The Art and Science of Hotel Internet Access

As a new contributor to WWD, I’ve been asked to pass on some of the practical knowledge I’ve manged to acquire from more than 25 years as a journalist writing primarily about airlines, airports and hotels.

A little about me: Last spring I left a fulltime position as a reporter, columnist and blogger for The Philadelphia Inquirer and joined your world as a home-based freelance writer — doing the same amount of work for half the money! I continue to write a Philly-focused column and blog for the newspaper. What I’ll offer for WWD readers will be more wide ranging, talking about ways to work efficiently wherever and whenever you’re traveling, along with throwing out ideas for stretching your travel budget to the max.

My first topic is a basic for the business traveler whose working life depends on web access, and is one that many of you probably have some experience with.

How do you avoid surprises when you check into a hotel, find your room and fire up the laptop to check e-mail or do other work online?

The great majority of hotels of all brands, sizes and comfort levels, both domestic and foreign, have high-speed Internet access these days. Many chains promote it in their advertising, and most of the time it’s “free,” which really means it’s included in the room rate.

But as strange as it may seem, the more luxurious and expensive your hotel is, the more likely it is you will have to pay extra for access. The fee is usually no more than $10 a day, perhaps not a big deal if you, your employer or client has shelled out $150 to $300 for the room. But we’re talking here about some really nice places, including Ritz-Carltons, Four Seasons and full-service, four-star Hiltons, Marriotts and Sheratons, virtually all of which have the annoying policy of adding on the fee.

Exceptions do abound: Often the fee can be included in negotiated corporate room rates or will be waived if you’re fairly high-ranking member of a hotel’s frequent-guest program.

I’ve always avoided the Internet access fee by, usually of necessity because of budget constraints, by staying in three-star or occasionally two-star hotels.  I use Hampton Inn a lot because, first, I know I’m not going to pay the fee, and I also know what else I’m going to get. Every room in the chain, a Hilton division, has a good-sized work desk and comfortable desk chair, and a nifty tray designed specifically to let you work on a laptop while reclining in bed or the lounge chair.

But I’m not just endorsing one brand. Most of the other mid-priced divisions of the hotel chains don’t charge the fee and have made strides in recent years in making it easier to work in your room, with decent desks and chairs. Most Choice Hotels, which run the Comfort Inn and Quality brands, lower-priced Marriotts, including Fairfield Inn and Garden Inns, and all Best Westerns have no access fee. Even some lower-priced brands are the same, with exceptions like Motel 6.

I have found only two ways to make sure you know in advance whether you’ll be hit with a fee: Look at the “policies” or “services and amenities” page on the individual hotel’s web site to see what the policy is, or call the hotel directly and ask. And that leads me to another topic I’ll provide more advice on soon:

How do you get the lowest room rate? The short answer is often the old-fashioned way: Pick up the phone and haggle.

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