Hotels Testing Lower Price For Lower Quality WiFi Access

For those of us that live and die by our laptops, WiFi access at hotels is often a necessary — and occasionally costly — evil. But some hotels are now experimenting with pricing levels that offer guests a discount if they’re willing to accept a lesser internet connection.

A writer over at USA Today recently checked into the InterContinental New York Times Square and was surprised what she saw when she went to access the internet:

When I logged on the InterContinental’s system, I was asked to choose between a $10-a-day option for low bandwidth (good for checking emails and reading online articles) and a $15-a-day option (good for VPN access, sharing PowerPoint presentations and watching movies).

She checked with InterContinental, not known for offering anything at a discount, to see if this was something they were doing elsewhere. A rep for the deluxe hotel chain confirmed they are testing the program at hotels in NYC, San Francisco and Chicago.

Has anyone seen any other hotels offering this sort of pricing for internet access?

Upscale hotels offer guests cheaper Wi-Fi rates, but there’s a catch


Edit Your Comment

  1. edman007 says:

    Hotel internet sucks, I can’t imagine slower internet being usable.

    • ThunderRoad says:

      I can’t imagine slower internet period, except for dialup.

      • tomomi says:

        Good god, the internet I’ve had the last three or four times I’ve stayed at hotels has been -worse- than dialup. Slow, constantly dropping, occasionally going bad altogether for hours at a time. Usually have to find a Panera or something to actually get anything done. I don’t know how they could possibly make it slower unless there’s some version of internet where information flows in reverse.

    • Nuc says:

      I came to say THIS!

    • kewpie says:

      Exactly. It’s been unbelievably bad at virtually every hotel I’ve visited.

  2. sleze69 says:

    Although I think Marriott is by far the best Hotel brand, their internet connections are HORRIBLE. My tethered 3g phone is WAY faster. I can’t imagine a cheaper alternative being any slower than it already is.

  3. humphrmi says:

    Free or I ain’t stayin’.

    • SgtBeavis says:

      Enjoy sleeping in your car because that’s the direction all the major chains are heading towards..

      I have a similar sentiment but it is what it is. That’s why I always try to get a hotel that is near a free wifi hotspot like Panera bread. It usually isn’t that hard to find one. I pay for good food and get what is usually a good internet connection…

      • MaxH42 thinks RecordStoreToughGuy got a raw deal says:

        I usually stay at Springhill Suites when I travel on business, because I get free Intarwebs, free breakfast, and free hotel shuttle. I can usually get two out of those three from some hotel where I need to be, and guess which one is the most heavily weighted? (Hint: I can get reimbursed for meals and taxis.)

  4. durkzilla says:

    Most of the hotel internet service I’ve had lately hasn’t been worth anything at all. My tethered Blackberry is almost always faster than the hotel service, free or not.

    • tbax929 says:

      My tethered Android phone is insanely fast. Hotel internet sucks, but I’ve actually found that lower-priced hotels often have much better internet.

  5. aja175 says:

    It’s pretty rare to get a usable connection in most hotels anyway, how much worse can it get?

  6. PanCake BuTT says:

    Look at you guys, throwing around big words like ‘Tethering’, you should be proud of yourselves !

  7. humphrmi says:

    Actually, to be fair (vs. my comment above), I’ve given up on hotel WiFi altogether since I got one of these:

    3G USB modem in one slot, charge the battery (or plug it in), and viola – you make your own WiFi at home!

    • Rachacha says:

      A MiFi from Verizon and Sprint does the same thing in a much smaller more compact format

      You are limited to connecting 5 devices with the MiFi, but I would not want to connect more than that to a cellular data modem. Same monthly service price as a USB modem.

    • Gulliver says:

      Why would I pay for that, when I can do it with just my cell phone and laptop.

      If you want to get into secure sites you pay a ONE time 18.95 charge. I get a 3G/4G (when I travel to certain towns) and I don’t really care about what the hotel internet costs, when they have a charge.
      The funny part is the more upscale a hotel, the more likely they are to charge for internet. Easy reason, those who are staying at higher end hotels tend to be higher end business travelers who are not paying for the service. The limited service market tends to be sales and business owners with a more limited budget coming out of their own pocket/

    • jason in boston says:

      You are using a humvee when a ford ranger will do. The cradlepoint is a great piece of hardware – I have 3 on my desk – but they are meant mostly for redundant and single point communications. 1 good thing about the cradlepoints they always work. I have a cradlepoint as a failover for security systems.

  8. spazztastic says:

    I refuse to stay at a hotel that doesn’t offer free WiFi.

  9. mbz32190 says:

    I still don’t understand in this day and age, why all hotels do not offer free Wi-Fi (besides the mass of business travelers that will have it picked up on the company dime anyway). I mean, McDonalds, Dunkin Donuts, Motel 6, etc… just about any place you can name already has free Wi-Fi. (And if your staying in one that charges you, you can likely find an open hotspot from a nearby restaurant anyway).

    • gunner10 says:

      For that reason precisely – business travelers. Most select service hotels do offer free Wi-Fi, but full service flagships such as the Marriott, Hilton, etc. host many conferences, meetings, etc. and see many business travelers coming through that will be dependent on Internet access and charge accordingly.

    • wrjohnston91283 says:

      besides the mass of business travelers that will have it picked up on the company dime anyway

      That’s way. If I’m traveling for business, and my company wants me to check my emails, I’m not lugging my laptop around town trying to find an open hotspot.

      That said, I once stayed at a JW Marriott, where they had free wifi in the lobby, but required payment in the room. I went downstairs and got online for free, and when I got back to my room, it work there as well.

      • Rachacha says:

        I did that when I was in Germany. I was up on a high floor, so reception to the lobby hot spot was not great, but I was able to connect from my room and talk with my family using Skype if I put the laptop in the window. The alternative was paying $20/day for better access in my room.

    • dreamfish says:

      I suspect in the next few years, providing free internet access will be a key way hotels distinguish their product offerings (until a few years after *that*, when they’ll all have it).

    • El_Fez says:

      Motel 6 offering free wireless? What planet are you from? I JUST traveled up and down the west coast and every Motel 6, I was ALWAYS was either forced to purchase access for 5 bucks a night or use whatever nearby, non-6 hot spots I could find.

      • kewpie says:

        Motel 6 may not, but most low and mid-range hotels do: Super 8, Best Western, Drury Inn, Econo-Lodge (most), Holiday Inn Express (most), LaQuinta…

        • El_Fez says:

          Actually that’s the big selling point against Motel 6 – every other chain has free wireless, all the mom-n-pop motels I stay at has wireless. But motel 6 wants 5 bucks a night? Screw that.

          But then Motel 6 is the motel that, when you go “Hey, I forgot my toothbrush. Do you have one I can use?” directs you to the vending machine . . . were you can buy one for 3 bucks. Motel 6 went from being a real value to a nickel and dime clip joint.

        • Jasen says:

          This is what kills me.
          I go to a very nice expensive hotel, and they nickel’n’dime me for every cent they can on “extras” such as wifi.
          I go to a cheap hotel, and they throw freebies at you.

          What the hell is this about? I pay a premium for the nicer room, better service and yet they’re slipping their hands in my pocket. I spend $40 for a La Quinta room, and get free Wifi and complimentary toiletries, etc. This is completely backwards from how it should be.

    • DanRydell says:

      What reason are you expecting other than business travelers? That’s THE reason.

    • Griking says:

      Because most companies won’t give away something that people will pay for. See Airlines for more proof of this.

  10. Xenotype51 says:

    The Marriots that I’ve been to have typically had 2 tiers of internet through iBahn:

    Free: pretty low speed but good enough if you don’t want to pay
    Pay: haven’t tried this out but supposedly much faster than the free version

  11. UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

    I’m going to pay for… even slower hotel wi-fi?

    It can’t get any bloody slower!

  12. Larry, not Lawrence says:

    I saw this when I was staying at the Hotel Triton (a Kimpton hotel) in San Francisco a few months back. They market it as being needed more for presentations, etc. Personally, I found the free access to be more than adequate for this IT guy for when I was in the hotel. Remote access to systems and file download speeds were excellent.

  13. zandar says:

    should be free. period.

  14. KillerBee says:

    Ive never been to a hotel where it wasn’t free, so any charge at all would be disappointing to see. Not to mention the signal is often poor to being with.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      Free and poor signals? Can we get feedback from those using the pay services (such as the AT&T Wayport powered Hotels)? Do they suck? I know they haven’t always, but it’s been a long time since I have been in that business.

  15. opticnrv says:

    As a frequent traveller, I can attest that REGULAR hotel internet is slow as molasses. Especially when all the business men are in their rooms at night. How can they possibly offer a slower service? It seems like any slower would equate to non-operational!

    • Geekybiker says:

      Just like DSL offers “upto 1.5mps” etc. Its a QOS thing where they cap you, but it doesn’t mean you’ll reach the cap.

  16. JJJJust says:

    Both Hilton and Marriott just recently rolled out free wireless access for their Gold and Diamond/Platinum (respectively) elite members. At the same time, some members have been complaining that they have encountered hotels which have also added a high-speed internet option, with a fee of course.

  17. tedyc03 says:

    I’ve seen “free” and “paid” for various levels of service. I have no problem with this. Honestly if you set up your connection right, the speed is less important than the stability in many cases.

  18. haoshufu says:

    This is just a form of raising internet usage fees at hotels.

  19. dreamfish says:

    “… $15-a-day option (good for VPN access, sharing PowerPoint presentations and watching movies)”

    I suspect the actual speed won’t be remotely good enough for streaming movies. Even if the hotel were to claim, say, a 10Mb connection the contention ratio due to all those guests using the connection probably mean you’d be lucky to get 1Mb.

  20. sirwired says:

    I stayed at a hotel recently that gave away the basic access for free, and then charge $7 for the usable access. I thought it was pretty reasonable, if you accept the fact that business hotels insist on charging for the WiFi.

    As an added bonus, it was actually pretty usable. I did a two-hour Skype Video call and it only froze twice.

  21. 67alecto says:

    I always found it interesting that upscale hotels will charge exorbitant prices for things you get for free at cheap places.

    Staying at a Super 8 will get me free wi-fi, free continental breakfast (and quite often several hot options like waffles or eggs), free newspaper, and so on. Whereas the last time I stayed at a high-end place (Yacht Club @ Disney World), continental breakfast was $13 a person, wi-fi had to be prepaid, and newspapers were for sale at the lobby gift shop.

    • JeremieNX says:

      The upscale places can reasonably expect their guests will have more disposable cash on hand than the average Super 8 or El Cheapo Motel customer. They take advantage of that fact to increase their bottom line.

    • jason in boston says:

      I’m planning my next trip to Disney and will stay at the Beach/Yacht club next time I go. I’ll just bring my android phone and tether for internet access.

      I can’t wait to swim in the sand filled pool.

  22. twritersf says:

    In-room Internet access in the 21st century is a utility, no different than electricity or cable TV. In fact, more people use Internet access than the in-room phone (offered for free–and before you protest you pay for calls, (a) you don’t pay for calls to other rooms or the front desk, and (b) even if you don’t use it, the cost to the hotel to provide the service is still there). Internet access is a huge profit center for hotels, so even at $10/day, they are still making about $9.99.

    • Rachacha says:

      I agree. Some of the bid level Hilton brand hotels are offering free internet, like Homewood Suites, but the higher end Waldorf Astoria still makes you pay. While the rooms in the mid range rooms are not super high end luxurious, they are comfortable, clean and spacious.

    • kc-guy says:

      And if they put the hotel phones on a voice over IP system, it’s nearly eliminates the cost of their phones as well.

  23. Woodside Park Bob says:

    I no longer stay at hotels which charge for Internet access. The only places I couldn’t find free wifi (or any wifi at all for that matter) recently were Coldfoot and Deadhorse, Alaska!

  24. davidsco says:

    I will NEVER pay for wifi in a hotel. If one I’m looking at charges, I look elsewhere, period. Always found it interesting that the more expensive the hotel, the more likely they were to charge for it. Regardless, most Wifi in hotels is of pretty low quality anyway, so I don’t see how they could make it worse

    • jenjenjen says:

      That is SO true. The more you pay, the less they throw in. Makes sense – if you’re willing to pay $200+ to sleep in a bed, you’re probably willing to pay for bottled water and internet. OTOH, I did stay at a Westin once and I didn’t miss the Internet because I never wanted to get out of that bed.

  25. captadam says:

    Isn’t it time they stop charging for WiFi? In-room internet access is the new “color TV.” There was a time when having color TV in a room was seen as a bonus. Then it became standard. And the hotel provided not only the connection, but the box! Now, we have to bring our own box for an internet connection for which we pay extra!

  26. JoeTheDragon says:

    Some ones just lump the wifi / e-net in to the hotel resort fee. And the that resort fee is like $5-$15+ per day and no you can’t say no to it.

  27. Dylanna25 says:

    I had really crummy hotel wi-fi at a Marriott in the Virgin Islands recently. It was “free,” but virtually useless except in the middle of the night, which probably means it was a pretty narrow pipe shared by too many rooms.

  28. stint7 says:

    I work at a hotel, and am in fact working and using their internet right now. Truth is, the internet sucks and anything less would be considered dial-up speed. At least it’s free.

  29. JG2002 says:

    I stayed at the Palmer house in Chicago about a month ago, they wanted $7/hour for WIFI. Yes $7/Hour…

  30. missdona says:

    The Hilton in Frankfurt had that exact thing, except in Euros.

    Also, the Hilton in Melbourne used to have a lovely per-megabyte plan that pushed my internet bill to over $350 for the week. They’ve abandoned it in the last year, thank God.

  31. Bizdady says:

    Luckily now I have an Android phone I can wifi tether the laptop too so the gf can stop bugging me lol

  32. NeverLetMeDown says:

    Sounds great. I hate hotels with free wifi, the quality is always awful, while charging for it thins out the herd. I’d love to be able to pay extra for even better quality.

    • koalabare says:

      I’m not sure if you’re joking, but I’ve stayed at plenty of high end hotels where you do pay for internet–and the speeds are generally terrible.

  33. YouDidWhatNow? says:

    Considering that normal hotel wireless service is as close to useless as you can get…I don’t see how a lesser option is going to be viable.

    Hotels I’ve been in from Motel 6 to Hyatt Regencies have had crappy wi-fi. Come to think of it, I can’t really think of a hotel I stayed at where I’d call the wi-fi “acceptable.”

  34. Weekilter says:

    What burns me about hotel WiFi is that often it doesn’t work worth a krÃ¥p. It either barely connects or logs you off and constantly makes you log back into the system.

  35. StevePierce says:

    I was at a Radisson in Longmont, Colorado over Labor Day and had a consistent 6Mb up and down and the service was free.

    Come to Ypsilanti, Michigan, we setup free WiFi throughout the business district and parks. Wireless Ypsi.

    • MikeVx says:

      Which, the last time I tried it, had access to the general internet one day in 9 or so, and the rest of the time it was non-functional or trapped in a very restricted (provider web site only) network.

      I take it that this has changed?

  36. common_sense84 says:

    What a scam. 150 bucks a night and they can’t give you a 60 dollar a month internet connection for a day?

    I picked a higher priced hotel 130ish last time I traveled thinking it would be better internet. Not a chance. The crap sucked. I later complained in a survey email and actually got a response. Douchebag tells me they are upgrading to a T-1 for faster speed. Hotels are stuck in the 90s with regard to internet. A t-1 for a hotel that has like 100 rooms is ridiculous.

    • common_sense84 says:

      And to add, this service has nothing to do with speed. You are getting the same shitty internet with both packages. The difference is the 5 dollar extra package doesn’t place as many firewall restrictions on you. So you are paying for nothing.

  37. CyGuy says:

    My family and I traveled by car this summer to the National Parks on the western side of the Rockies staying mostly at campgrounds and cheap chain motels. Almost all the hotels had free wifi (Motel 6’s were a notable exception) and even most of CAMPGROUNDS had free wifi. Note, this included campgrounds where they didn’t have electrical hookups at many of the tent sites. I don’t see how the bottom end of the hospitality industry can recognize that free wifi is now a basic requirement, but the top end expects you to pay extra for it.

    I can understand having a two-tier service, but the bottom tier, sufficient to check email, verify your plane reservations, and/or check Google maps, should be free.

  38. Zclyh3 says:

    Work provided Aircard FTW.

  39. kmw2 says:

    Given that all I want to do in hotels is check my email and read facebook, and this is impossible because 95 other people are streaming porn, I think it’s a great plan.

  40. scoosdad says:

    I hereby coin a new Consumerist term– hotels are about to Ryanize their internet service.

  41. njack says:

    Most hotels I have experienced already have lower quality internet, but still charge full price. There are a few where it is actually faster for me to tether my phone than use their service.

  42. ram0029 says:

    Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina

    $9.95 for internet access that made me long for dial up… okay not quite that bad, was going to take a measly 10 hours to download a movie, e-mail loaded just shy of the gouge your eyeballs out point.

    $18.95 for 24 hours of high speed. Same movie went from 10+ hours to 18 minutes.

  43. DeeJayQueue says:

    a:) Yes I believe that hotel wi-fi should be free. But here’s why it isn’t. Because if it were, everyone and their brother would be on it all the time, and the hotel would have to provide super-robust networking hardware to keep it all running. Most hotels aren’t doing that well in this economy. Telepresence / Teleconference technology is getting better and better and businessmen are traveling less and less. Families don’t have as much to spend on vacations anymore, and take less of them. Hotel franchises don’t have on-staff IT guys to maintain a network capable of supporting every guest at once, which is tantamount to what would happen if it were free.

    So the solution is to price people out of using it. That way only the people with a genuine need or deep pockets will be on it, and they can afford a less robust infrastructure. Less overhead means more profit.

    b:) The Hyatt in downtown Atlanta had a similar package for their wi-fi. It was like $12/day for “premium access” and $9.99 for “basic.” I don’t know if that affected the network speed or what, but the concierge said it had to do with some sites being blocked on the basic network.

    • AustinTXProgrammer says:

      I think you are wrong, and I was in the Hotel Internet business for a couple of years at the beginning. At first only the 4 and 5 star Hotels offered it. Several companies were started around providing wired and wireless services to hotel guests. The Hotels didn’t want to spend the money though. The startups gambled and covered 100% of the installation costs that were always hundreds of thousands of dollars (100mbps 24 port switches were $3k, wireless access point was $1500, the only consumer access point was the Apple Airport at $300). The services would be provided using T1 lines, and for larger hotels multiple were used. Residential cable speeds at the time were around 2mpbs, but the T1 lines were more reliable.

      The startup had to make back this entire cost including the monthly recurring costs of the T1 line on those usage fees. And some hotels wanted a sizable cut for access to their building.

      Eventually this business model didn’t really work and customers started demanding Internet access before they would stay there. This forced the hotels to pay for the installation. But they still didn’t have the staff to support the network, and help users when there were problems. The top tier hotel providers will staff a call center and monitor the equipment. This is paid for by the connection fees. The fee’s persist because the 4 and 5 star hotels are already in the business of adding numerous fees and momentum.

      Now a big part of the business was actually building out the billing infrastructure. It was easy for a local ISP to go to the 2 and 3 star hotels and install free Internet access, so the low end was faced with this competition. But when it’s free there isn’t the push to get it right.

      I also consulted with a smaller hotel chain on free Internet in the years after. They had slow connections to each of their hotels and didn’t want to any more in monthly recurring costs. It was sad how little bandwidth they would pay for. But business class cable or DSL would have costs hundreds of dollars a month and wasn’t an option.

  44. evilpete says:

    I stayed at a 4 star hotel in MN, and signed up for the slower service the 1st night.
    It was a waste of $$, reminded me of dialup.

    Many times I opt for 3star hotelss because the WiFi is free and they don’t nickel & dime you ( as much )

  45. moyawyvern says:

    I just stayed in the Marriott Marquis in Atlanta, and the internet in the rooms is horrible. I didn’t pay for it this year, but one of my roommates did last year. It was wired and ridiculously slow. There may possibly be wifi in one of the lobbies or near the itty bitty Starbucks, but I didn’t even try this past year. I went to the mall food court connected to the hotel and used the Caribou Coffee’s free wifi. Only downside was the lack of outlets.

  46. mikells43 says:

    Marriot Marquis Times Square NYC charges 16.95 per day for interweb. i was just there for 3 days a month ago. i called vzw they gave me a free trial of mobile hot spot(which still sucked cause it was slow). but it wasn’t over 40$ for 3 days of internet.

  47. cromartie says:

    My general rule of thumb is, if they charge for breakfast, they charge for internet. Top tier hotels (Hiltons, InterContinentals, etc.) tend to. (Hilton Garden Inn being one of the exceptions to this rule);.

    If you’re a frequent business traveler, pick a loyalty program and stick with it. Be it Starwood, Hilton Honors or whatever Holiday Inn does, most often one of your perks beyond a certain membership level is that the cost of wi-fi is waived if their normally is one.

    For the most part, I find that hotel wireless, except during prime hours, is adequate for what I do in a hotel room with it. Not outstanding, but adequate. There are exceptions, but those are mostly relating to time of night (8pm-11pm) and distance from router.

    I would guess that, most often, a program like this is designed to charge one price to the guest who does basic surfing, and another price for a convention or meeting goer that has heavier duty needs. Or perhaps the divide is vacationer (who typically doesn’t need a VPN) versus business traveler (who would, and who can expense it).

  48. Eyegor says:

    I was “lucky” enough to have reduced quality wifi at my hotel and while it was technically faster than a modem (remember those, kiddies?), the experience was, in a word, painful. Wifi speed will become a discriminator when I select hotels in the future.

  49. Keep talking...I'm listening says:

    $10 is still way too much

  50. Aleave says:

    Say you have a hundred and something room hotel. Every room needs access. Say half of those rooms want access. The companies that get internet in the hotels think the only way to do it is to allot so much bandwidth per person. The more people connect, the lower the bandwidth gets. But $10 per day? WTF. Where I work, we are considered an economy hotel, so we really don’t make much overhead. We charge $4.95 per stay. No matter how long your here, just 5 bucks one time. And trust me, I’ve see the bill. Our internet is not cheap at all. Even for the crappy connection. They are revamping their internet at every property across the US. Apparently the higher ups got upset at what they paying vs what we actually get. So all new internet hopefully by the end of about 3 years. (there are over 1k properties to redo so it’s gonna take a bit)

  51. quail says:

    This is why Panera Bread, McDonald’s, and shopping malls offer free wi-fi to draw in the business traveler. Whenever I got stuck in a hotel that required fees for the Internet or that had crappy wi-fi, I’d always get in my car and scope out my surrounding for the free hotspots.

  52. brinks says:

    I just got back from my first-ever business trip. I had free wifi at the Holiday Inn Express, although I was given the option to upgrade to paid service. Since I had no problems with the free service, I didn’t need to upgrade.

    Two years ago, I spent a lot of time traveling and staying in various hotels that were usually 3 stars or so, and they ALL had free wifi. Have things really changed that much? And why the hell would you pay for it when there are still a ton of decent places that give it to you for free?

  53. Donathius says:

    I’ve always found it amusing that cheaper hotels (Super 8, Motel 6) will offer free wifi, but the expensive places make you pay for it.

    That being said I just jailbreak my iPhone and tether before I go anywhere – it even worked for me when I went to CES in Las Vegas earlier this year.

  54. zeiche says:

    The hotels started to severely overcharge for phone calls. How well did that work out for them? Now they want to take what they learned and apply it to WiFi. Okay, I guess I’ll always bring my air card.

  55. The Marionette says:

    They need to start doing something better about their wi-fi because from what I’ve heard from friends it’s not good to begin with and I’m sure the slower version is far worse and with smartphones being able to tether to laptops (or use as a wireless hotspot) and modem dongles with 3G (and now one with 4g as well) there’s less reason one would have to use the hotel’s wifi for a fee.

  56. dennis says:

    I offer free internet AND a netbook in my rooms. Costs less than A/C. Happy customers are the most important advertising you can have.

  57. kujospam says:

    I hate hotels, this is going to make my job that much more annoying. I work for a bank that most deals with servers, networking , and the mainframe, but since I work night they just throw the helpdesk at us also. I cannot wait for the phone calls of people complaining saying, my vpn connection is slow. Why cannot some people understand that if you have a slow connection, call the service provider, lol.

  58. banmojo says:

    seriously, WTF WTF WTF??!! I just don’t get this. Any