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Maximize Monday: Airport WiFi

by on June 3, 2013 · 8 comments

in Maximize Monday, Points Guy Pointers

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Summer is here, which means that more of us will be traveling. A lot more. Approximately 209 million Americans will be flying this summer between June and August according to estimates by trade group Airlines for America, and of those, 27 million will be traveling internationally.

With all that action, keeping in touch and staying on top of business and personal emails, websites, and social media is more important than ever – not to mention making your friends jealous by posting up-to-the-minute albums of your trips, or even contacting an airline’s customer service if you run into issues on the road.

Luckily there are more ways than ever to stay connected while transiting through airports these days, thanks to a proliferation of both free and paid WiFi options in airports, not only in the US but worldwide.

So for today’s Maximize Monday, we look at your options for accessing WiFi while on the move including which airports offer it for free, which services you can count on, and what apps will find them for you.

Sites like Airport WiFi Guide will help you find both free and paid hotspots.

Sites like Airport WiFi Guide will help you find both free and paid hotspots.

Finding Airport WiFi
Let’s start with some websites that have lists of WiFi in airports with costs, providers, features, and more.

WiFi Free Spot lists airports with free WiFi, and gives readers links to the airports’ websites for more information. It’s comprehensive and seems to be among the most up-to-date of such lists. It is also useful as a resource for WiFi spots in other venues, so if you’re visiting an unfamiliar city, you can hone in on the free signals without having to do much more legwork. OpenWiFiSpots is another such service with a fair amount of international coverage as well.

Airport WiFi Guide is probably the most user-friendly website for locating airports with free WiFi that we’ve found. It encompasses both free and paid WiFi options at the major airports and includes a comprehensive page on every major US airport with ratings, service providers, cost, and general information and links to the airport’s website. However, the international section could be more robust.

Airport Authority focuses on free WiFi access at airports, but has a few listings for paid WiFi as well. It misses some major US airports, like Denver, which has free WiFi, Los Angeles, and New York, LaGuardia. Internationally, China, France, England are not listed either. It’s unclear how regularly the site is updated, but if it covers your airport, the data seems accurate.

Smallbusiness.com is a wiki-sourcebook and, thus, is open source and editable, so data can be quite current, or rather spotty. It provides links to the airports website, although many links do not take you to the official airport website, but rather to random blogs and articles about the topic. Internationally, the site only includes only airports in India, Austria, and New Zealand.

The trend in WiFi access at airports, both domestic and international, is heading in two directions; absolutely free WiFi provided by the airport itself, and using Boingo, the service provider that has options ranging from relatively slow-speed WiFi for free, to your usual high-speed connection for around $10 for 24 hours.

Free Airport WiFi
As many as 15 major airports or more in the US, and dozens of smaller regional airports provide free WiFi in some if not all terminals, including Boston, Columbus, Cleveland, Denver, Las Vegas McCarran, Orlando, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle among others.

Also some airlines offer it for their customers. For instance, if you’re flying out of the JetBlue terminal at New York, JFK, you’ll also be treated to free, fast WiFi, and most airline lounges also offer it if you can get access both domestically and abroad.

Traveling through JetBlue's T5 at JFK? You'll have free WiFi. Photo courtesy of Rockwell Group.

Traveling through JetBlue’s T5 at JFK? You’ll have free WiFi. Photo courtesy of Rockwell Group.

Internationally, the trend for free WiFi has extended even further, to include Abu Dhabi, UAE; Beijing, China; Dubai, UAE; Hong Kong; Paris, France (CDG and ORY, 15 mins. limit); Sydney, Australia; Sao Paulo, Brazil; and Frankfurt, Germany, although access comes with a 30-minute limit and is a whopping 4.95 euros per 10 minutes after that at Frankfurt – still, for a quick data download, it’s nice to have the option – among many others.

Boingo
The main WiFi provider for many airports in the US is a service called Boingo. Although in this day and age of blackboxes, hotspots and other connectivity it might feel a little frustrating to have to actually pay for internet in an airport, if you’ve got to hang out in a terminal for a few hours and can’t get it any other way, this is still a good option to have and Boingo’s service tends to be reliable and fast without being too expensive.

Boingo’s rates vary by airport. Some, like Denver, give you a free, but slower option. For higher speeds, one-hour rates range from $2.95-$6.95, and 24-hour rates are $6.95-$9.95. There is also a monthly service, if you travel frequently through an airport where Boingo is the main provider and you like to stay connected.

Boingo subscriptions range from $9.95-$59 per month.

Boingo subscriptions range from $9.95-$59 per month.

Domestically, Boingo services over 30 airports including; Denver (DEN), Miami (MIA), Newark (EWR), New York (JFK), New York (LGA), Chicago (ORD), and Washington, DC (IAD)

They are also a strong presence internationally as well, with over 25 international airports including; Bangkok, Thailand (BKK); Rome, Italy (CIA & FCO); London, England (LGW); and Tokyo, Japan (NRT & HND)

Other services, such as AT&T (Philadelphia, PHL) and T-Mobile (Los Angeles, LAX) have service in a few domestic airports but, in general, it’s either Boingo or free WiFi hosted by the airport itself. Internationally, if not free or Boingo, WiFi is generally provided by a local carrier like Kubi Wireless in Madrid, for example, or Arnet WiFi in Argentina.

WiFi Finder Apps
Luckily, just about any airport you go to these days will have some kind of WiFi service, free or paid, so if you need to stay connected, you’re in luck. How do you find it? Here are some WiFi locator apps that can help you get connected.

The gold standard of WiFi apps is WiFi Finder by JiWire. Available on iPhone, iPad, Windows, and Android, it is recommended by countless websites, including me. This app can locate free or paid WiFi in the US and 144 countries worldwide.
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

JiWire’s other app, Free WiFi Finder, also available for iPhone, iPad, Windows, and Android, is also popular and comprehensive. This app focuses on finding just the free WiFi spots.
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Another Free WiFi Finder, this one from developer iVanya and only for the iPhone, is listed right behind JiWire’s apps in searches, but does not seem to be nearly as popular as the JiWire app.
Cost: Free
Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Another iPhone-only app is Free WiFi Map: Hotspots and WiFi Tips Finder in Offline. Worldwide, which is quite a mouthful. Listed fourth in most searches, this is app better reviewed than iVanya’s app, but is a little confusing in how it works and functions “offline.” I would be curious if any readers use this, and what their experience with it is.
Cost: Free
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Boingo has their own WiFi finder, called WiFinder, which is available across all platforms, and looks to be a good app, especially for monthly subscribers who are simply looking to make the most of their subscription by finding the Boingo hotspot nearest them.
Cost: Free
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Personal Hotspots
Instead of paying for WiFi, I use my Verizon iPhone as a Personal Hotspot. I have a share everything plan, which means I need to pay about $20 a month more, but for me connectivity is key. You can also buy a MiFi device, though if you have an iPhone or other compatible device, theres no need to lug around a MiFi. Once your phone is activated, you can connect it to your laptop or other device via wifi or Bluebooth and once connected, the laptop will have access to the internet. I find that 4G is quicker than most paid internet services, like Boingo, though I wouldn’t recommend doing this while roaming.

With so many options out there, what do you do to stay connected at airport while traveling? What are the best airports? What services do you use? And which apps are the best for other travelers on the go? Leave your comments and suggestions below!

Additional research and reporting by TPG contributor Brian Houtz.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

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  • zbird

    Boingo is a scam. They hard-sell their monthly plans with deep initial discounts, promising you can cancel anytime. But there’s no way to cancel the plan online and when you call they’ll put you on hold forever.

  • Larry Abramson

    The list forgot Domodedovo Airport in Moscow….which ALSO has free Internet (although no signs in English)…but it works. I was just there.

  • Larry Abramson

    Yes…and Boingo “breaks in” even when there is a good free service at an airport or elsewhere

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  • Michael

    Why do some major airports offer free wifi, while others do not? Does it come down to who owns/manages the airport. Just wondering if there are similar characteristics that separate which airports charge and which ones do not.

  • JV

    If you look many of the big airports like Denver, Miami, Newark, New York (JFK) & (LGA), Chicago and Washington, DC (IAD) charge for wifi. My theory is since these large airports are always busy the people that manage them know that by charging for wifi it is a good way to increase revenues.

  • Michael

    But there are large/busy airports that offer free wifi. The author listed some of them above – Boston, Columbus, Cleveland, Denver, Las Vegas McCarran, Orlando, Phoenix, San Francisco, and Seattle. I wonder if there is an underlying characteristic that is common among those that offer free wifi and those that do not. Who it’s managed by, how much tax payer money they receive, etc.

  • Phark

    If you travel frequently and are just looking to email and browse mostly then FreedomPop is a great option. For a one-time fee of about $50 for the MiFi device you get 200MB a month of free 4G mobile data. It runs off Sprint’s network so just take it with you wherever and never worry about paying for airport wifi again.

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