Upsides of recession: Luxury hotels finally start giving away Web access
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.
At the Trump International, a new property towering within Chicago's second-tallest building, the story is the same: Wi-Fi, no charge. Those are two independent properties that can set their own service standards, but the trend has spread throughout the industry. At Chicago's historic Blackstone Hotel on Michigan Avenue, now a Marriott property, getting online costs nothing. The posh Shangri-La hotel chain, most prevalent internationally, recently announced that it, too, would be cutting the cord on high Web prices.
It used to be you had to book at a lower-priced chain such as Hampton Inn to get yourself online for nothing. New hotel brands are being created specifically to entice business travelers with one-price-for-all deals. Andaz, by the Hyatt brand, recently opened its first American property in West Hollywood, where Web access, shirt laundry, non-alcoholic minibar, and in-room movies are all part of the price. That follows the company's no-fuss Hyatt Place concept, which is similarly all-inclusive but at a price point around $100 a night.
True, the more we as a society get online, the more the Web access becomes a necessity like running water. And the more we check in with Web-enabled phones and other devices, the more we develop an expectation that having Web access should simply be a part of the cost of doing business. But I'd also like to think that the ultra-luxe hotels, the ones that bled us for every charge when the bleeding was good, are finally chagrined enough to meet guests as the bartering table.
I consider it a victory for the everyday traveler. We get few enough of those. Now, can we talk about that $47 parking rate at the Blackstone?
Update: When I checked out this morning, the Blackstone, a Renaissance property, tried charging me $13 a day for in-room Web even though the browser sign-in screen said it would be free. When I pointed out the contradiction, the charge was wiped from my bill without a clear explanation. So it would seem that this transition to free Web has not been gracefully managed by all the big companies, and guests should comb their bill for charges--even for stuff that they thought would be free.