Good Wi-Fi, Bad Wi-Fi

It’s rare for me to be gone so much in such a short period of time. Two meetings in two weeks, one in San Diego and one in Washington, DC, and I’m bushed. One thing that continually irks me on the two or three occasions each year when I go to meetings is how blatantly hotels rip customers off for high speed Internet access. Most of the hotels that I end up staying at for these meetings are pretty nice hotels. Some of them are even very nice. You’d think that they’d throw in high speed Internet access and/or wi-fi as part of the package. After all, even a budget hotel chain like the Baymont Inn and Suites provides complimentary high speed Internet access at most of its locations. You’d think that the big boys like Marriott, Sheraton, or Hyatt would be able to do the same at their high end hotels.

You’d be wrong, for the most part.

Case in point, the Marriott in San Diego, which is where I stayed a couple of weeks ago. The hotel charged $9.95 a day for high speed Internet access. Although that’s in general a ripoff, it’s actually not the most expensive that I’ve encountered. In some hotels, I’ve encountered prices as high as $14.95 a night. At big hotels, though, unfortunately, somewhere around $9.95 a night seems to be standard. At the Marriott in San Diego, the Internet access included was by Ethernet cable, which was not ideal but tolerable. But then I tried to use the wireless Internet access in the lounge and was met with a sign-in screen telling me that I needed to go the business center to get a login. So I checked it out, and guess what? They wanted me to pay a separate fee to have access to the hotel’s wireless network! I was so annoyed that I didn’t even bother to find out what they were charging per day to use their wireless access in the lounge, because as soon as they told me wi-fi wasn’t included in what I had already paid for high speed Internet access, I told them very pointedly that I wasn’t interested and that it was extremely lame of the hotel to be trying to charge me twice for Internet access.

This experience with Marriott was pretty consistent with what I found here in an article listing the hotels with the worst wi-fi policies, in this case the commentary on the Marriott in Boston:

Once again, the Marriott Flagship makes the worst list, partly because of inconsistency across the Marriott brands (Residence Inn, Courtyard and others offer free WiFi) and partly because you need a Ph.D to comprehend the Internet policies at some of their flagship hotels. First off, there’s no free wifi. You can pay $9.99 for 24 hours in the lobby only. Or you choose to do a T-Mobile Hotspot option but $6.99 a minute roam charges apply. In the rooms, you can pay $9.95 for tethered ethernet access which will include any phone calls, local and long distance, that you make. Or you can head down to the business center and get free WiFi on the few computers offered there but will have to wait your turn and then have the next person in line breathe down your neck while you check your email. Marriott Flagship, you lost us at “No Free Wifi.”

When it comes to Internet access policies, the Marriott flagship hotels suck. Big time. It’s obvious that, to the big Marriott flagship hotels, wireless Internet is nothing more than a profit center. No doubt the management figures that most of the people staying at such hotels are there for business and thus aren’t paying for the hotel room themselves, making them ripe for a little “profit enhancement.”

Now let’s contrast this to the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, where I stayed for the AACR. This is a 76-year-old, but nonetheless very luxurious, hotel. It wasn’t cheap, but it was all that was left because the AACR apparently underestimated the demand for hotel rooms at this year’s meeting; so I stayed there. Omni Hotels have the right idea, as all Omni Hotels have complimentary high speed wireless Internet access.

Again, this is consistent with what I found in this article about the hotels with the best wi-fi access discussing Omni Hotels:

The grandaddy of free hotel lobby WiFi is an old favorite of sales execs and travelling politicos all over. Why? We spoke with some folks at Omni who actually encouraged people to utilize their free WiFi lobbies for business meetings. This means guests and non-guests alike can utilize the simple, quick, reliable free lobby WiFi to do everything from checking email to tapping in to online applications. Just click on the hotel’s internet Terms & Conditions and off you go. While there is plenty of room to stretch out and plug in at most Omni lobbies, don’t expect WiFi up in your room. Upstairs you will have to settle for free tethered ethernet access.

Occasionally the signal from the wi-fi in my room was a little bit weak, but for the most part it functioned flawlessly, which, given the distance from the convention center, wasn’t for that much time at all except for the first night there.

Of course, hotels have every right to charge whatever they think the market will bear for Internet access, and it is not unexpected that they might try to gouge for it if customers put up with it. In the future, I’ll remember that Omni Hotels are much more customer-friendly as far as their policies regarding Internet access go, while Marriott Hotels apparently view Internet access as just one more way to separate its customers from more of their money.