Should hotels set wi-fi free?

By David Flynn, March 6 2013
Should hotels set wi-fi free?

In his High Flyer column for Fairfax Media – appearing in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Canberra Times, Brisbane Times and WA Today – AusBT editor David Flynn covers issues, strategies and tips for business travellers and frequent flyers. This week: should hotels set wi-fi free?

It's a sore point, and usually a controversial one, for every business traveller. You check into a five-star hotel where one night in a mid-range room can cost more than your weekly rent, only to be hit up for $20 or more for internet access.

Little wonder that Tourism Australia's campaign for free wi-fi in Aussie hotels has met with a thumbs-up from the corporate crowd.

And in an age when almost every backpacker hostel offers free wi-fi, it's commercial arrogance for a top-end hotel to slug guests extra to use the internet.

Why treat business travellers worse than backpackers? "Because we can get away with it" or "Because they can claim it back" is not the correct answer.

Ironically, the main argument hotels trot out against free internet access is that unlike a decade ago, today almost everybody is online.

And with so many travellers packing tablets, smartphones and low-cost laptops, hotels fear that almost every guest will use free wi-fi if it's offered.

Yet those are the very reasons why in-room internet should be free. It's about looking after your customers' needs, especially when there's so much great info about travel, local dining and nightlife online.

But just how realistic is the call to set wi-fi free?

Head over to this week's High Flyer column for more on the contentious issue of hotel wi-fi and some ways to beat that in-room Internet bill.


David Flynn is the Editor-in-Chief of Executive Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.

10 Mar 2011

Total posts 526

Very realistic! Shangri La are the only hotel chain that I know who are offering free WiFi across all their hotels and I just can't understand why it isn't more common. This is especially true of the higher end hotels and yet it is the smaller run operations that seem to offer free WiFi more often. With the cost of WiFi so low these days... there is no excuse for hotels not to to offer it. If they put up their prices by $5 per room they would more than cover the cost.

10 Nov 2011

Total posts 10

All Radisson hotels offer free wifi also. Only 4 of them here in OZ (Melbourne, Gold Coast and 2 in Sydney) but great selection of well located hotels in US and Europe.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

06 Apr 2011

Total posts 106

Realistic if travellers make every reasonable attempt to avoid those hotels/chains that charge for internet access. My wife & I only travel 3 or 4 times a year but we make it a point to stay only in hotels that offer free access. To make it easier, I use major travel websites that allow you to filter by, inter alia, by the availability of charge-free internet.


22 Mar 2012

Total posts 200

My view on this is that it should be mandatory for any hotel with 4 1/2 star or 5 star rating to have free wifi access, considering plenty of 2-4 star motels and hostels do!


19 Dec 2011

Total posts 48

totally agree with the article & all the comments, free wifi is a very important issue with me. I am now at the stage that I will not book a hotel without it. As the other posts noted it is usually the smaller independant hotels who offer free wifi and this is because they can see that this a one way for them to steal market share from the chains. 

25 Feb 2013

Total posts 61

Free wi-fi is one of the major factors that I use in choosing hotels.

I understand that it can be difficult, but if they want to charge then let them, but they need to at least be open as to how much it costs. Usually this information is hard to find and makes comparison almost difficult. A $250/night room for business is really a $275/night room if they're charging $25 for internet - they should advertise it as such (it should be included in total just as GST is, or as an optional extra like on LCC airline websites so you can see what the room will actually cost you).

Another bugbear are the rooms that advertise "wi-fi available" and then hidden somewhere obscure on the website they add "charges apply". I don't book now unless I can see the word "free" or "complementary wi-fi" or a specific price I can factor into my price calculations.

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

14 Dec 2012

Total posts 10

Jon W has a good point. 

I too will only book into Hotels that explicitly advertise free Internet for my room. It rarely is a problem in AUS, but have also come across the fine-print from time to time.

If time permits, I make a point of sending an Email to the General Manager of the hotel to ensure that he/she understands that I will 'no longer stay in their premises' and inform them that I will pass on such detail to all my business colleagues.

It is pleasing to report that at least 2 properties in Singapore have seen the light and now provide truly free Internet Access at zero cost. 

Qantas - Qantas Frequent Flyer

10 Jan 2013

Total posts 698

Australia has lagged behind other countries in this regard, with most Australian hotels treating in-room wireless Internet as a profit margin item.

While it is true that offering this service requires set-up costs, the fact remains that it still is a gouge. 

I think a fair compromise is to offer free low-speed connectivity for guests for basic email and 'data light' browsing, but paid high-speed connectivity to those seeking data download heavy and conferencing access. 


05 Jun 2012

Total posts 127

Having it universally free, though, removes a trick some hotel chains play which is to offer elite members free wifi as one of their status benefits.  If free wifi was the norm, they might have to think of some other amenity to provide instead.

I like Kieran's idea - universal slow wifi, hi-speed for a chage, as a good compromise.

British AIrways

08 Feb 2011

Total posts 22

Then there's the issue what's considered hi-speed and what's not.   I would put the definition for high-speed somewhere around 40-50 Mbit/s and low-speed below 10 Mbit/s.

We did a 6 week tour around Asia and I was surprised to find free WiFi everywhere we stayed, both business hotels and vacation resorts.

Internet access is a basic service today, just like electricity.

PS. The same issue applies to airports and airport lounges as well.  I've even seen odd lounges where wired internet access was free and one had to pay for WiFi.

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