Business travelers getting free Internet connections from hotels

Business travelers are winning battle for free hotel Internet access. Having a free Internet connection is something that corporate business managers say their travelers want most.

Corporate business travel managers are taking advantage of the downturn in travel to negotiate the prized service, says DeAnne Dale, a sales executive at online business travel management firm Travelocity Business.

They’re also getting free service from big hotel groups such as Hilton, Marriott and Starwood. And they’re getting it at the same time the chains say they’re not changing their policies and will continue to charge guests from $9.95 to $14.95 a day for Wi-Fi.

Some upscale hotels, such as Hyatt’s new Andaz chain, are including it in their rates. Some others, such as Fairmont and Omni, provide it free to members of their loyalty programs.

“It’s an easy way to make money,” Toni Hinterstoisser, general manager of the Andaz Wall Street in New York, says of charging extra for the service. The cheapest room at the Andaz, which opened last week, costs $275.

According to industry tracker Smith Travel Research, hotels had the worst performance in 2009 since Smith started tracking the industry in 1989. Upscale and luxury hotels suffered even more.

Revenue per available room, a common industry measure, fell 17% last year compared with 2008. Among the highest-priced hotels, it fell 24%.

Slashing room rates was mainly to blame for hotels’ bleak performance, says Jan Freitag, a Smith executive. “Hoteliers have always been reluctant to include (Internet access),” Freitag says. “This might be a stop-gap measure to hold the slide of the rate.”

However, Freitag says, hotels that include the service are able to pitch their prices in the same way that Southwest Airlines pitches the fact that, unlike many airlines, it doesn’t charge extra for checking luggage — it’s included in the fare.

Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst at Forrester Research, says that it’s time for hotels to drop Internet charges.

“Hotels realize that companies and individuals are fed up with paying extra for Wi-Fi,” he says. “Consumers are smart enough to know the cost of providing it has come down.”

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