The cost of staying connected

JOSH MARTIN
Last updated 07:00 18/05/2014
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EXPENSIVE HABIT: Don't give in to online temptation when you're staying at a hotel - instead, head to the nearest cafe, where logging on is likely to cost no more than a cup of coffee.

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I was baffled by a recent report in the British media regarding free hotel wi-fi.

It ranked the 10 worst cities in Europe for in-room wi-fi and warned travellers against rip-off hotels charging extra for internet use in Frankfurt, Milan and Manchester.

The survey found in the "worst" city, Cologne, Germany "only 63 per cent" of hotels offered guests free wi-fi throughout their stay.

I suggest any British readers frothing at the mouth over only two-thirds of hotels having free internet access avoid travelling Down Under, where 63 per cent would be celebrated.

Extra charges and stingy "free wi-fi in the lobby for 30 minutes" policies have been bugging antipodean travellers for years.

Although SkyCity announced this year it was scrapping wi-fi charges altogether, the tourism sector here has been slow to adapt to travellers' requirements in the digital age.

For many leading hotel chains, charging for wi-fi internet softens the blow from declining revenues from telephone services and pay-per-view movies as guests change their technology preferences.

Well-known brands like Heritage, CityLife, Intercontinental, Novotel, Ibis and Amora all charge a hefty fee for in-room wi-fi.

You would think a certain amount of data would be included in your room tariff, but for many hotel chains (and let's not forget many motels and backpacker hostels too) the freebies extend only to 50MB or 30 minutes of connectivity - often in a noisy lobby.

Why, in this day and age, can you get free wi-fi at McDonalds and Starbucks across the street, but not at your hotel room's desk? Blame the business travellers.

The hotel chains' high premiums for basic wi-fi target business travellers who create demand and can pass on the bill to their respective accounts departments.

As anyone in charge of a household internet account will tell you, the hotels must be making a killing.

So leisure travellers without company credit cards have to be savvy. Until the big chains follow SkyCity's lead (and that's a big "if"), it's best to treat in-room wi-fi like the minibar - do your wallet a favour and avoid it.

Always ask the question at reservation time, because some smaller boutique or family run accommodation will throw it in for free.

Joining an accommodation loyalty programme could also reap free wi-fi rewards.

If you're travelling to Australia (where in-room connections are also unnecessarily expensive) make your first stop in the arrivals hall a cellphone shop and pick up a SIM card that offers a prepaid data plan.

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For less than $20, you can roam the internet from your phone and turn the device into a wi-fi "hotspot" for laptops and iPads during your stay.

If you're travelling domestically, using your cellphone to set up a wi-fi hotspot and using your own pre-paid data is perhaps the best way to avoid a shock come checkout time.

If you are already paying for cellphone data, you might as well make the most of it and avoid getting pinged twice.

If you don't have cellphone data, your best bet could be to find the nearest McDonald's or Starbucks.

- Sunday Star Times

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