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Should Hotel Wi-Fi Always Be Free?

Karen Elowitt, Special to CNBC.com|CNBC.com
Friday, 8 Jun 2012 | 10:10 AM ET

Business travelers should thank the travel gods that we no longer live in the Stone Age of the Internet when you had to go to the hotel’s "business center" to get online.

Adam Gault | OJO Images | Getty Images

Now it’s available in hotels rooms worldwide — from remote eco-lodges in the Amazon jungle to five-star luxury digs in Paris — via laptop and an array of other devices. It’s not always free, but that is changing.

According to HotelChatter.com's 2012 Wi-Fi Report, 60 percent of hotels in the U.S. offer free Wi-Fi. The other 40 percent make you pay a flat fee or purchase a tiered system based on connection speed.

Juliana Shallcross, HotelChatter's managing editor, said this represents a 20 percent increase from last year's report, in which the ratio was reversed: 40 percent free vs. 60 percent not.

But should it be free everywhere?

The HotelChatter.com report attributes the uptick in free access to savvy hotel executives, who are realizing that Wi-Fi can influence booking decisions — meaning that it's a "make-or-break" amenity. Many business travelers already pay for Wi-Fi through their smartphones, making them reluctant to shell out an additional fee for connectivity in a hotel room, as the New York Times reported this week.

Other savvy travelers question whether hotel Wi-Fi should be treated like any other hotel utility such as water, electricity, or heat — a basic necessity whose cost is built into the price of the room, not billed separately.

Budget hotels such as Super 8 and Days Inn almost universally offer their Wi-Fi for free. Mid- and top-tier hotels are much more likely to make you pay, unless you are a member of their loyalty program (or want to sit in the lobby where Wi-Fi is often free, even if it's not elsewhere in the hotel).

For the list of who charges and who doesn't, check out HotelChatter's fancy infographic.

Another resource is WiFiFreespot.com, which lists hotels around the U.S. (and some other parts of the world) that offer free Wi-Fi, plus airports and retailers too.

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