. THE HIGH COST OF LOGGING ON | Meetings & Conventions


Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio July 2000 Current Issue

On Travel

By Paul Grimes


Hotel guests are balking at hefty fees for in-room Internet access

A growing number of hotels are charging extra for certain phone calls - especially time-consuming Internet connections that tie up lines. And Web-surfing guests are experiencing sticker shock at check-out.

It’s no secret that long-distance calls through the hotel’s phone system often bear astronomical surcharges, and even calling card or toll-free calls rack up fees at many properties. Now, connecting to the Internet via hotel computer, TV or your own laptop has become common. Guests sometimes stay online for hours, digesting piles of e-mail and dispatching new messages and replies. Hotels proudly advertise their latest high-speed connections but play down how much it can add up to on your bill.

When USA Today investigated the trend late last year, it found that company-owned Sheratons, Westins, Four Points and other Starwood brands were charging 10 cents a minute for otherwise toll-free calls that exceeded an hour. The newspaper said Hilton had started charging 10 cents a minute after 60 minutes, and Hyatt was testing a 10-cents-a-minute charge after 20 minutes.

“We were getting complaints from guests who couldn’t get through because all trunk lines were busy,” Glenn Tuckman, a Starwood vice president, told USA Today.

Yet, opinions differ on whether the longer calls really tie up lines or whether hotels are simply greedy for higher profits. A recent spot check showed substantial policy differences between chains and, in some cases, among franchised hotels within a chain.

  • Hilton reported a flat rate of $9.95 for 24 hours’ use of the high-speed Internet access it has installed in more than 90 hotels. It also says local phone calls vary from 50 cents to $1.25 a minute plus 10 cents a minute after the first 60 minutes. Toll-free, collect and credit card calls are free up to 60 minutes and are charged 10 cents a minute after that.
  • Marriott says it does not charge access fees for 800 or credit card calls, or for Internet access via the standard dataport. Gordon Lambourne, a spokesperson for the chain, says Marriott’s new high-speed Internet access, which is still being installed, will cost $9.95 for 24 hours.
  • Radisson doesn’t charge for toll-free and credit card calls, and local calls typically vary from 50 to 75 cents. Spokesperson Kristi Arndt says the company is considering a proposal for all such calls to be free for the first 30 minutes, then 10 cents a minute.
  • Wingate Inns, a unit of the Cendant Corporation that caters to business travelers, says local, toll-free and credit card access are free throughout the chain, as is high-speed Internet access through a guest’s own Ethernet-enabled laptop. Surfing the Web using the room’s TV set costs $9.95 a day.
  • Ritz-Carlton says local calls range from 75 cents to $1, and there is no charge for toll-free or credit card calls within the United States. Outside the country, “the only exceptions are in countries where a charge is levied by the government for calling these numbers, as there is in Shanghai,” says Shelby Taylor, a company spokesperson.
  • By recent count, Ritz-Carlton had high-speed Internet access in 15 domestic hotels, with 10 more about to go online in the United States, Canada and the Caribbean. The charge is $9.95 a day.

    In hotels without high-speed access, guests are just charged for the phone call they make to connect their modems. If that is how you log on when on the road, beware. The number your modem is calling may not be local, and you could face a heavy long-distance surcharge. In many cities, “local” means only the immediate neighborhood.

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