Upsides of recession: Luxury hotels finally start giving away Web access

Jason Cochran

For years, it was a standing paradox in the travel world. The expensive hotels hit you for every extra thing while the low-cost hotels tend to throw everything in for free. Web access was the canary in the coal mine of a wallet-draining hotel stay. Take your laptop to a Sheraton or a Hilton, and you'd pay $10 to $25 to get online for a day. One London hotel deigned to charge me the equivalent of $40 a day. But for brands charging a third of their room rate, and even for small-time, family-run B&Bs, Internet access was free.

Not anymore. Business travel is drying up and expense accounts are tightening, and the old rules are changing. Now big hotels are having a change of heart. Finally, they are recognizing that if you pay a lot for your room, the least they can do is throw in Web access, the way they throw in shampoo and sewing kits.

I spent all last week traveling in two different time zones, and for the first time in my memory, free Internet was true across price points. At the Montage Beverly Hills, a luscious two-month-old property geared toward the affluent where rooms cost upward of $500 a night and a couple dozen gummy bears from the minibar smack you for $6, connecting to the Web is entirely free. And that's in Beverly Hills, where nothing is free, and cocktails at the hotel bar are $16.