Somewhere along the Kenya-Tanzania border, 8,000 miles and eight time zones from home, I got the news no traveler wants to hear: My email account had been compromised. “How to practice safe Internet on the road”
Who broke the contract — CenturyLink or Terri Trier? That’s the question we have to answer today. At stake: a $200 early termination charge. “Overbilled by CenturyLink — and now a $200 early termination charge?”
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.
“My WiFi left me on vacation”
One 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.
“These Surfbouncers really know how to sweet-talk a girl”
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.
“Ridiculous or not? Wireless hotel charges that make you want to stay home”
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.
“That’s ridiculous! Hotels are charging even more for what should be free”
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.
“Travelers need fast, free Internet connections — why can’t they get it?”
Question: I recently reserved a room at the Ramada Charleston in Charleston, S.C., through Hotels.com. When I checked in, I was told there was no Internet in the rooms despite what the Hotels.com Web page said.
I explained that I needed Internet access and that the Ramada would not do. I called Hotels.com from the Ramada lobby and the Hotels.com 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 Hotels.com 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 Hotels.com 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 Hotels.com 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 Hotels.com 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.
“Hey Hotels.com, what happened to my Internet connection?”
Maybe it was the appearance of the fabled Google Phone — also called the Nexus One — over the weekend. Then again, maybe it’s all this recent talk about cloud computing, and the potentially game-changing Chrome operating system.
Could also be the scuttlebutt about the Apple Tablet. Or the fact that I’m writing this from seat 22A on an AirTran flight back to Orlando.
“A few random thoughts about in-flight Wi-Fi, cloud computing and connectivity”