Hotel WiFi

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This post is inspired by my current hotel WiFi woes. I’ve likely mentioned this gripe before, but since I’m living it at the moment, I’ll repeat it, vigorously. It’s insane that high-end hotels charge for Internet use (WiFi or wired), while their low-end chains (owned by the same company!) give it away for free!

Sure, some people pay for it (including me, last night), so you could argue that it’s smart. It’s not. It’s brain-dead stupid.

We are on a mini-vacation visiting our godson in Birmingham, AL for the long Thanksgiving weekend. We left the office on Tuesday and drove to Durham, NC where we stayed in a Hampton Inn for the night. We picked up a mutual friend the next morning and drove all day to Birmingham, where we are spending five nights in an Embassy Suites (owned by Hilton, which also owns Hampton Inn). We head back north on Monday morning.

Since it’s a vacation, we’re using Hilton HHonors Points to stay for free this trip. We stay in Hampton Inns nearly 100% of the time, both for business and for pleasure. We like them, they provide good value, a predictable experience, and free Internet access.

There is a Hampton Inn not too far from our godson’s apartment in Birmingham, but there is an Embassy Suites closer, and we’re having Thanksgiving Dinner at the Ruth’s Chris in that Embassy Suites tonight (getting closer, the mouth is already watering…), and, most importantly, it was the same exact number of points to stay there as to stay at the Hampton Inn.

So, I got on to the site, and thought I saw that the Internet Access was free. I was wrong… When I logged on last night, I paid the $9.95 for the 24 hour period. I was annoyed. No, I’m not cheap, but yes, I’m value oriented. Lois has a laptop too, so are we expected to pay $20/day for access? Yes. Never mind connection sharing strategies (which I can employ, but most people can’t).

I actually could go into great detail about that, and intended to, but I’ll pass and spare the poor readers. Our new laptops use Vista x64, and as I’ve noted in other posts, the only thing I don’t have working is the USB connection to our Treo phones (in fact, I can pair with Bluetooth, but I can’t get BT to work for syncing or phone-as-modem either).

So, I can’t use my Treo as a modem to connect to avoid the WiFi fees, which is what I would have done in the past. But, Lois hasn’t switched yet (another very long story), so I did whip out her Treo, and connected her laptop instantly via Sprint. That’s why I didn’t need to hassle with connection sharing. She was fine immediately.

Since I couldn’t use my Treo, I paid. But, whereas the average Hampton Inn gives me a 1.5Mbps connection, upload and download speed, this for pay connection was 537Kbps download and 236Kbps upload. Wow. Charge me, and give me an inferior connection. Real smart. Just for comparison, Lois had a bad connection (perhaps because we’re on the eighth floor), and she was getting 236Kbps download and 126Kbps upload (not much worse than my crappy WiFi connection!).

But, I paid (you say), so they are smart. Wrong. First, if I had realized that they charged, I would not have stayed there (forget that I’m using points, the same would have applied if I were paying with cash). If it wasn’t points, that could have put me in another chain as well, not necessarily a Hilton. Second, they are ensuring that my stay isn’t as pleasant as it might otherwise be. Tomorrow, I will only be in the room for two waking hours. No way I will pay, so I will be using only my Treo for email, and I will blame Hilton.

Next, while I made this mistake this time, I’m not likely to make it ever again. So, Embassy Suites has likely lost all future business that they might have gotten from me. Considering that I’m a Diamond VIP HHonors member, that loss might not be insignificant!

To be clear, everything else about our stay is very nice. The people are delightful. The breakfast was wonderful, The room is gorgeous. And yet, instead of making me want to pay up a little in the future (over a Hampton Inn), they are guaranteeing that I will be running back to Hampton Inn (at least they have won my business for their other chain) rather than spending more for an Embassy Suites stay. That’s why it’s dumb.

Aside from the above, there is a business center downstairs, and also two Internet Kiosks. I didn’t check, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find out that the Business Center offers free Internet usage (for browsing on their machines). If that’s true, it makes it even more stupid to charge for the use in the rooms.

In this hotel, and others, there are other opportunities for the hotel to charge money (typically food, via restaurants or room service). If you encourage me to stay in the room, then I’m likely to use hotel amenities. If I feel ripped off, I’m likely to avoid anything that’s in that specific hotel. Free WiFi will tend to keep people engaged in their room, and therefore hanging around in the hotel.

Anyway, once this trip is over, and definitely once Lois switches to her new machine, I’ll be canceling the phone-as-modem options on both of our Treos. That will be a big loss for Sprint. We pay a huge premium (yes, it’s purely insurance, since we rarely use them in this mode). Since we rarely use the service, this is essentially free money to Sprint. But, since they haven’t pressured Palm to support Vista x64, and haven’t done anything about it themselves, they will lose this revenue.

Second, since the phone will no longer be a multi-purpose device, it will be slightly less useful to me. Also, since it doesn’t sync with my laptop any longer, it will be even less useful. That means that in the next few months, I’ll be in the market for a new phone, even though I like my Treo 755p a lot, and I am perhaps the only happy Sprint customer, and I pay them a small fortune every month, and I use next to zero services.

Yes, I’m an idiot, but I’m a happy idiot, and they are driving me away! More stupidity, but this time, not by a hotel chain… I believe that my next phone will likely be an Android-based one, on Verizon. I might have to wait six months to see a model I’ll be happy with, but once it exists, I’ll be switching.

I’m reluctant to go the extra step and get an express card data modem (or USB one), because I now know from experience that I will use it 3-4 days a year. It’s just a stupid premium to pay for that small amount of usage, but that too could still happen…

Wake up people, in this economy, these kinds of customer alienations will be even more damaging than they otherwise might be…