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Hyatt launches free wi-fi for all, Starwood does it with a catch

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I recently wrote about how Marriott will be offering free internet to members of Marriott Rewards who book direct from January 15thHyatt and Starwood, owner of the Sheraton, W, Westin, St Regis, Luxury Collection and aloft brands, have both decided that they likes this idea and are following suit.

To some extent they had no choice.  IHG, owner of Holiday Inn, InterContinental, Crowne Plaza etc, now offers free internet to all guests.  The only condition is that they are members of IHG Rewards Club which is hardly a condition at all given that you can join for free at the hotel reception.

The Marriott offering is more restrictive as it forces you to book directly via the hotel or a Marriott website.  If you use Expedia etc then you will need to pay to get online.

Let’s look at Hyatt first.

This is REAL free wi-fi.  No catches.  No restrictions.  No need to join Hyatt Gold Passport.  No need to have booked via hyatt.com.

From February, whenever you stay in a Hyatt anywhere in the world, ‘base level’ wi-fi will be free.  You will, however, need to pay in some hotels to receive ‘fast’ wi-fi, suitable for video and streaming.  The faster service will be free for Platinum and Diamond members of Gold Passport.

This is a great result for Hyatt guests.  You can read more about Hyatt’s free wi-fi service on their website here.

Starwood is making it more difficult.

Base level Starwood Preferred Guest members will have to choose between booking on Expedia, hotels.com etc and receiving (with hotels.com) Welcome Rewards points, or booking direct and receiving free wi-fi and Starwood Preferred Guest points.

SPG Free Internet 2

Full details of the Starwood announcement can be found here.  Note that you must book online to get free internet – ringing the hotel directly and making a booking does not count, amazingly.  Neither does ringing SPG.  Booking ‘through a travel professional’ does count but it is not clear what that covers.

Confusingly, each tier of the Starwood programme has a different set of rules:

Preferred (base) level – free standard internet if you book via spg.com

Gold level – free standard internet with no conditions if you select it as your welcome gift, free high-speed internet if you book via spg.com

Platinum level – free high-speed internet with no conditions

To be honest, I think that Marriott and SPG are being too clever here.  There are a huge number of people who only book their hotels via Expedia, hotels.com or a similar site.  These sites will be telling the potential customer that they must pay for internet at Marriott and Starwood.  Internet is a ‘must have’ for most people today, even more so than free breakfast.  At almost every price point, Expedia will have an equally good hotel which does offer free internet to everyone – and it is those hotels who will win the business.

Hyatt ‘gets it’.  Expedia and the other consolidators will now show that a Hyatt property offers free internet, and it will drive business.  You only need to look at the Starwood table above to see that this is far too complex to work properly.

There is no way that I would book a hotel which did not offer free internet.  It is not up for discussion.  Because I know my way around the various loyalty schemes I can always ensure that it happens, but if I didn’t I can assure you that my stay pattern would look a lot different – and it would involve a lot fewer Hilton, Marriott and SPG properties.

Next up is Hilton – what are they going to do?  Restricting free internet to Gold and Diamond members no longer looks sustainable now that Hyatt, Starwood and Marriott have blinked.

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Comments (18)

  • RIcatti says:

    As a traveller I make sure I will have wi-fi (or simply ask nicely for a network password/access code at reception). From a hotel/chain point of view, giving away completely free wi-fi might attract the wrong crowd. Hotels might have to make a choice between business travellers who need access to emails with attachments and families who watch Neftlix — some don’t have broadband capacity to accommodate both.

    It makes sense to give free wi-fi to all in order to remove the hassle of admin. Finally, HFP readers are likely to have a status and be smart about their travel so they are likely to get it free. Otherwise, free for all wi-fi would be reflected in slightly higher rates for everyone, including promotional rates. I.e., if a hotel/chain does not make money on it, they will be looking for extra income somewhere else. Have to pay for that fast broadband. It does not come cheap or unlimited in many countries.

    • Fenny says:

      If a hotel put their room price up by £1 a night to cover the cost of introducing “free wifi”, they would more than make money on it. Even in a small property and allowing for the initial cost of kit, that should be plenty.

      I stayed at a Best Western in Oslo in July. Every room had it’s own individual router with room specific log in details. Apart from the wifi, it gave the option of having a wired connection, but the wifi was fast enough and stable enough for streaming.

  • Oli says:

    Stayed at a Hilton in Florida in October and was given the wifi password, which I think was meant for HHonors members as it was written on a HHonors card but they didn’t ask?

  • Imbruce says:

    I stayed at the Hilton NEC in November and the wifi was chargeable but as I was only staying 1 night and I have 4g on my phone with 5GB of data I just used my hotspot for my IPad. I would like free Wifi if 4g was not available but otherwise it would not bother me as I would just use my phone.
    I never use all my data allowance in a month anyway I only got it because it was a great Sim only deal as I bought the iPhone 6 for cash as it was cheaper than a business plan.

    • Rob says:

      Agree, it is surprising how little data it uses if you are working on documents. I have done this in hotels in the UK where the wifi was rubbish.

    • Fenny says:

      In the UK, I’ll use my phone allowance rather than pay for hotel wifi. It’s abroad that things get trickier and I will find the local cheap SIM alternative, where available. Jersey does an excellent sim only deal. I think I paid a fiver for data access for a week. In Italy, I managed to get a local sim that allows European roaming and used data in Austria and Germany. But whatever happens, I ain’t paying Hilton rates!