Is free hotel Internet worth what you pay for it?

Travelers need Wi-Fi. We're long past the point where just about any hotel can get away with having no Internet access at all, even if more and more travelers are showing up with devices that pack their own cellular connections. But are travelers who demand free Internet access getting only what they pay for?

dog-laptop I admit, I like choosing a hotel that offers complimentary Internet access. If I'm traveling on my own dime, I won't always splurge on the paid service. Travelers are rapidly figuring out, though, that many freebie Internet services in hotels are sluggish at best, flaky and unreliable at worst. At least partly to blame is the sharp increase in travelers who aren't just checking e-mail and doing a little web surfing, but are overtaxing limited connections with high-resolution YouTube videos, Skype and Facetime, or heavy file downloading.

Some hotels are now offering a free basic Internet connection and a premium connection for a daily fee. Those opting to pay for the service might get faster downloads, or the ability to use a VPN to connect to an office network. 

I'll admit that most frustrating for me is the situation where I'm paying for an Internet connection at a premium hotel that's as flaky as the free, low-end hotels offer. Under the "beggars can't be choosers" concept, I tend to have a little more patience for flakiness when the service is free, but if I'm paying, I want the service to work. 

Hotels admit that's getting harder and harder, though. In major metropolitan hotels serving convention-goers and other business travelers, providing stable and speedy Internet to hundreds of users in a single building at the same time is hugely expensive at best, and a nightmare at worst. One hotel operations manager told me last summer that the demand keeps going up and up and up, and in a hotel with about 1,500 guest rooms and over 100,000 square feet of conference space, the number of vendors who can provide the connectivity they need is vanishingly small.

Do you try to do video streaming, Skype calls, or file downloads on hotel Internet connections? Does it work reasonably well? Or do you bring along your own MiFi or tethering-capable cell phone just so you can check your e-mail and do some web surfing without worrying about getting dribs and drabs of inadequate Wi-Fi?


I've got a MiFi that I keep in my bag at all times (outages, etc), but tend to use the hotel wifi. For streaming, etc, I'll use my iPad on it's 3G network.

Mark March 1, 2012 at 04:08 pm

I ended up with a Wi-Fi-only iPad 2 after never using the 3G service on my original iPad, but even if I had 3G, I'd be very reticent to use it for much streaming unless I could get an unlimited plan. Do you have unlimited 3G?