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

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?

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.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • johnb78

    I don’t remember the last time I paid for wifi. When I’m at home (Australia), I have unlimited free 3G wireless as part of my cellphone plan; when I’m overseas, I can buy a SIM card and enough data quota to last me a few days for $10-20.

    I’m sure the only reason hotels get away with it is because they’re dealing with businesspeople travelling on expenses, who’re happy for their employer to pay extortionate rates (just as with $20 breakfasts…)

  • http://theinfamousj.livejournal.com/ TheInfamousJ

    Per Italy: I found out through WikiTravel that there is some sort of law or requirement in Italy that internet providers verify the identify of those using their networks. As such, there is a dearth of free WiFi and most is pay at rates that seem to be encouraged to climb higher and higher by competitors doing the same.

    Per Router: I have a small Asus travel router that is smaller than a blackberry phone and can function as a base station, a wireless card, or a repeater. I <3 that thing. Best $30 ever spent for a refurbished device via NewEgg. It is similar to an Apple Airport (is that what it is called?) but with the addition of the repeater functionality which is amazingly useful once you have it.

  • http://theinfamousj.livejournal.com/ TheInfamousJ

    I think that Chris’s readers may wish not to pay for internet at all. By your own admission, you pay $10-20 for internet though for internet delivered as mobile broadband rather than in the form of wifi.

  • johnb78

    Sure thing – everyone wants something for nothing :-)

    The difference is, $10-20 is good for a week’s trip. I’d also view that as a reasonable charge for a week’s worth of hotel wifi.

  • Lucy N

    “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.”

    Whether to include wifi in room charges and how much to charge for it otherwise is simply a business decision. Those that listen to guests will get more and those that charge too much will drive those guests away. There’s nothing ridiculous about it other than not choosing a hotel with free or cheap wifi at prices that you are willing to pay.
    Setting up and maintaining wifi isn’t free or even that cheap for the hotel, so unless you want to see base rates rise, there’s nothing unreasonable about the rates.

    “Saying “no” enough times to over-the-top wireless surcharges may send a message to the hotel industry.”

    Very true. But a wifi fee is just that – an extra fee which you can protest by not staying at a hotel. Free wifi isn’t a right (not all hotels have it especially abroad), it’s a service that isn’t unreasonable to pay for.
    Also, keep in mind that when you use your smart phone as a tether or for data over the cell network, you are often paying for that either as a fee or included in your monthly rate.

  • Sam Varshavchik

    In the US, “mid-grade” hotel chains, such as Holiday Inn, Best Western, etc… all have free wired or wi-fi Internet, as a rule. Last time we went on vacation, all the hotels we stayed had free wi-fi.

    The answer is to simply avoid all the full service hotels with their ridiculous Internet charges. The only practical value-added from the full service hotels is laundry and room service. I can’t think of any other guest service they offer that you won’t find in the mid-grade chains. All the Best Westerns we’ve stayed offered reasonably palatable free breakfast; the rooms were clean, and well maintained. One of them even had a complimentary coffee maker in the room, with a modest selection of coffee and tea packets.

    Big cities might be a different story, but there it should be easier to find free wi-fi somewhere.

  • cjr001

    “Can it get any worse than that?”

    I’m betting you’ve asked this of the hotel industry in the past. And the car rental industry. And many, many times of the airline industry.

  • Matt

    Can I choose to eliminate the TV from my room and get Wi-Fi in its place?  Now that is something I’d like :-)

  • MikeZ

    You are suggesting that we expect the WiFi for free. This is not the case. With so many people using WiFi these days, we merely expect it to be bundled in with the cost of the room, the same way towels are automatically in therewhen we check in. Also, the rates posted above are insane. $11 per device? thats just nuts and anyone can see tha. Last time I was at a Motel 6 they sold wireless access cards. Good for 24 hours for $3. That is very reasonable and worth the cost. In the first instance, the fees for ONE NIGHT were $33. That is my entire month internet bill, good for as many devices and traffic as I desire. The cable company still seems to make a decent profit even at those numbers.

  • Chris in NC

    and history just repeats itself. Before wifi and cell phones, hotels charged ridiculous amounts for making a phone call.

    I’m with @johnb78:disqus on this one. A few years ago, I signed up for 3G Internet, thus, I have Internet access on my laptop, everywhere I can get a cell signal (at a hotel, airport or even at a rest area). Yes, its steep, but if you travel with enough frequency and don’t want to pay for Internet access piecewise, its worth every penny.

    @google-fc00b38b94ca7b6f820622b0a8af8ded:disqus is right on the mark here. Most mid-range hotels offer complementary wi-fi/Internet service. Within the Marriott brand, Courtyard and Fairfield Inns offer free Internet. So, if “free” Internet is important, choose your hotel wisely. Also, Internet access fee is waived for Gold and Platinum members at full service Marriott properties.

    To answer the original question, yes, the fee is ridiculous, but then again so is the $30 valet parking, $6 bottle of water, $4 can of soda and $20 resort fee. When staying at a high end hotel, often the high prices don’t end with the room rate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/cjbrabec Charles J Brabec

    I pay about $75/month for a lot of bandwidth to my house. IMHO it’s not unreasonable to pro-rate that per day and jack it up by 100% for profit. So, $5/day seems reasonable. Anything over that is pure greed.

  • Absherlock

    It’s the whole “captive audience” mentality. The hotels industry used to make money off phone calls and pay-per-view but with the advent of cell phones and laptops, that revenue stream has dropped off. They’re milking what they can out of the internet users while they can. 

    Personally, I’m just surprised that they haven’t started installing individual electric meters in the rooms or coin slots in the shower for hot water. Soon enough, I suppose…

  • Jody

    My smartphone, a DroidX, has a 3G hotspot built into it. I can turn it off and on through Verizon and it can provide access to up to 5 devices for $20 per month, which I would easily run up in a single weekend at an upscale hotel.

    As long as people keep paying for internet some hotels will continue to charge for it. As smart travelers learn ways around the fees it may change. But, as with bag fees, I’m afraid the charges will remain as long as people will pay it.

  • http://www.bytehead.org/blog/ Bryan “bytehead” Price

    I visited South Africa for a month.  You had your choices.  You could buy Internet by the byte (250mb and 1gb increments if I remember right) or by connection time (and it seems that there was a third option as well, and the hotel web site doesn’t detail the WiFi situation either. :( ).  My wife was working as a consultant there, and the company that she was working with flipped out when they found she and her colleagues were using THEIR network.  So they had to go out and get 3G adapters and buy their Internet from the Vodaphone shops (1GB increments…).  The 3G option was cheaper per byte, but the adapter was expensive ($100US at the time)

  • John Formerfed

    Couple of points:  When I travel personally I do choose based on freebies, room costs, pool etc.  Have no issue that when you get to choose, one can factor charges into the equation.

    But for situations like weddings where the hotel is chosen by the couple or when on business, where the hotel is chosen by the company or venue or the conference people, I’m faced with no easy options.  I don’t get reimbursed for wireless even for work, I pay out of pocket but will do so if it’s reasonable.  But $7 per hour or $15 a day isn’t reasonable, nor is $11 per connected device.  In the face of unreasonableness, then I try an Engenius travel router that hotspots the wired internet into wireless (so I (and spouse and kids) can use my laptop, or tablet or ipod or even smartphone anywhere in the room) or use the tethering feature of my smartphone to get access to the internet much like Johnb78 above does.   But you know, if they charged me $5 a day, for all connections I’d gladly pay it for the simplicity and convienence.  It’s just a cup of Starbucks coffee.  But at $15 a day I’ll juggle the tech issues just to not pay it.

  • othermike27

    My experience is that the mid-range chains that attract business guests are the ones that offer free wired and wireless access.

    For example, the Hilton Hampton Inns, Embassy Suites, Garden Inn, Homewood Suites, etc.  But if you stay at a Doubletree or Hilton, there is a daily charge unless you’re a select Hilton Honors member.

    Chris – might be interesting to survey your readers to get a better sense of this.

  • emanon256

    Hotels will charge what the market will bear.  If people stop paying, they will probably reduce the price or make it free.  But as long as people pay, why not charge?

    I typically forgo Internet access at hotels if there is a fee, but a few times I have needed it.  I was shocked in Germany when I paid 25EU for 24 hours of access, but I had a work emergency and had to do it.  However, recently at a conference at a Hyatt, they charged me $12/day, and I checked that I wanted to use an alternate devise as I was registering and it gave me a code so I could also access the Internet on my cell phone, I thought that was great!  Perhaps the OPs hotel would have done the same had the OP read the terms.  I hate it when people don’t read the terms, and then complain about them after the fact.

    I did sign up for Boingo recently which was $9.99 a month, and so far everywhere I have encountered paid WiFi, I have been able to access it for free through Boingo.  Its been great!  Hotels, airports, public areas, etc.  I can use it on my phone or my PC.

    While I like free Internet, I voted no.  I think if its included, hotels will use it as an excuse to raise rates even higher than the cost difference.

  • Cliffordpwoodrick

    When a hotel charges for internet (in the US) I decline the paid WiFi and seek the nearest McDonalds. I have coffee and check my e-mail. I refuse to be nickel and dimed by the corporations – therefore I now use two airline companies and certain hotels. Check their charges on the internet. If enough people do as I do these additional charges will go away. The airlines made millions with these additional charges. If their overall revenue drops, they will stop this behavior.

    Have a wonderful day – Cliff 

  • johnb78

    I agree with that – it depends on the business. When I’ve stayed in either a budget-tourist place (especially in Asia) or a midrange business hotel, free wifi is the norm – when you get to the Hilton or the Swissotel or the local equivalent, that’s when the charges start kicking in. I suppose it’s because they assume you’ve got an expense account, are a business-class flyer, and can charge whatever the hell you like. Or, I suppose, if you are staying there privately, that you’re Richie Rich. It’s annoying when you get a $80 deal to stay in such a place off-season and still face the ancillary pricing structure aimed at people who can afford to pay $250, though.

  • johnb78

    I was about to mention phone calls – the wifi phenomenon is *exactly the same* as the dollar-a-minute phone call phenomenon used to be in the pre-cellphone days. It’s something that most people won’t think about until they check out – so they’re presumably basing it on “expense account travelers and very rich people won’t care, and if you’re here on a cheap deal to fill capacity then stuff you, we don’t care what you think”.

  • johnb78

    This is where being from the US is a pain – my GSM/3G phone works as a high-speed data modem in every country in the world, I just add a local SIM and stick my regular SIM in a $20 bulletproof, functionless old Nokia that’s fine at voice and SMS. If your smartphone’s CDMA, then you don’t have the same flexibility.

  • Sevenseat

    I see the free WiFi in business grade hotels like Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard. It seems that the charges for WiFi are usually at higher class hotels, and outside of the USA. I have a 3G card in my laptop, so I can get around this in the US, but as the rates for WiFi getting higher and higher, the roaming charges from AT&T don’t seem so bad.

  • Brooklyn

    What about those of us who need to check e-mail and occasionally the internet but don’t want to take a laptop on trips to places where it could easily be stolen or damaged in a hot car? I try to find hotels that have free or inexpensive internet access from a lobby or business center computer, but few of them advertise the service.

  • Riroon

    Another option, if you travel a lot, is a pay-as-you-go 3G device. Virgin mobile sells both an ethernet antenna and a hotspot. After the initial investment ($70/$150), you only pay for what you use. Just another choice you have.

  • Mike LaMonaca

    The Intercontinental in San Juan, PR has it right — they offer two levels of wired internet service: a slower-speed version that is free, and a high-speed version that costs a daily fee.  Most leisure travelers would be fine with the free version (as I was) just to check email and look up info on local attractions/restaurants.  And business travelers wouldn’t hesitate to pay for the high-speed version, since their employers are footing the bill anyway.

  • Chiefted

    This is one of the reasons that not only did I purchase a Mifi but also enabled tethering on my phone (the phone and mifi are on separate carriers). I only travel for work about four times a year but I wind up saving money using the two device vice paying for wifi or Internet at the hotel.

    Honestly next thing they will try is to meter your water usage. “Ooops you used two gallons over the free 2 gallons, that will be 50 dollars please”

  • Steve R

    I really think we’ve reached the tipping point where internet access should be viewed as a basic utility – not that it should be required for hotels to offer it, but that those who do should either include it in the price of the room or provide it for a reasonable (<$10 a day) fee. As others have pointed out, it's arguably as important or more important than cable TV – and what nationally branded hotel doesn't offer that nowadays?

    As others have also pointed out, it's a lot easier to find free access at midrange hotels than it is at more expensive ones. IMHO, that's just another reason to avoid them and save money.

    There's another point to be made, too. Not that paying the same as your monthly internet bill for two or three days of internet access could ever be reasonable, but in general, hotel internet is noticeably slow compared to residential service. That just adds insult to injury.

  • Willymy

    Going to a St. Regis property in Bora Bora at the end of August. Cost of two bedroom suite is north of $ 4,500 per day. No, I am not paying. Comp. Wireless cost an extra $30 per day. No come on, at those daily rental rates is is a slap in the face to pay an extra $30 for wireless.

  • JJWeldon

    “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.”

    Isn’t that the way it is now?  You are completely free to stay at a hotel that either charges or doesn’t.  Finding out is usually easy – read the terms or send a simple email.  Not finding out is just lazy.

  • JJWeldon

    “I get it. Hotels need to make money, and if they can tack on a $10 fee for “optional” Internet, why not?”

    What most people don’t understand is that the service is most likely outsourced.  The hotels don’t get that fee.  They probably get a small “commission” fee from the outsourcer, but they certainly aren’t pocketing the access fee.

    It’s like room service – you don’t want it don’t use it.

  • David

    Tethering and turning your phone into a Wi-Fi hot spot.  Then run your computer off of your phone.  Issue solved.

  • sunshipballoons

    Well, then they are all going to be disappointed if they want free internet.   Either there’s an optional fee, or its wrapped up in the bill.

  • emanon256

    Many websites say they have a business center, what they don’t say is that they charge for it.  I was at a JW Marriott on a vacation recently and it had a Business Center.  I assumed I could check my e-mail there. Turns out it was $15 per hour to use the business center.  I called Marriott as I am an elite and Internet is supposed to be free.  Turns out that since this location was designated as a “Resort” it was exempt from elite benefits.

  • djp

    One saving grace…my tablet has 3G cellular access so I can bypass these charges.

    With smart phones you can use them as a hot spot for online wifi access.

    As for the itemized charges……the entire hotel system needs to reverse things.

    The highest level hotels high cost mean you are not nickeled and dimed.

    There are hotels you use just for a place to sleep and a hot shower in the morning…so lket me pay a base rate and if I want to use the tv or use the internet there then I pay for those services (but no coin-op toilets or showers)

  • DavidS

    Free market economy…let them charge and if I want wifi, (which I will), I’ll book elsewhere….which I do.

  • Carver

    I dunno.  Resort fees are BS, but the other fees seem right in line with my expectations.  Parking is expensive in some cities such as San Francisco and New York

  • cjr001

    Have you seen what Verizon will be charging new customers for these smartphone wireless and tethering plans?

    Don’t worry, they’ll eventually be coming to existing customers before long; in the end, we won’t truly be escaping overpriced internet access.

  • flutiefan

    but isn’t Chris the OP?!

  • S E Tammela

    I’d rather pay a couple of extra dollars for the room and expect that wireless is included. The company billing it is probably headed for fortune 500; that charge is more than Finns pay for unlimited data for an entire month.

  • flutiefan

    everyone is talking about “tethering” and making your laptop “3g”.  can someone tell this techno-challenged lady how i do these things? thanks!

    (sorry if i’m coming off like a doofus, i just really don’t know! and i’d like to learn!)

  • http://elliott.org Christopher Elliott

    Yes, I am the OP. I should have paid closer attention to the terms!

  • Jim

    I see internet access going the same way as using a phone in a hotel.  They wanted so much rev from it that no one use it and everyone uses there cells.  People who travel alot will go to 3G/4G cards on the PC or teather there PC/etc to the smart phones.   Part of the problem at hotels are people using the wifi to watch movies on there laptop from netflix, or watching shows that have on the Home DVR’s thru the internet.  (also nickle.dimed from the high cost of the movies in the hotel).

  • http://www.thristhan.com Webmaster

    I suggest that all Hotels should insert the charges into the room rates and offer their customer free internet connection. Internet connections are getting fairly cheap nowdays.

  • Crissy

    I wish you could get away with $10 – $20 a week!  I was at a hotel that wanted 15 pounds a day, I didn’t get it.

  • Crissy

    I bought a wireless hotspot from Virgin Mobile, I can use it at hotels and anywhere else in the US.  The hotels can keep their expensive wifi.

  • Steve R

    “It’s like room service – you don’t want it don’t use it.” I see your point, but I’d also argue that “if you don’t want it, don’t use it” is more or less reasonable depending on what item or service you apply it to. Imagine if a hotel decided to unbundle electricity – your room costs $X, but if you want to use electricity, it’ll be an extra $10 a day. I don’t think many people would see that as reasonable.

    Rather than seeing it as black and white (these services are all essential and must be part of the room rate, while these services are all nonessential and should be priced separately and paid for only by those who use them), I see it as a continuum. I think most people would agree that in order of “essentialness”, electricity is essential, room service is nonessential, and internet access is somewhere in between. I would argue that it’s a lot closer to electricity, though.

    As far as the outsourcing goes: your point is valid to explain why, for example, Harveys refused to adjust Chris’s bill when it complained. But in the bigger picture, hotels wouldn’t outsource their internet services if it wasn’t financially advantageous to do so. Common sense says that if offering internet at a really high price leads to customer complaints (which it does), hotels wouldn’t do it unless they were benefiting significantly.

  • Mark K

    Some cell phones offer an option (usually at an added cost by your phone provider) that basically allows you to turn it into a wireless basestation (the 3G part). Then your laptop can connect to the internet through your phone (the tethering part).  Of course, depending on your phone plan, going this route may cost more than the daily charge at the hotel for internet access.

  • Jackson

    I voted no, simply because when I’m on vacation I have no wireless devices with me.  I don’t travel for work, so there is no need to have wireless in my room.  I don’t use it so I don’t want to pay for it. 

    With that said, the fees quoted here are outrageous!  I would be willing to strike those hotels off my list.  Even $11 a day is outrageous, because unless you spend hours in your hotel room on your computer, $11 is a huge price to pay to find a good restaurant or closest theater.

  • Eric

    Airports are just as bad.  $14.95 for “24 hours” of access, of which you’ll actually use maybe one hour.  The only exception I’ve found is the airport in Pensacola, FL, which has free, open access.

  • MichelleLV

    Your math is off.  There is not a hotel that charges $1.50-3.00 a day for wireless. It is either free or exceptionally high for what it should be.

  • Laura Cattell

    I recently stayed ay a Doubletree in Memphis where wifi was free everywhere but in Nashville at a Sheraton it was only available in the lounge. If one hotel can include the cost provide property wide access they all can.

  • Joe Blasi

    most Las Vegas hotels put the Internet access as part of the resort fee.

  • Jared

    Having quality hotel network access is a crucial component of success

    in the hotel business  It not only can give you a competitive advantage, in some cases, but it also allows

    you to compete with competitors. 

  • kanehi

    I’ve stayed at Best Western Plus and their internet access is included.  I’ve stayed in Las Vegas and a lot of hotels charges extra for internet accesss up to $15 per day and some include it on their resort fees.  For hotels that charges per day I tether my phone for internet access.

  • Bill___A

    With respect to the “per device” charges, it is very important to pay attention to this. Although the number of hotels allowing only one device has diminished, they are still out there. Some stipulate three devices, some six.

    If you are in a hotel that charges for internet, ask about this before you hook up any devices.

    I travel with a router made specifically for using in hotels. It creates a single connection to the hotel system and I can hook up all my devices to it.

    The last time I was in a hotel that wanted GBP 15 for a device that my travel router didn’t work in (it was an old one) – I checked out the next morning. Never to return. The hotel lost over $1000 in revenue because they had signed a contract with their internet provider that would charge me per device.

    It is still very much a “buyer beware” world, particularly with internet access.

    Don’t deal with those places that rip you off. And don’t let them rip you off, check before..

  • Bill___A

    I find the higher the cost of the hotel, the fewer things are included.

  • Bill___A

    It is good that the current batch of finance guys were not in control when lights, electricity, television and running water came out. I’m sure they would definitely charge by flush.