Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi

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First published 21st November, 2010

I'm writing this story on a laptop that isn't connected to the internet. It's not connected to the internet even though the hotel has WiFi access. It's not connected via the WiFi access because although I am staying in what I believe is the most expensive room on the property (US$120++), the access isn't free. I'm not happy and when a guest isn't happy, the hotel loses.

Here are some reasons why hotels should not charge extra for internet:

Hotels should never charge extra for WiFi

It wastes everybody's time

At this hotel, rates start at 50,000 rupiah (around US$5) for an hour's access. I have to walk up to reception (there are no phones in the rooms — now that I am okay with), request the access, wait for five minutes while the staff tap on a keyboard interminably, then find an unprofessional scrap of paper to write down my username and password on. I have to head back to my room, fire up the laptop, connect to the router log in using the newly-supplied username and password (presuming I haven't lost the piece of paper) and get to work.

When I want another hour, I have to repeat the process and take up the time of staff again who should be doing something better with their time. As I should be.

Many guests need internet access for their work

When I travel, I don't want internet access, I need it. I have an online business to run, and I need to have access to it on daily — that is, every single day, whether I am working or on a holiday. Internet access, for me, has become a make or break deal when selecting a place to stay.

When travelling alone I'm not fussed about TV, air-con, a bar fridge or even hot water, but I do need WiFi. Did you get that? Put a big sticker on the front door reading "Free WiFi" and believe me as long as you're not charging the earth and there aren't any dead dogs in the stairwell, you've got my custom.

Many guests use it for fun

More and more people use social media when they are holidaying. If I can't get hotel internet access, I can't check in to Foursquare, I can't tweet how much I love my room, and I can't post the pix I've taken on my iPhone (if I had one) straight to Facebook so all my friends can be envious and check out the hotel's website immediately.

Of course, the downside is going to be that guests might complain; but you've got a social media person to monitor that, right? If you're on the ball it's a way for switched on hotels to nip any problems in the bud — and probably get a public thank you as well.

It should be a normal cost of doing business

I expect to be charged a breakdown of services when I am flying on a low cost carrier. But when I am paying for a decent hotel room, I expect electricity, I expect hot running water, and these days I expect to be able to use my laptop — all with no additional charge.

Don't bleat to me about the costs of setting it up. I don't care. What did it cost you to install hot water? If you can't afford to provide this service for free, then just don't provide it at all and make a fuss about how you want your guests to be relaxed (and, also, never to come back).

When I use your internet access I will spend more time at your hotel

When I have internet access in my guesthouse room, I'll more likely avail myself of your room service and I'll most certainly drink the bar fridge dry.

When I don't have internet access in my room, I'll go eat and drink in a cafe somewhere else that offers it for free. Generally speaking, it seems that the owner of the crappy beachside shack I work at many days has better business sense than the owner of the property I'm currently staying in.

A final word: Offer it for free or not at all

If you can't "afford" to offer internet access for free then don't offer it. Really, just don't bother. In charging for it, all you're doing is grabbing a few short-term dollars that will cost you future long-term business.

About the author:
Stuart McDonald co-founded with Samantha Brown in 2004. He has lived in Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, where he worked as an under-paid, under-skilled language teacher, an embassy staffer, a newspaper web-site developer, freelancing and various other stuff. His favourite read is The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton.

Read 21 comment(s)

  • Well said - at the weekend I was lucky enough to stay in the Intercontinental in Hanoi (it was a wedding gift for me and my wife - we actually only live about 200 yrds away).

    Turns out WIFI was charged at 10$ per hour. In Hanoi WIFI is free everywhere. Even tiny teashops provide it free of charge - but here we were at a $169 a night hotel room and they thought we should be paying a whole $10 an hour extra for it.

    A good tip for Hanoi: get a $50 a night room and they'll do anything for you - get a $150 a night room and they'll do anything for long as you pay extra.

    I've never understood why 5 star hotels feel like their high costs are an excuse to continue to screw you for every last penny once you're through their doors. From the crazily priced minibar to the mojitos costing $9 during happy hour.

    So...instead of posting pics of the hotel while I was there, I waited till I came home and wrote a very negative account of my stay on TripAdvisor instead.

    Posted by Steve Jackson on 22nd November, 2010

  • I totally agree, its a deal breaker for me and leaves a very bad taste when I have to pay 20 euros for some crappy internet. Some don't even have wifi.

    I think the reason a lot of places charge is there are companies who come to them and sell them the system as a way to make money. They install it and pay for the equipment, then split the profits with the hotel. So to hotel managers they see if as a zero cost easy buck.

    Is there a website you can find hotels with good free wifi ?

    Posted by Luke on 22nd November, 2010

  • If I'm in a city, I will look to see if a hotel has WIFI or not, if yes. I look to see if it's free. If not, I go no further.

    The worst kind of hotels are those with a wifi router and no connection. Or at best, a connection that's not even worth it.

    With a proper set up, the hotel can prevent excessive downloads that might frighten them off from installing wifi. It's not hard, nor expensive.

    But then as we seem to see, hoteliers don't really seem to get the whole free wifi thing.

    I think a really good thing to do, is examine why they don't get it?

    Posted by Dave from The Longest Way Home on 22nd November, 2010

  • Agreed. I often stay in hotels around Asia and when I get into my room I dread seeing that little "NTT DoCoMo", "Intertouch" or "MagiNet" brochure because its a sign that I will have to bend over and pay US$20 for 24 hours internet access.

    Conversely, when I stay at a hotel that offers free wifi I have such an irrational appreciation for that simple freebie that I seem to overlook things like crap service or a slightly dirty bathroom. Blood stains on the carpet? - who cares - there's frickin free wifi!

    Of the many hotels I stayed at, I would single out the United Hotel in Taipei which offers free wifi throughout the hotel as well as unlimited coffee from their very nice espresso machine in the lobby. Free Wifi and coffee keeps me going back even though the hotel is average in all other areas.

    Posted by Mike H on 23rd November, 2010

  • Thanks for this terrific article. I also wonder sometimes what hotels are thinking charging for internet access when they are charging that kind of dosh for a room. I have paid up to $20 a day in some cases for cable access (not wifi), leaving me chained to a desk for the duration. Annoying.

    You didn't mention your thoughts on what the options should be at a guesthouse, where rooms are running in the $15-20 a night range. I am a guesthouse manager in Cambodia where hooking up the house would cost about $1000 for the install and about $130 a month for marginal bandwidth. OR, the service provider will do the install for free and waive the monthly fee if we will sell the access cards. They are about 75 cents an hour and you can buy how ever many hours you want, logging in and out to save your time, which never expires.

    I've thought about paying for the install and giving it for free cuz that's how I like it when I'm traveling, but then the room rates would need to go up a bit and I'm not sure the people who don't use the service would like the idea of helping foot the bill for those who do.

    And for the record, we don't like it when people hang out in their room all day:) It's hot in Cambodia and electricity is too expensive for people to be laying around cranking the AC, watching TV and their laptops, no matter how many cokes they drink. We worry about what elec costs would be like in this scenario.

    Anyway, if you've got time to respond, I'd welcome your thoughts on the this same subject in the scenario of the "cheap hotel".


    Posted by Lori Carlson on 23rd November, 2010

  • Hi Lori, thanks for commenting.

    Taking your numbers it works out at around $2,500 per year for the connection and bandwidth (not counting power, if you think Cambodia is bad try Bali!) which works out at about $7 a day.

    So just on a cash POV you'd need the WiFi to bring in an extra $7 a day to keep the accountant happy :) I guess a lot from there would depend on how many rooms you have and if there's a cafe that non guests could hook up at and eat your food/drink at the same time...

    I think it also comes down to what your competitors are doing. If the guesthouse down the road is offering a similar standard of service/facilities at the same price, but does have Free WiFi, then that puts you at a bit of a disadvantage with the laptop-wielding crowd.

    That said, if you're travelling sans laptop and you walk into a guesthouse where the cafe is full of travellers plugged into their laptops ignoring each other, then that may certainly put off others.

    Posted by somtam2000 on 23rd November, 2010

  • Agree absolutely! It does not cost the hotels much at all to set up Wi Fi and the high end ones that charge are exploiting their 'guests' mercilessly.

    Posted by Rainbird on 25th November, 2010

  • I couldn't agree more with the author. When I think about all the nonsense I've gone through to get access to wifi in various places around Thailand... IMHO net access should be made a basic human right. Sure you can't eat it or live in it, but knowledge is power.

    I want to add that there's a special place in hell for landlords who promise wifi and don't deliver.

    My free tip: If you have an iPhone, download a speedtesting program so you can see if a place a)has wifi access, and b)check the ping and dowloading/uploading speeds BEFORE you move in for the day/week/month etc..

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating.

    Posted by CrankyCarrot on 25th November, 2010

  • Excellent article, and very well said - couldn't agree more!

    Posted by Chris Wotton on 26th November, 2010

  • Also forgot to mention how pleased I was that you pointed out that for many of us, access to wi-fi isn't something we want, but a definite need! So utterly true about not really ever being away from work (and hence needing internet access) if you run your own business...

    Posted by Chris Wotton on 27th November, 2010

  • My first reaction to this is to scoff a bit at travellers sounding ever so slightly demanding and spoilt, and also at their reliance on such things as the internet which I often view as a weird compulsion of people getting away from it all. Regardless of its practical application ("I only ever use it for..."), any cafes I use have their fair share of people playing farmville on facebook. But this is perhaps a slight exaggeration and also beside the point.

    I've never been charged for wifi in 2 years in this part of the wold. In my experience, I find that the cheapest places often have free wifi, although this varies from country to country. Its the more expensive places that charge for it, and the costlier the hotel the higher the price. One example was when I went down to Singapore to exploit the opportunity of my Sister's work putting her up in the Swissotel. I couldn't believe the company was charged 180 dollars for a few days wifi. On one computer. At terrible speeds they wouldn't guarantee.

    But really, there are plenty of places in most parts of SE Asia where if a hostel doesn't have free wifi, you can keep going and find one that does.

    Posted by John on 27th November, 2010

  • I laugh when people reckon they need their laptop for business and then whinge and having to pay for internet access so they can do their work.
    I mean, if I need to travel for business, which I do often, I take the time to find out prior to arriving at the hotel, whether there is internet access in the rooms and if they are 'free' or if there are charges. Basically if it's such a big problem, don't choose accommodation that doesn't have 'free' internet. And at the same time, save us all from this whining.

    If wifi/internet is needed for business purposes, then what's the problem, just get an itemised receipt and use it as a tax deduction or include it in your travel reimbursement.

    The alternative is to provide 'free wifi' to all rooms, everywhere.
    No problem but the trade off is that hotels lump an extra $10 or more a night on the current room tariff and call it 'free' internet.

    You can't please all the people all the time. Nothing in life is truly free.

    Posted by Dilligaf on 27th November, 2010

  • John & Dilligaf,
    Yup, good points indeed, but aren't we driving/whining to the same point? That WiFi/internet access is becoming just another facility that guests may look for - just as they may air-con/minibar/swimming pool etc.

    The hotels that provide this service without a surcharge (ie it's "priced in" just as the air-con/pool is) may well get more custom than the place down the road that charges a surcharge for it - especially in competitive markets like Siem Reap.

    I wasn't suggesting that access be given away for free but rather that it should be a given and be priced-in to the base room rate.

    Then, as John points out, the flasher hotels are pretty shameless when it comes to charging ridiculous amounts for internet access. Perhaps I'll do another post "Hotels shouldn't gouge you on the internet" ;-)

    Posted by somtam2000 on 27th November, 2010

  • If there's an alternative that offers free wi-fi, I'll stay there instead. Charging wi-fi fees in places where its available somewhere else is a guarantee I won't stay at, or recommend your hotel.

    If you do provide free wi-fi, then its a facility that will mean I'm more likely to stay longer, spend more overall or chose your place over a competitors.

    Posted by Holgs on 27th November, 2010

  • Hear! Hear! I personally won't stay at a hotel if it doesn't have Wifi built into the cost of the room.

    I wrote about this myself earlier this year on my own blog, and think hotels that charge for WiFi are stupid and shortsighted.

    In my article I was writing about a hotel in my home town, Adelaide, AUST, that was charging $27.50 a day for internet access, but only charging $16.00 a day to park your car in their garage.

    If every traveller made a point of contacting just one hotel (by email or phone) which charges extra for internet access and explained why they were not going to stay there, and why they were staying at the hotel down the road, these hotels might get the message and offer this now essential service to guests.

    Posted by Jimbo on 27th November, 2010

  • 100% agree! i just paid for the privilege of this internet and it is slow as a snail. Infuriating!

    Posted by lachlan on 28th November, 2010

  • agreed! it doesn't make sense to nickel & dime guests- especially in the price point you described! arguably, many hotels, motels, hostels, etc. have wi-fi for their business use. since they don't incur added costs or overhead by sharing that with guests (as they do with air-con or hot water) you'd think they'd be willing to share!

    Posted by Lorna-the roamantics on 29th November, 2010

  • Very good points, Sam, and nicely argued. I was amazed at how readily available free WiFi was in Cambodia at even the most basic places I stayed during my ten months there. In Thailand though, a different story. Does seem to be improving though.

    Lori, almost all the guesthouses I know of in the town where you operate offer WiFi for free, and their room rates are a little lower than yours (without a/c & hot water, admittedly, so your overheads are different). But personally, and there seems to be others commenting here who are in the same boat, I'd forgo aircon and hot water and cable TV in favour of free WiFi. I just spent ten months in Cambodia and was amazed at the number of people getting about with laptops and tablets.

    As for the ritzier joints charging anything at all, let alone the ludicrous rates that Net cafés were charging in the mid-1990s, that's just unforgivable.

    Posted by Paul C on 8th March, 2011

  • I completely agree! It really bothers me when the posh hotel you're paying out the nose for already charges you ridiculous amounts for the Wifi. By the way, I am typing this for free from my $3 a night dorm bed in Chiang Mai. ;)

    As far as the $15-$20 range, the only reason it bothers me to pay there is that generally the owners are using this Wifi themselves and basically it's a benefit to them to have it. However, I know absolutely nothing about the costs of running these places. But I think these days you can find a place with free Wifi in every price range of room and if it's important enough to people, they will find that place.

    Posted by katielane18 on 9th September, 2011

  • I 100% agree with you views.
    Visionary boss doesn't loss of customers to patronize again for the little money.

    Posted by Charles Wang on 13th December, 2011

  • Hilarious post. I'm sitting in a Marriott in San Diego, paying $250 a night, and I paid $12 extra for internet access. Preparing to travel the world and the one thing on my mind the most is where am I getting my daily internet fix!

    Posted by Sean Webb on 28th February, 2012

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