Are we winning the free wi-fi war?
Ask any business traveller about his or her biggest travel-related gripes and you’ll undoubtedly find hotel fees for in-room internet access near the top of the list.
As much as travellers (and travel writers) squawk about how wrong it feels to have to pay for something that has become as basic to a hotel stay as hot water, the hotel industry has resisted - especially at the high-end.
But I think we might have reached a tipping point in the war against these fees.
Last week global hotel giant Carlson launched a new loyalty program which offers its members free internet access at all Radisson Hotels worldwide, and at all Carlson brands in the US. That's nearly 1,100 hotels. And the only thing guests have to do is sign up for the program; no elite status required (details below).
Thorsten Kirschke, COO of Carlson Global, said he'd like to eventually see free internet access for all guests at all Carlson hotels, and this is the first step in that direction. (Radisson hotels in Europe already offer free access to all guests.)
This move shows that the idea of free hotel internet access is moving up the food chain to higher-tiered hotels and across entire hotel brand families.
Most of the world's largest hotel families, such as Hilton, Hyatt, IHG, Marriott and Starwood, charge for internet access at their upscale brands, but do not charge for it at their budget brands. Best Western was the first to offer free internet access chain-wide in 2004. (The exception is elite level members of some hotel loyalty programs, who now get it free.)
In addition to Radisson's move, smaller upscale hotel chains such as Fairmont, IHG's Hotel Indigo, Hyatt's Andaz, Kimpton (US) and Omni (US) have moved to free access. Two big standouts at the top of the hotel heap are the ultra-luxe Peninsula and Shangri-La brands; both offer free in-room internet at all properties worldwide.
So we are getting there. Our cries about fees for internet access seem to have reached hotel company boardrooms and change is in the air.
In the meantime, here's some advice to consider on the topic of hotel room internet access:
Free access does not always mean fast access
In too many cases, business travellers get what they pay for. Now that business travellers are using a lot more bandwidth - to watch movies, or send and receive large files - hotels with older systems can get overloaded and slow down fast. If having a fast internet connection is crucial, call the hotel before you book and ask the front desk if they get a lot of complaints from guests about internet connections or speed.
Frequent travellers who always need fast internet access should consider USB sticks or cards for laptops that provide access to new 3G, 4G or other mobile broadband networks.
Some hotels have moved to a two-tier system
Basic, low bandwidth wi-fi (good enough to check email or browse the web) is free. If you want to watch movies or videos, or interact on social networking sites like Facebook, you'll have to pay a fee for more bandwidth.
What's been your experience lately? Do you feel like we're finally tipping toward free hotel internet access being the rule rather than the exception? Leave a comment on our Facebook page.
Chris McGinnis is the business travel columnist for BBC.com