If you’ve ever stayed at a high-end hotel, chances are if you wanted Wi-Fi, you had to pay for the privilege. Or, more specifically nowadays, it’s packaged into the “resort fee” that they tack on (here’s more about those and what to do about them). But if you stay at a Holiday Inn Express, Super 8, Days Inn, etc., the Wi-Fi is usually free.
What’s up with that?
According to Toni Repetti, a hotel management professor at the University of Nevada, the answer is simple: “Because they can.”
Yep – the reason is greed.
You just knew that’s what the answer was going to be, didn’t you?
The train of thought is that people who can afford to pay $300, $400, $500 or more per night for a hotel room aren’t going to care if an extra $15, $20 or $25 is tacked on because they’re already paying so much for the room. On the other hand, people staying at budget hotels are far more price sensitive so hotel managers keep the Wi-Fi free in order to compete with the other less expensive hotels in the area that offer it for no cost.
But what if I don’t want to pay for Wi-Fi?
Just because a hotel charges for Wi-Fi doesn’t mean you have to pay for it (well, unless it’s part of the resort fee and then you probably do). There are several ways to not:
- Sign up for your hotel’s program. Even if you don’t ever get enough points to earn a free hotel stay (and really, it’s not that difficult to get enough points to do that), some hotel brands offer free Wi-Fi just for being in their respective programs.
- Have the right kind of credit card. Many hotels will give you elite benefits, which may include free WiFi, if you use your hotel-branded credit card to pay for the room (Note: oftentimes you have to make the reservation directly from the hotel’s website, not a third party like Expedia or Kayak).
- Leave your room. Some hotels charge for the Wi-Fi in the room but the Wi-Fi in the lobby and/or bar is free. Check at your hotel’s reception/concierge desk for details.
- Leave your hotel. Several national chains offer free Wi-Fi, including Starbucks, McDonald’s, Panera Bread, Dunkin’ Donuts, Buffalo Wild Wings, Apple Store, Whole Foods, Staples, Office Depot, Target, Lowe’s and Best Buy. So you can stop by, buy something (don’t just use their amenities and give them nothing in return), and use the WiFi. IMPORTANT – Free Wi-Fi doesn’t mean secure Wi-Fi, so make sure to use a VPN to protect your personal information!
- Tether your phone. Some cell phone plans include a personal hotspot so you can use the data from your phone to get internet access on your computer. Check your phone plan for details.
- Have a mobile hotspot device. If you travel a lot and find yourself in need of Wi-Fi on a frequent basis, you might want to purchase your own mobile hotspot device. You usually have to purchase the device itself and then pay a monthly fee.
- Use the hotel’s equipment. In an absolute pinch, you could consider using the computer(s) in the hotel’s business center. But without a way to protect your personal information, I wouldn’t recommend doing much (and certainly not anything where you have to type in any sort of identifying information or password).
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