Friday, January 17, 2014

The not so "free" hotel WiFi

According to HotelChatter, two-third of hotels now include free WiFi, notice that I say “include” not “offer” as WiFi should be a convenience like a shower and a TV. So, you book, check-in and ask for your Internet access key. No problem, front desk hands you a small sheet of paper with access code and instructions. You get comfortable in your room, kick of the shoes and log-in …

If this hotel is honest (and smart), login is quick,simple and you do indeed get good and free WiFi in your room, as you expected. Unfortunately, in too many hotels claiming to offer free WiFi, that’s not the case. Let’s break down these hotels in three categories:

#1. The “Yes, it is free in the room” but ranging from annoying to useless:

The login process may be more complicated than filling out your tax forms and you have to login again and again after a few minutes of inactivity, don’t you dare go to the bathroom! Or the speed is so slow, that it is useless. Are they inept or devious? If the login process includes an option to pay for “premium” WiFi, they are devious!

#2. The “Yes, it is free in the room” … for a little while or just enough to check mail.

Then you have to pay, and most often it is expensive. That is downright misleading and a terrible business practice as the guests feel they have been deceived which will be the one thing they will remember about this hotel … and tell their friends about it.

#3. The “Yes, it is free, but we never said IN THE ROOM”

In plain English: No, there is no free WiFi in the room. Free in the lobby does not count. Free if you are a member of their loyalty program does not count either. There are two types of hotels in this category: the outdated properties and the devious ones. Hotels with no WiFi in room at all, free or pay, are just outdated or really, really cheap. Makes you wonder what else is outdated in this hotel! Hotels with WiFi in room, if you pay for it, are just as devious as the ones in group #1. because you booked a room with the understanding that WiFi in the room is free and yes, there is WiFi in the room, but it is not free.

And last, the worst offenders: You don’t know you are paying until check-out!

What happens here is that when you login there is some language somewhere along the process, generally ambiguous enough for you to ignore, that says that after 30 minutes of free WiFi, the charges will be added to your room bill. Some may tell you how much it cost, the worst ones do not! Thankfully, this practice is so nasty that affected guests are very voiceful about it, first at check-out, then on the Internet. Most properties with some common sense or their brand slapping them back to reality, do wake up and eliminate this practice before losing the business altogether.

Never assume free really means free!

Next time you book your hotel stay and want free WiFi, looking closely at their web site may not be clear enough, you may have to call to ask specifically if their free WiFi is IN room and WITHOUT restriction. HotelChatter does a pretty good job tracking which hotels are free, not so free, not free, including the few gouging properties. But hotel policies, and marketing sense, change often and frequently, so you still need to double-check with the hotel directly.

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