Starwood’s Free Internet Domino May Tip the Lodging Industry to Free Worldwide Internet for Everyone

Effective February 2, Starwood will offer complimentary internet at all hotels to all members as long as reservations are made through an SPG channel.

Non-status members are only entitled to throttled speeds, where applicable. Golds, who can already choose internet as an amenity option, will get high speed internet and can still select a points or beverage amenity.

Starwood is a follower here — IHG Rewards came out with internet for everyone a year ago (though of course most of their hotels already gave it to everyone as a brand standard, only the upper-tier ones did not and in certain regions).

And Marriott announced this two months ago, with a similar restriction of having to book through Marriott channels. (Though of course this doesn’t mean free internet in meeting spaces.)

That leaves Hilton and Hyatt in a tough spot. Hyatt gives free internet to all elites, which means all of its co-brand credit card holders as well. And Hilton gives it to Golds, a benefit provided to their premium cardholders.

Internet charges are an area of frustration, and brands that solve that earn business. At least that’s the view American Express has adopted. It’s long been ironic that the cheaper brands have provided free internet, while higher room rates include less.

The challenges that hotels face are legacy contracts for providing the service, and a small number of buests using the majority of bandwidth, that they don’t have sufficient capacity to provide internet to everyone and so charging not only pays their costs but also rations use — hence even when it’s free, the broadest base of members get throttled speeds, or at least chains allow individual hotels to offer throttled speeds.

It will be interesting to see how long Hyatt (which just extended its room type guarantee to all members) and Hilton can buck the trend, or whether they’ll lose business to Marriott, Starwood, and IHG.


About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. It is likely that these hotels are finally listening to customer complaints while at the same time being forced into change considering how widespread mobile 4G/LTE internet is and the fact many business travelers would rather use their phone as a hotspot then suffer through the usually slow speeds at the hotel. Or maybe it’s just a marketing ploy?

  2. I go with marketing ploy. Anywhere, the internet is not free, unless non-guests are welcome to use it, but is merely bundled into the room price or priced separately. If optimum marketing requires the lowest possible room quote, they’ll price internet separately. If marketing requires “free” internet, they’ll bundle it in. The tipping point may now be that enough customers are now demanding the latter so that the mostly upscale properties that have quoted it separately seem forced to change.

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