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Travelers reaching the breaking point with hotel WiFi fees

Compass

Street protests.  Damning Facebook campaigns.  Twitter universe all a flutter.  Millions of traveler's echoing Peter Finch's famous tirade in the film, Network, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore!"

What's going on?  Is democracy in peril?  Nope. It's just frustrated and angry travelers reaching the breaking point. They want free WiFi and internet access in the guest room.  And it's not a matter of being nickeled and dimed — it can cost anywhere from $8 to as much as $25 a day charged by some luxury-brand hotels.

Most luxury hotels lead the way in making you pay for WiFi.  Stay at a mid-level or budget brand hotel and you are likely to get free WiFi or at a lower rate.

Mark Johnson, founder of HotelChatter.com  says, "luxury hotel customers had grown accustomed to paying extra things like phone calls and other services, so luxury hotels did the same with WiFi."

Budget hotel chains, Johnson says, "looked at 'Free WiFi' like 'Free HBO', as another enticement to add to their side-of-the-road billboards and bring in customers."

Initial set-up of wireless infrastructure, maintenance and buying bandwidth does cost money. Many hotels however skimp on the bandwidth (you've been there — it takes  forever to download Grandma Brown's cookie recipe or pictures from your daughter's sweet 16 birthday party). Hotels don't properly install the wireless system in the first place. This leads to one of the biggest complaints of tech-savvy travelers — paying internet service charges for each of their devices — laptop, iPad, tablet and smartphone.  One day of internet charges for all those devices can add up to a dinner for two!

Taylor Cole, director of public relations and social media for Hotels.com, can relate to paying for multiple devices.   "I have two cell phones, iPad and my laptop when I travel," explains Cole.   "Mobile usage continues to rise, and when we travel not only do we want internet but high speed and quality WiFi."

American travelers were asked by Hotels.com in a survey earlier this year what was the number one must have amenity — 38% chose free WiFi.   The least used amenity? The bathroom phone.

Many of the mid-range and luxury brands will offer their guests free WiFi — but there's a catch.  You have to sign up for their loyalty program and sometimes even that won't score you free WiFi.  You need to stay at the hotel many times to reach a certain tiered status.

Hotels make a bundle off WiFi but are they at risk losing their customers when the hotel down the street is offering it for free?
HotelChatter.com's Johnson thinks the smart way is just adding a few dollars to the rack rate so they can still earn WiFi usage revenue.  It's better than dinging the traveler as an extra charge on his bill.

Advice for the traveler — join a loyalty program, stay only at properties that offer free WiFi, or ask for at least a discounted rate if you are staying for multiple days or have multiple devices.  If they want to retain you as a customer more than likely they will give you a discount.  If they don't then, let the hotel WiFi revolution begin!

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