Ditch Expensive (Or Spam-Filled) Hotel Wi-Fi With These Alternatives

Earlier this month a guest at the Courtyard Marriott near Times Square in New York City discovered that, while on the hotel’s wireless network, strange code somehow found its way into the web pages he was visiting. Turns out the code could have been used to insert ads on pages even when there were no ads.

The Marriott in question quickly rushed to resolve the problem and got the ISP they use to disable the code. A spokesperson claimed that this is “common marketing practice with many Internet service providers” but assured the New York Times that the hotel management was certainly not down with it, regardless.

Common practice, eh? Makes me wonder how widespread this is.

Hotel Wi-Fi Infographic

Click the image for the full infographic

Add it to the list of issues with hotel wireless, with number one being how expensive it can be and number two that you have to pay for each device in many cases. These days Internet is as necessary as running water and free cable. That doesn’t mean you should line a hotel’s pockets to get it.

According to Hotel Chatter’s Hotel Wi-Fi report, hotels pay an average of $7,500 a year to maintain their Wi-Fi networks yet make an average profit of $200,000. Is that the sound of travelers being ripped off I hear? Yeah, it is.

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Instead of using hotel wireless when you travel, consider these alternatives.

Use Your Smartphone To Tether Or As A Mobile Hotspot

If your phone is less than three years old, it probably has the ability to act as a mobile hotspot or tether to a computer to provide mobile access.

With the mobile hotspot feature, your phone becomes a wireless router that you can connect to just like your router at home. It uses the 3G or 4G signal from your carrier, so the speed of your connection will only be as fast as your network.

Mobile hotspot is more useful than tethering since you can usually connect 5 – 8 devices at one time.

Mobile Hotspot

Turn your phone into a mobile hotspot.

Keep in mind that you still need to stay within the bounds of your data plan (if you have bounds). Computers use more data than smartphones, so either bump up your data plan or check how much overages will cost you.

Tethering is a one-on-one connection between your phone and computer via the USB port. While it only works for one device at a time, the connection is secure and fast. Again, it uses the signal from your carrier, so it won’t be faster than your phone.

Check with your carrier for pricing. You may be able to turn on these features for just one month when you’re going to be away.

Buy A Standalone Mobile Hotspot

Don’t have a smartphone or don’t have that feature? No problem. All the major carriers sell mobile hotspot devices (often called MiFi since that’s the most popular brand).

Just as with phones, many require you to sign up for a two-year contract and you’ll have to pay every month whether you use it or not. Frequent travelers often go for this option. If you’re just looking to avoid hotel Wi-Fi the two or three times a year that you go on vacation, get a pre-paid hotspot, instead.

Pre-paid hotspots are just like pre-paid phones. You buy a chunk of data and you have a certain amount of time to use it. Once the data is gone, you buy more. But you won’t have to keep paying if the device sits in a drawer 8 months out of the year.

T-Mobile sells a 4G hotspot for $129 off contract. Right now it’s on sale for $69. Virgin Mobile has a 3G MiFi that works over Sprint’s network. It costs $69 and $50 will get you unlimited data for a month.There are also a handful of burgeoning free hotspot deals floating around.

Read: NetZero Free 4G (WiMAX) Mobile Broadband Plan vs Verizon, AT&T, Sprint & T-Mobile

Check in store with your carrier to see if any of their mobile hotspot devices are available on a pre-paid basis. The device itself will likely cost $70 up to $250. Consider it an investment. You’ll probably use it during non-vacations, anyway.

Read: FreedomPop’s Disruptive Free 4G Mobile Data Plan A Better Deal Than NetZero

Use Your iPad or Android Tablet As A Mobile Hotspot

new iPad

The Verizon version of the new iPad 3rd gen can act as a mobile hotspot as well. So if you’re thinking about buying an iPad, consider grabbing the 4G LTE model.

iPad data plans are no-contract, so you can turn 4G off and on as you need it. And when the data is on, the mobile brodband feature automatically turns on as well. And Verizon doesn’t charge extra for it.

Read: New iPad Lasts Over a Day as Personal Hotspot

Some Android tablets can also act has hotspots, including both the Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Tab 7.7 on Verizon. You can either buy these with a two-year contract or pay more upfront and pay as you go with the data, just like the iPad. The mobile broadband is included for no extra cost.

Other Alternatives

Free Wi-Fi at McDonalds

If you want Wi-Fi in your room, a hotspot is the only reliable alternative. If you don’t mind leaving the confines of the hotel, there are free Wi-Fi options in abundance, depending on where you are.

Your wireless carrier may offer free access to Wi-Fi hotspots across the country as long as you have a smartphone. Your cable provider, too. Check their websites for offers.

You could go with a less expensive Wi-Fi hotspot service like Boingo which will charge you per month what hotels charge you per day.

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Know your free Wi-Fi opportunities. There’s a long list of national chains that offer free wireless access while you’re in their store/restaurant. McDonald’s, Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Panera Bread, Cosi and more. Beyond those, there are often non-chain establishments that offer Wi-Fi as well. Use Yelp to help you search. Wi-Fi is one of the filters you can use.

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