Free Hotel WiFi - How to Get Online While You're on Property
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Staying connected is crucial for me when I travel, and unless I'm really going off the grid, I prefer hotels that have high-speed internet access, especially when getting online won't add a huge amount to my final bill. Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen looks at which hotel brands offer free WiFi as a standard or elite benefit, and offers tips on how to get it when they don't.
As TPG reported earlier this month, beginning on January 15, 2015, Marriott will offer complimentary WiFi for all Marriott Rewards members when they book their rooms through an "official" Marriott source. This wasn't a devaluation of elite benefits, as Gold and Platinum members will continue to enjoy WiFi access with enhanced speeds (where available). Instead, it was a rare, across-the-board enhancement, as well as an incentive for guests to book rooms directly with Marriott (as opposed to third-party vendors).
This got me thinking...how do other hotels measure up? Is this feature enough of an enhancement to encourage other brands to follow suit? Furthermore, are there other ways to snag free WiFi at hotels even if it isn't part of the standard benefits in a particular room?
In this post I'll look at the internet policies of major hotel chains, including which brands provide free WiFi for all guests, and how elite status can expand this access at additional properties. I'll also share some suggestions for scoring free internet when it isn't offered with the room, all to help you stay connected while on the road.
Brands with free WiFi: Best Western has three types of properties (regular, plus, and premier), and every property offers free high-speed internet as a standard benefit. Note that this is a hotel-based benefit, not a booking-based benefit like the new Marriott policy; you'll get free internet access regardless of how you make your reservation.
Elite benefits: None pertaining to internet.
Brands with free WiFi: According to ChoiceHotels.com, free internet service is a standard benefit at all properties except those that are part of the Ascend Collection. This includes Comfort Inn, Comfort Suites, Quality Inn, Sleep Inn, Clarion, Cambria Suites, Mainstay Suites, Suburban, Econo Lodge, and Rodeway Inn. However, there's an important caveat; the Choice Hotels website also includes the following language with regard to free internet:
"Not available at all locations in Central America, Dominican Republic, Europe, the Middle East and Australasia.
As a result, you won't see the free internet icon at all properties when you search online. For example, here are the top 4 results of a search for rooms in London next month:
The first three properties list free internet, while that benefit is notably absent from the Comfort Inn St. Pancras.
I've even found that some Ascend Collection properties include free WiFi, even though it isn't a standard benefit within that brand. For example, I stayed at the Norfolk Lodge & Suites in Nebraska on a business trip last December (which I booked through RocketMiles), and WiFi was included for all guests. The big takeaway? Always check the policy at the property where you plan to stay.
Elite benefits: None pertaining to internet.
Brands with free WiFi: Marriott's announcement was a terrific enhancement to their program, but they weren't the first chain to provide complimentary internet as a standard benefit. All Club Carlson members receive free internet at the program's 1,000+ properties worldwide, including Radisson, Radisson Blu, Park Plaza, and Country Inn & Suites locations.
Elite benefits: Providing free internet for all Club Carlson members doesn't leave a ton of room for additional elite benefits. However, since Club Carlson has been trying to compete with the "big boys" (so to speak) over the last couple of years with the introduction of new co-branded credit cards and the addition of several new luxury properties, I wouldn't be surprised to see them add a faster internet benefit for Gold and Concierge members.
Brands with free WiFi: Hilton Honors is among the stingiest when it comes to properties that offer standard free internet; only Hampton Inn, Home2 Suites, and their new Canopy brand include this for all guests.
Elite benefits: Even though few of Hilton's brands include free WiFi, you can easily expand your connectivity through elite status. Gold and Diamond Hilton Honors members receive complimentary internet access at all other properties, including Waldorf Astoria, Hilton, Doubletree, Conrad, and Hilton Garden Inn locations. Gold status usually requires 20 stays, 40 nights, or 75,000 base points in a calendar year, but you can also get automatic Gold status through the Citi Hilton Reserve card or the Hilton Honors Surpass Card from American Express.
Brands with free WiFi: Hyatt Gold Passport is another program that doesn't offer free internet at many properties. All guests at Hyatt Place and Hyatt House locations enjoy complimentary internet.
Elite benefits: Platinum and Diamond Gold Passport members receive complimentary internet at all other Hyatt brands. The benefits do indicate that hotels have a choice of offering WiFi or wired access, but I have generally found that WiFi is the default (with some properties offering both). You can earn Platinum status with as few as 5 stays (or 15 nights), but Platinum is also a standard benefit of the Chase Hyatt Credit Card.
Brands with free WiFi: Several of the brands in the Intercontinental Hotels Group provide complimentary internet access for all guests, including Hotel Indigo, EVEN Hotels, Holiday Inn, Holiday Inn Express, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites. In addition, as of July 2014, all IHG Rewards members now receive complimentary internet access at all properties worldwide. Unfortunately, this does not include the Venetian or Palazzo in Las Vegas, which instead "include" internet access as part of their respective resort fees.
Elite benefits: Complimentary internet access used to be a benefit for Gold Elite and Platinum Elite members, but that has gone out the window now that all members of the IHG Rewards program get free internet. This used to be a nice benefit of the Chase IHG Rewards Select Club Credit Card, which came with complimentary Platinum membership. This card is still a good option, especially with the free night each year and low $49 annual fee, but it's no longer necessary as a workaround for free internet.
Brands with free WiFi: Kimpton is a bit unique, in that they don't have brands per se, but rather bring 61 boutique properties in 27 cities around the country together under one corporate umbrella. While internet isn't included with a regular stay, you can get free internet simply by signing up for their Karma Rewards program.
Elite benefits: None pertaining to internet.
Brands with free WiFi: Starwood Preferred Guest is another program with a small number of hotels that provide free WiFi for all guests. Only Aloft and Element locations include internet as a standard amenity.
Elite benefits: Top-tier Platinum members are able to access the internet for free at all other Starwood locations, including St. Regis, W, Westin, and Sheraton properties. This requires 25 stays or 50 nights per calendar year, though SPG did just introduce lifetime status as part of their program overhaul a couple of years ago. SPG Gold members also have the option to select internet access as their gold amenity at check-in.
Brands with free WiFi: The majority of brands under the Wyndham Rewards umbrella include WiFi for all guests as a standard amenity, including Wingate, Hawthorn Suites, Microtel Inn & Suites, Days Inn, Ramada, Baymont Inn & Suites, Super 8, Howard Johnson, and Travelodge. Unfortunately, this excludes Wyndham and Wyndham Grand properties, which are at the luxury end of the spectrum. However, some of these hotels (like the Wyndham Chicago Riverfront pictured above) do include free internet.
Elite benefits: Wyndham Rewards is unique when it comes to elite status, as their Gold Status doesn't come with any on-property benefits. Instead, you earn Gold Status Points for every 20 qualifying nights, and those can then be used toward free stays (in conjunction with or instead of your regular Wyndham Rewards points). As a result, there's no published way to earn status that will give you free internet access across the Wyndham portfolio.
Other ways to get internet access
Fortunately, there are other ways to gain complimentary internet access in addition to the methods above. In no particular order:
- Stay at a hotel with free WiFi: I'm not talking about a Hampton Inn or Holiday Inn Express here. Instead, there are many properties that are exceptions to the rule when it comes to free internet. For example, I stayed at the Sheraton Greensboro last month for a conference, and they provide complimentary internet for all guests regardless of SPG status.
- Book a room with free WiFi: Hotels will often allow you to book premium rooms online that include free internet. This may include rooms on a club floor, suites, or even special packages. You can also watch for specials on sites like Priceline or TravelZoo for hotels that usually charge for internet access. For example, this deal at the Hotel Edison in New York City includes complimentary WiFi, saving you $10 a night.
- Negotiate at the front desk: Every once in a while, you may find conflicting information when booking a room online. For example, if you pull up the Marriott Marquis in Times Square on Priceline, it lists free WiFi as a benefit. However, that's not a standard benefit at the hotel, and before January 15, 2015, it isn't included for Marriott Rewards members either. You can always ask at check-in whether they'd be willing to give you internet access. After all, Priceline includes it, but the hotel will appreciate you booking with them directly as a show of loyalty.
- Stay at a hotel with resort fees: I'm sure that many of you despise resort fees, and last month I wrote a post on how to avoid them. However, the vast majority of hotels that charge these fees do include internet access, so if you value free WiFi as a benefit (and you plan to stay at a hotel that charges resort fees), this can be an option for you.
- Connect in the lobby: Even if some hotels charge for WiFi, they often provide complimentary access in the lobby. It's not as convenient as accessing the internet from the comfort of your room, but it can be an inexpensive way to connect if you only need brief, sporadic access during your stay.
As always, it's important to check with individual hotels to make sure that you understand their internet policies. There are exceptions to every rule, so knowing the published benefits of each program (and brand) is half the battle. Regardless of where these chains stand right now, however, the pendulum is slowly swinging toward more and more properties providing complimentary WiFi, and I certainly think this trend will continue.
What are your tips for scoring free internet? Please share your suggestions in the comments below!