Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Hotel Internet Fees

I hate it when our layover hotel doesn’t have free internet access! Fortunately, my hotel tonight has reasonably fast wi-fi.

From the New York Times
October 11, 2005
Resentment Flares Over Fees for Internet Access at Hotels
A COUPLE of weekends ago, I stayed at a Hyatt Regency in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., while attending a trade show. Cost for the room for two nights: $411.26. Added cost for high-speed Internet service: $12.95 a day.

O.K., a friendly "customer satisfaction" person at the front desk removed the Internet charge after I called down to complain about that and a few other things. But $12.95, when most of us resent paying even the usual $9.95?

Out in Wisconsin, Tom Hill sympathized with me about being hit for Internet service at four-star hotels when you can get it free at lower-priced competitors, not to mention a growing number of public places and, for that matter - as I noticed on my way home from the trade show - the entire Fort Lauderdale International Airport.

"I just won't pay for it," Mr. Hill said in a phone conversation. Mr. Hill, a former real estate investor, is an author and motivational speaker who spends at least 150 nights a year in a hotel. But he was not in his room when I called, even though he was on the road. Instead, he was ensconced with his laptop at a Panera Bread bakery-cafe in Milwaukee. "You get free Wi-Fi at Panera," he said. "In some cities, it's my office away from home. Hotels charging 10 bucks for the Internet? We need to make this an issue."

Evidently, it is one, judging from the heavy e-mail response to a column on the subject two weeks ago. The backlash against charging for Internet access, whether hard-wired or Wi-Fi, has been building for years, especially among younger business travelers who have been accustomed to free high-speed Internet access since college.

"Hotels do not charge guests for electricity and light bulbs," Jonathan B. Spira, the chief executive of the research company Basex, wrote last year in a survey titled "Romancing the Road Warrior: The Case for Free Internet Access." Most business travelers, he said, "consider high-speed connectivity a basic necessity. Shouldn't that necessity be included in the cost of the room?"

Some readers, like Tom Nobles, have found ways to avoid hotel charges and tap into free Wi-Fi. Recently, after brooding about paying Internet access in a four-star Atlanta hotel, Mr. Nobles found that he could get a free Wi-Fi signal on a trip to Chattanooga, Tenn.

"I sat in the parking lot of the Wingate Inn and did my work on my laptop; also in the parking lot of a Panera Bread," he wrote.

Wingate Inns, a unit of the Cendant Hotel Group, was among the earliest budget chains to promote free Internet service. Rich Roberts, a Cendant spokesman, noted that Wingate also offers a menu of other services that business travelers look for, like free local phone calls and 24-hour business centers that do not charge for a printout or a photocopy.

"If we can bundle these services into the rate of a midpriced chain, you would think the upscale and luxury chains could do the same," he said.

Typically, you can log on free in midlevel brands like Hilton's Garden Inn, Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites, and Marriott's Courtyard, Residence Inn and Fairfield Inn properties. Internet charges are most prevalent at four-star and five-star luxury hotels, here and abroad.

"My son, who is en route home from Europe as we speak, said they charged $29 at some place for his Internet connection," said Sally Traidman, who admits to having occasionally "walked over to a Marriott Courtyard lobby" for free Wi-Fi use when faced with a hotel charge.

"The international hotels are awful at times," said Phillip H. Stevens Jr., who recently paid more than $30 a night for access at a major hotel in Cairo. On the other hand, some international hotels actually get it, he added. "The Hyatt Regency in Amman, Jordan: beautiful hotel, terrific service - and free high-speed Internet."

Luke Mellors, the technology director at one of the world's most stylish hotels, the Dorchester in London, said there was another side to this. The Dorchester, he said, charges £18.50 (about $33) a day for high-speed Internet service. Providing it free would entail a rise in room rates, he said, but only 35 percent of the guests use the Internet. "We don't want to penalize the majority for the needs of the minority," he said.

Eric D. Horodas, the president of Greystone Hospitality, a San Francisco hotel company, was not buying that. "I am very annoyed when I check into a high-end hotel and find I have to pay extra to connect to the Internet," he said. Business travelers, he said, should "demand complimentary Internet access."

Mr. Horodas's company owns and operates five hotels in California. Four are independent boutique hotels and the other is a Best Western franchise. And yes, the Wi-Fi is free and has been for years.

E-mail: jsharkey@nytimes.com


Rachel said...

Internet fees piss me off! Luckily I can charge them to my client but it still "chaps my hide" to be dinged with them! I am paying $300 a night for a hotel this week and they can't even throw this little service in for free???

"Omis" said...

I'm finding more and more that I'm getting free high-speed internet in the rooms. I think that my airline has actually negotiated that as part of the contract!

Fly Girl said...

Most, but not all, of the Doubletree hotels have free high speed access (either wi-fi or hard line) in their rooms. Some, but not all, Hiltons as well. Most Marriott Courtyards have free room access also.

Flight Attendants tend to stay at a major chain hotel, where companies can negotiate a better room rate, and these are the only major chains that I know about.

When I travel for personal business, one of the items in the room decision, is the availability of free internet access.

Dial up is AWFUL!

Anonymous said...

If they charge for WiFi, I just plug in my phone line and do AOL dial-up... of course this came back to bite me in Atlanta last month, when they tried to charge me absorbitant fees for a local phone call (it was a per-minute rate--just like in Europe!)

-Queen of Sky

Anonymous said...

I am one of the individuals quoted by Joe Sharkey in his article (Luke mellors, IT Director of the Dorchester in London) and while I understand peoples frustrations of having to pay for Internet there are some elements that need to be clarified.

Firstly, the cost to maintain an Internet infrstructure, bandwidth, security for users via firewall and VPN connectivity all need to be condidered. Secondly, with less than 50% of hotel guests taking up the service it is inappropriate to charge the majority for (additional room tariffs) for the need of the minority in this case.

We have decided that while we charge for Internet we want to increase the value of it through offering services attached to it. We were the first Hotel in the world to offer E-Butlers who ensure that guest technology needs are serviced properly and that they can achieve whatever they need to while staying in our hotel. This service is free and breeds guest loyalty as they no longer have to struggle with bad, slow or connections that just do not work.

You can use them to call you help desk to set up your laptop or to provide you information on where to surf after you connect. We aim to offer a technology service experience not just some plug in a room that sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. We are a service industry and that should be focus. The question isn't whether to charge or not to charge but rather is what you charging offering value to your guests and in our case we believe that we are.

Luke Mellors

Fly Girl said...

Thanks to everyone for responding. Mr. Mellors post got me thinking and researching this issue a little more. Look for a new post continuing this discussion.