Tech-Savvy Travelers Are Avoiding Hotel Surcharges

The first thing I learned as a young investment banker who often stayed in pricey hotels in big cities -- but didn't have the budget that most guests at that hotel did -- was to figure out how a short walk could save me big. Why buy a candy bar or bottle of water for $4 or $5 from the minibar when I could walk to a nearby 24-hour drug store and save 80%?

I would smile with delight at my smarts, even if I could expense the water and candy, proof that Brooks Brothers pinstripes do not rule out frugality. Today, even the most well-heeled guests at spendy hotels are avoiding hotel surcharges, thanks to what Glenn Haussman of calls a "device fixation."In comments to MSNBC, Haussman says travelers aren't about to spend $9.95 to watch a movie on the hotel TV when they have an iPad or wide-screen laptop with iTunes access. "People are more fixated than ever on the devices they have in their hands," Haussman told MSNBC. "Everything they want to do, they want to do through that device."

Though it may seem as if they're addicted to their tech toys, in reality, these hotel guests are simply doing the same thing I was when I walked two blocks from the W New York to Duane Reade for a tube of toothpaste (hotel price: $7; drugstore price: $2.79): exercising their best judgment.

Take internet access fees, for instance, which were, in the age of broadband cable and before mobile wireless access became de rigueur, a lockup by hotels catering to business travelers. Unless you had paid $60 to $75 monthly for a special wireless modem separate from your mobile phone contract, you had little choice but to pony up $9.95 to $14.95 a night for wireless access to your room -- even though you were probably only logging on for an hour or two after a long day of meetings and in-office work. I remember carefully timing the start of my 24-hour access so I could maximize my $15-plus-tax back in the mid-Aughts.

Today? You can get a month of service for your iPad or a personal iPhone hotspot for about two nights' worth of in-room internet access, and you can use it at the airport, coffee shop, lunch counter and taxi, too.

Thus unleashed from the requirements and uncertain security of a hotel's internet access, device-dependent travelers are now able to consume media and services entirely independent of a hotel's upcharges. Just as travelers bravely dispatched with the $1.99 connection fees and insane per-minute charges of hotel long distance with their very own mobile phones during the past decade, today, travelers are saying "sayonara" to hotel movie rental and, most painfully for hotels, porn.

Because who needs to pay for the truly frightening price of a hotel's "adult entertainment" -- and have to own up to your predilections when turning in your expense report or hide the extra charges from your spouse or other financial partner -- when you can just log on to your favorite strip-tease web service or stream porn movies from one of the many online businesses that will happily provide you with the endless variety, anonymity and low-low cost you're used to at home? (I speak, by the way, purely as one who has helped my male bosses prepare their expense reports, blushing as I covered the movie title with my accounting textbook.)

Now, adult films can be be watched on iTunes and streamed from Netflix and and other adult content providers, so that when away from home, travelers can still get access to the same content, devices and, most important, the prices they get at home.

More and more, hotels may have to turn to providing services and content that guests just can't get at home; for some, certainly, that may still be porn, but it's likely to also include the sort of services that can't be provided by a device, no matter how addictive or what generation its network claims to be. Massages, spa services like manicures and facials, and restaurants may just have to pick up the slack left by the $50 phone call home of the business hotel industry's golden years.

I, for one, am not feeling at all nostalgic for those days of yore.
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