My WiFi left me on vacation

It has been one of the most unquestioned pieces of travel advice since the first WiFi hotspot flickered to life in an unnamed hotel more than a decade ago: If you want to stay connected while you’re on vacation, you can save a bundle by skipping a pricey cellular roaming plan and using a wireless Internet connection instead.
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These Surfbouncers really know how to sweet-talk a girl

screenOne of the first questions I ask when someone needs help is: Could I see the correspondence between you and the company? When Steven Price showed me his back-and-forth between with a company called Surfbouncer, I was speechless.

And then I asked the company for its side of the story.

Normally, here’s what happens when you have trouble with a business: You send it an email with your problem, and it replies with a pre-fabricated form response that vaguely addresses the issue and offers non-apologies like, “We’re sorry for the way you feel.”

Surbouncer, which offers VPN services for international travelers who need to stay connected, is not one of those companies.
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What’s your problem? Shocked by an $800 phone bill

Question: I recently flew to Vancouver for a business meeting. Before leaving, I called Sprint to find out the most efficient way to connect.

An agent noted I already had an international calling plan that would make me eligible for reduced priced calls.

I specifically asked about Sprint’s MiFi, a wireless hotspot that can be connected to several devices. He said I didn’t need to worry about the MiFi. He said, “It’s just like in the US.”

It wasn’t.

When I returned to the US, I was advised both my phone — and most notably, my MiFi — had nearly $800 in data roaming charges for a weekend. I called Sprint, and after several hours on the phone, a representative agreed to reduce my bill by 15 percent.

After a little more haggling, a supervisor reduced it to 50 percent. I asked Sprint if it could pull up the recording of our first conversation, but was told it wasn’t possible.

I’d really like a full refund. Can you help? — Dawn Lyon, San Francisco

Answer: Sprint is either right or wrong, which is to say it either gave you the incorrect information (which means it owes you a full refund) or the correct information (in which case, it owes you nothing).
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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.
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That’s ridiculous! Hotels are charging even more for what should be free

What could be more absurd than paying a surcharge for a wireless Internet connection at your hotel?

Paying even more for a wireless Internet connection at your hotel.

But that’s exactly what more travelers are being asked to do when they open their laptops after checking in. A “regular” Wi-Fi connection typically costs about $10 a day, but if they want to upgrade to a higher speed, they have to pay a premium of between $5 and $10 over an above that rate.

Philip Guarino was faced with that choice on a recent visit to Zurich, Switzerland. A basic wireless connection at his hotel ran at 500 kilobits per second (the average dial-up connection is 56 kilobits per second). The “premium” connection speed was about 20 times faster, which would have allowed him to easily stream videos, make Internet-phone calls and download large files – all the things a reliable high-speed connection ought to do in 2011.

“I pay for the upgrade every time because the difference is so drastic,” says Guarino, a business consultant.
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Travelers need fast, free Internet connections — why can’t they get it?

I’m writing this from the Vista Café on Deck 4 of the Disney Dream. But it’ll probably take half an eternity to post it, because the “high speed” wireless connection on the ship is significantly slower than what I’m used to on dry land.

Actually, that’s being generous. I’d give anything for a reliable a dial-up connection right now.

No disrespect to the ship. After all, only a few years ago, you couldn’t get online from a cruise ship. But it got me thinking about travelers and Internet connections.

I’ve been on the road for the last month. (My cats don’t recognize me when I come home, or maybe they just refuse to.) If there’s one thing that all of the destinations have shown me — from Northwest’s Florida’s Beaches of South Walton to Castaway Cay in the Bahamas, where I am now — it is this: There’s no such thing as too much bandwidth.
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Hey, what happened to my Internet connection?

Question: I recently reserved a room at the Ramada Charleston in Charleston, S.C., through When I checked in, I was told there was no Internet in the rooms despite what the Web page said.

I explained that I needed Internet access and that the Ramada would not do. I called from the Ramada lobby and the representative, whose English language skills were poor, confirmed with Ramada that there was no Internet and canceled my reservation.

I then went across the street to the Red Roof Inn, confirmed they had Internet in their rooms, and called back to book it instead. This time the phone representative (whose English was even worse) told me my credit card was declined. This was because she couldn’t understand me and input the wrong number.

Finally, I had to book the room with the front desk of the Red Roof Inn using the same credit card that the agent said was declined and the same credit card I used for the initial Ramada reservation. I lost four nights of Welcome Rewards and about 35 minutes on my cell phone.

I think, at the least, my four nights of welcome rewards should be reinstated. But refused, instead offering me $50 worth of “Hotel Bucks.” They promised them within four to six weeks, but it’s been five months, and there’s no sign of them. Anything you can do to help would be appreciated. — Michael Rosenthal, Miami

Answer: Your room should have had an Internet connection, as promised. I can understand how some hotels might think of a wireless high-speed network as an amenity, like a TV or a hair dryer, but if you’re traveling on business, it’s a necessity.

I reviewed the listing of the Ramada Charleston several weeks after working on this case, and I saw that the hotel still claims to offer “high-speed Internet access” on site.
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Renegade travel agent brings ticket pricing fight to America

What’s the most maddening thing about airfares? Probably the pricing. You’re offered a low “base” fare, only to have fees, taxes and surcharges tacked on to it. By the time it’s all added up, the fare has doubled. Why can’t they just quote an all-inclusive price to begin with?

That’s what Stanley Gyoshev, who founded the online travel agency Lessno with Assen Vassilev, thought. So they did something about it. They successfully lobbied the European Union to change its pricing rules. Now they’re setting their sight on the United States. I recently spoke with Gyoshev about his efforts to change the way travelers buy tickets.

Q: How did you get the EU to change its airfare rules?

Gyoshev: We have always fought for fairness and disclosure, so when the Meglena Kuneva, the European Union Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, announced that she was going to examine Web sites selling air travel products for such shenanigans, we prepared and presented a policy brief explaining how the interest of the consumers in the air travel could be protected.

Commissioner Kuneva and the members of her cabinet responded so well to our brief and our recommendations and analysis that us in the joint working group of the Directorate Generals of Health and Consumers and General Energy and Transport in drafting new legislation on the subject. The rest is history.

So due to the hard work of Commissioner Kuneva and her colleagues, all EU air travel Web sites are required to publish the total price for a standard ticket, so travelers can compare the prices.

Q: It’s a little unusual to find a travel company pushing this kind of rule change. What’s with that?

Gyoshev: We were never just about the technology or the interface. Our vision was that we were going to be an agent of the traveler, not a travel agency, which most of the time represents some corporate airline interest, not the interests of the traveler. So the first thing we did was set out to design a site that would be user-friendly and would help people find what they define as the best possible trip: the shortest travel time, the greatest probability of arriving on time, only exchangeable and refundable tickets, or the cheapest price.

Q: Here in the U.S., the government has a “hands off” approach to the airline industry, and particularly to the way in which fees are broken out on the Web. How do you plan to change things?

Gyoshev: In the U.S., there is no central agency which has the single role of protecting consumers, so there are several ways in which this could happen. For one, the federal government could increase consumer protection by using laws relating to unfair advertising — by insisting that airlines only advertise products and pricing which is readily available to the traveler without undue restrictions and red tape. The second is that since major international airlines are selling tickets in Europe, they will need to comply with the EU regulations. Since they need to make consumer friendly changes to their European Web sites and advertising, we are hoping there will be some carry-over to the U.S. sites.

Q: Is there a non-regulatory way to compel airlines and travel agencies to quote a full price?

Gyoshev: Maybe. We are planning to actively monitor Web sites for airlines and airfare sellers in the U.S., and will offer consumers advice on the best products available on the market. We are also planning to talk with more reporters like you to teach consumers about the progress that has been made in Europe and that is possible for the U.S. as well. In the future, we may also undertake efforts to encourage Congress and the attorney generals to support the enforcement of fair advertising principles for the entire industry.

Q: What can the average traveler do to support these efforts to end this bait-and-switch scheme?

Gyoshev: The only way to end the bait-and-switch game is to stop supporting airlines and airfare sellers who practice this deceptive tactic. Travelers should spend the time to find a company they trust not to nickel and dime them with every fee and tax they can dream up. If a traveler comes across an especially misleading ad or fare listing, we invite them to email us or their state and federal representatives. If American travelers help us draw attention to this problem, we’ll be much better off in pushing for legislation similar to the new transparency law in Europe.