Wasting My In-Flight Wi-Fi Package — Reader Mistake Story

Aug 1, 2017

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One of the things I love most about being The Points Guy is getting to hear stories from readers about all the positive ways award travel has affected their lives. That being said, while I love hearing about your successes, I think there’s also a lot we can learn by sharing our mistakes, and I’m calling on readers to send in your most egregious and woeful travel failures.

From time to time I’ll pick one that catches my eye and post it for everybody to enjoy (and commiserate with). If you’re interested, email your story to info@thepointsguy.com, and put “Reader Mistake Story” in the subject line. Include details of exactly how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Please offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what precautions the rest of us can take to avoid the same pitfalls. If we publish your story, I’ll send you a gift to help jump-start your next adventure (or make up for any blunders from the last one).

Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Ashley, who accidentally squandered a data plan she purchased on a recent international flight. Here’s what she had to say:

Virgin Atlantic offers capped data plans on its 787 aircraft, so you have to pay attention to how much you use.

I recently flew from London to Los Angeles on Virgin Atlantic, and decided to purchase the inflight Wi-Fi service for my iPhone so I could stay connected and work during the flight. I paid $21.99 for a 150 MB package, which isn’t a lot of data, but should have been enough for just email and iMessage.

About 30 seconds after connecting, I noticed that half of my data had already been consumed, and after about a minute I was booted offline again. I went to speak to a flight attendant and make sure the inflight Wi-Fi was still functional, but after checking, they assured me everything was working fine.

When I got back to my seat, I discovered the problem. My iPhone was set to update apps automatically when connected to Wi-Fi. Once it was connected, it downloaded three updates and consumed the entire data package in only a minute. The solution: before connecting to inflight Wi-Fi, go into your settings and disable automatic updates until you land!

The logistics of providing in-flight Wi-Fi are more complex than you might think. Most airlines don’t offer Wi-Fi across all flights, though improved technology (like the recently launched ViaSat-2 satellite) is making service cheaper, faster and more accessible. Hopefully airlines will pass those savings on to passengers, or perhaps follow JetBlue’s lead and offer free high-speed internet from gate to gate. If not, you have other opportunities to get in-flight Wi-Fi for free.

Ashley’s mistake is an easy one to make, but fortunately the solution is equally simple: turn off automatic updates before connecting to in-flight Wi-Fi. That’s especially true when you purchase a plan with a limited amount of data, but depending on the available speed, you probably don’t want background processes eating up bandwidth even when your plan is uncapped. If your device requires a critical update, take care of it before you leave or wait until you’re back on the ground.

Norwegian Air plans to offer free Wi-Fi on all its transatlantic flights within the next year; hopefully more airlines will follow.

I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. To thank Ashley for sharing her experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending her a $200 Visa gift card to enjoy on future travels.

I’d like to do the same for you! If you’ve ever arrived at the airport without ID, booked a hotel room in the wrong city, missed out on a credit card sign-up bonus or made another memorable travel or rewards mistake, I want to hear about it. Please indulge me and the whole TPG team by sending us your own stories (see instructions above). I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!

Featured image by Steve Prezant courtesy of Getty Images.

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