Ridiculous or not? Wireless hotel charges that make you want to stay home

By | June 22nd, 2011

As I reviewed my hotel bill at Harveys Lake Tahoe recently, I noticed something unusual: Instead of charging me $11 a day for wireless Internet, they were asking for three times as much.

“This can’t be right,” I told the clerk.

She called a manger, who firmly explained it was right — Harveys charges for wireless access not by room, but by device. Although it isn’t disclosed on its website, it is on the terms and conditions when you log in. I had glossed over it when I got online.

As for reducing my bill, the manager was equally firm in his “no”: The property outsourced its Internet to another company, and if I didn’t pay, Harveys would be on the hook for the full amount. The bill was paid, but I’m still puzzled that it could cost more to check email than to park my car.

A survey by market research firm BDRC suggests wireless Internet costs British hotel guests $2.2 billion a year. Best Western, which offers free wireless access, released those numbers last week along with a petition to give guests free access.

The average hotel guest now pays an average of $22 for wireless access, according to BDRC. The study also noted that some hotels that used to offer free access have now reverted to a paid model. At the same time, the need for a reliable wireless connection has “surged” in recent years, according to Tim Sander, BDRC’s research director.


I get it. Hotels need to make money, and if they can tack on a $10 fee for “optional” Internet, why not? What I don’t get — and what the survey doesn’t address — is how hotels can become so aggressive about the fees. I mean, charging by device seems a little outrageous. Can it get any worse than that?

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As a matter of fact, it can. Teresita Barnett stayed at a Hilton property in Taormina, Sicily, recently and was charged $10 per hour.

“What was even more outrageous is that I had to use up all the minutes in one go, or lose whatever is left over,” she remembers.

Elizabeth Moore stayed at a New Orleans hotel that wanted to charge her a $7 “start fee” for getting online.

“It was outrageous,” she says. “I just found the public library and went there to check email.”

That’s a lot of outrage.

What troubles me is that hotels don’t seem to be listening to their guests when they revert to a pay-for-access model and get aggressive about maximizing their revenue. Most hotel guests need a clear, fast wireless signal and they’d prefer it to be included in their room rate. Guests who prefer not to “subsidize” wireless access can always stay at hotels that charge to get online — there will always be a few that do.

Saying “no” enough times to over-the-top wireless surcharges may send a message to the hotel industry. In the meantime, you may have to get creative with a workaround.

When technology writer Dave Taylor discovered the Wynn in Las Vegas charges not by room for Internet access, but by computer, he rigged a portable WiFi router that we plugged into the Ethernet jack in his room. Taylor used it as a base station for Internet access.

“It let all six of our devices go online with a single access point,” he wrote.

I’ll have to remember that the next time I’m at Harveys.

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