This Year Will Bring Plenty Of Free Hotel WiFi, But Beware New Cancellation Policies

Because you can never totally have it all, 2015 will be a mixed bag for travelers looking for good deals and great perks at hotels: While many larger chains will be touting free WiFi in the new year, many hotels will also be a lot stricter about guests who cancel their reservations.

Scott Mayerowitz over at the Associated Press notes that the mega-hotels that see lots of business travelers week in and week out are going the route of free WiFi, which is obviously a perk for guests.

But two of the largest hotel chains are also going to make it tougher for travelers to cancel their rooms starting this year, bringing that free WiFi joy down a notch for some.

Most chains will require guests to sign up for their free loyalty programs before granting access to that free WiFi, meaning basically that you’ll be paying for it with your personal information.

InterContinental Hotels Group, the parent company of Holiday Inn, was the first major chain to offer free Internet access to all its member loyalty programs participants in early 2014, a benefit that before that was usually reserved for frequent guests with elite status.

Marriott International joined the free WiFi club late last year, saying that all reward club members would get basic free WiFi starting Jan. 15. Elite members will get a faster Internet service for free.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide will also offer free Internet for guests, starting Feb. 2 for anyone booking directly and not through a service like Orbitz, while Hyatt Hotels will give gratis WiFi with no strings attached starting in February.

“Internet connectivity is no longer an amenity. It has become an integral part of travelers’ daily lives and a basic expectation,” Kristine Rose, vice president of brands for Hyatt told the AP in a statement. “Travelers shouldn’t have to remember which brands or locations offer it for free or the strings attached to get it.”

Hilton Worldwide is the only holdout in the big chain category not to have some sort of free WiFi at all properties.

Along with this happy change, there’s some bad news for travelers this year as well: Both Hilton and Marriott are instituting new cancellation polices that require guests to make up their minds about staying or not earlier than they used to: As of Jan. 1, both chains will require travelers to cancel by midnight the day before they arrive to avoid a fee, which will typically be up to one night’s room rate. Before now, many properties allowed guests to cancel as late as 6 p.m. on the night of arrival.

That limitation will hamper some travelers’ plans, especially those who use last-minute deal sites and apps to book rooms well, at the last-minute, that allow them to cancel original reservations that may have been more expensive only hours before checking in.

Hotels make Internet free but tighten cancellation policies [Associated Press]