In my comparison of the best hotel loyalty programs earlier this morning, I explained that I no longer included Internet access among the list of benefits. Why? It’s no longer a differentiating factor. Nearly ever hotel offers free WiFi, and so it’s difficult to distinguish between them when all I have is a small space in a large table.
But there are important distinctions in how this benefit is offered. Budget brands have long offered free WiFi to everyone as a standard feature. Some smaller full-service brands, particularly boutique chains, have also offered free WiFi just for joining the loyalty program — it’s basically a tool to get you on their advertising list.
Even as the large chains with thousands of hotels have started to offer free Internet access, they all fall in different places along that spectrum. So I’ve decided to rate them.
Hyatt Gold Passport
Free Internet access for all guests, regardless of booking method, elite status, or even membership. Premium Internet access for all elite members.
Hyatt took the lead this year by offering free WiFi to everyone without restrictions or conditions. It doesn’t get better than this. Learn more.
Free Internet access for all members, regardless of booking method or elite status. You must join Club Carlson.
Interestingly, Club Carlson was the first to offer free WiFi, took it away, and then brought it back after the competition decided to follow suit. Learn more.
Free Internet access for all members, regardless of booking method or elite status. You must join IHG Rewards.
IHG has a huge portfolio of budget properties that already include free Internet. It was just a matter of time before they simplified things. Learn more.
Free Internet access for all members when booked online or by phone. Premium Internet access for Gold and Platinum elite members. Some properties excluded.
I could knock down Marriott to two bars for its annoying exclusions. But I didn’t. Because I’m nice. Learn more.
Starwood Preferred Guest
Free Internet access for all members when booked online only. Premium Internet access for all elite members.
I knocked down Starwood because they exclude phone reservations. “We want your business, but only if we don’t have to talk to you.” Learn more.
Free Internet access for Gold and Diamond elite members only.
Hilton still hasn’t jumped on the bandwagon. Even Silver elite members don’t get free Internet access! However, it’s very easy to get Gold status with a credit card. Learn more.
My ratings won’t matter to many of you. It isn’t difficult to join a membership program, and I already recommend that people book directly with the hotel whenever possible. But if those distinctions are so trivial, why do some companies continue to force their guests to jump through hoops?
They’re not so trivial to the hotel. Money matters, and if a hotel can sell rooms directly, avoid expensive telephone agents, and get you on a membership email list, those are all valuable marketing opportunities.