Hotel Wi-Fi: How fast, how costly?

Hotel Wi-Fi

Hotel Wi-Fi (Tribune photo illustration / September 9, 2010)

In-room Wi-Fi is the new near-essential hotel requirement these days, along with air-conditioning and flat-screen TV. Surveys repeatedly show that Wi-Fi ranks near the top of special features and amenities that business and leisure travelers crave. Unlike air and TV, however, Wi-Fi is not yet universal, and many hotels -- especially higher-priced ones -- charge extra. Moreover, the Wi-Fi available in hotels varies substantially from hotel to hotel. And the newest hotel-semi scam is to hype "free Wi-Fi" but offer only very slow connections "free," and ask for a premium payment for full-speed connections. Although the marketplace is fluid, you have some useful resources.

How Fast Is my Wi-Fi? The website Hotel Wi-Fi Test records and lists download and upload Wi-Fi speeds as submitted by hotel guests. If good Wi-Fi is really important to you, you can check any hotel you're considering. The website compiles speed tests for "more than 100,000" hotels in major cities around the world:

-- Obviously, the database is much better for the most heavily visited cities: It covers 190 hotels in New York City and 103 in London, for example, compared with just four in Milwaukee and one in my tourist center hometown of Ashland, Oregon.

-- The entry for each hotel shows the speed you're most likely to encounter, along with maximum and minimum reported speeds, the confidence level of the estimate, and whether the Wi-Fi is free or extra. The site also posts a room "rate" figure, although it's not clear just what period that rate represents. The site posts phantom estimates, based on the hotel's chain and other factors, for some chain hotels without any direct tests.

-- The speed spread in any one city is surprisingly large. In New York, for example, the best hotels reported expected speeds in excess of 50 Mbps at two hotels -- the inexpensive Da Vinci (free) and upscale Midtown Hilton (extra cost) -- and as low as 0.44 to 0.60 Mbps at some surprisingly expensive places.

Obviously, the site is most useful to you if a hotel city you're planning to visit is in the database and the speed estimates are based on actual user experience. But there are far more than 100,000 hotels worldwide, and Hotel Wi-Fi Test has massaged its data to develop estimates of likely speeds based on the chain to which it belongs. HotelWi-Fi Test says that the correlations between speed and chain are surprisingly good:

-- The top 10 hotel chains likely to offer "better than average" Wi-Fi speeds: Andaz, Le Meridien, Radisson Blu, Four Points, Scandia, Sheraton, Crowne Plaza, Marriott, Hyatt and Residence Inn.

-- The percentages of a chain's hotels with "poor" Wi-Fi ranged from a low of 17 percent at Radisson Blu, less than 40 percent at Hyatt, Quality Inn, Best Western, and Sheraton, to more than 80 percent poor at Hampton Inn, Hilton Garden Inn, and Homewood Suites.

-- Slicing its database by city, Hotel Wi-Fi Test shows the range of hotels with poor Wi-Fi in 20 top visitor cities ranged from lows less than 10 percent in Stockholm and Hong Kong, 17 percent to 19 percent in Amsterdam and Tokyo, down to more than 50 percent poor in Paris and Las Vegas.

Log onto the home page and check the "press" section for links to the detailed reports. And, next time you travel, consider testing your hotel and reporting results. As with TripAdvisor hotel reviews, the more tests, the more accurate the results.

The New Wi-Fi Scam. Sadly, I've seen increasing reports about the newest hotel fee scam: They advertise "free" Wi-Fi, but when you arrive, you find that the free service is s-l-o-w, and prompt you to "upgrade" to faster Wi-Fi for a fee. This isn't surprising from an industry that came up with the idea of carving out part of the real price into one or more mandatory fees with some plausible name such as "resort fee." The pressures of trying to make that first displayed price look lower than it actually is must be intense. And unlike the case of resort fees, you have no way to detect the Wi-Fi scam in advance. Be warned.

(Send e-mail to Ed Perkins at eperkins@mind.net. Perkins' new book for small business and independent professionals, "Business Travel When It's Your Money," is now available through http://www.mybusinesstravel.com or http://www.amazon.com)

(c) 2014 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC.

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