19. StanTheManDean says:

    Complimentarly wifi in the lobby is for downloading the latest Paris Hilton sex video ONLY.

  20. Toof_75_75 says:

    I’m staying at a Holiday Inn Express right now and they offer completely free wireless and wired internet access in your room. My only complaint is that I can’t log my XBox onto Live because they have a “Do you accept our terms and conditions?” screen that you have to get by to get online.

  21. joshie says:

    I don’t understand why most high(er) end hotels continue to charge for Internet access when most more budget-friendly chains are giving it away for free these days. In high end hotels, you’re almost always paying more for less. And yes, the wording is clearly misleading, I’d say to the point of being fraudulent, unless there’s some fine print somewhere on the web site.

  22. vladthepaler says:

    How is this different than freecreditreport? Not that it’s right.

  23. GreatWhiteNorth says:

    I was just told a similar story… where a local car wash has a huge neon sign that says “Free Vacuum” visible to all who drive by. Well a gentleman went in, went up to the desk and asked for his free vacuum. The staffer running the car was explained that the sign meant free access to their car wash vacuums for customers who purchased a wash. Well oddly this gent read the offer differently, took his claim to small claims court and … in the end the car wash decided it was cheaper to buy him off with $5k than to change the neon sign…

    I should drive by and get my free vacuum… although if they have any brains they will stockpile some super cheap vacuum’s to give out to customers like me.

  24. Panamapeter says:

    I offer wifi AND a computer in the rooms. LCD tv and refrigerator also included in the price of the room, $40. Put their butts in the beds fairly and let them do their own screwin.

  25. xskeptictankx says:

    This happened to me at a time share where I’m (ridiculously) an “owner” of a unit. The website claims complimentary wifi as well, but neglected to mention that you can only pick up the signal in the main lobby building and that there is NO internet (wifi or ethernet) available in any of the guest buildings except the one closest to the main building. It pretty much ruined my entire week-long “work from Florida” vacation.