What do I need to know about no-contract wi-fi/cell hotspots?

We’re heading out to spend eight days in a hotel in Denver. We’ll need to work, so need a basic broadband connection. The hotel is going to charge us about $140 for the week. I figure that gives us a budget of around $200 or so to buy a device and some sort of access (we’ll recoup the extra $60 on our next trip if we don’t have to invest in hardware).

A search turns up a dizzying array of devices and plans, but we don’t quite know what we’re looking for. We work out of our home so don’t have much experience with portable Internet. I know 3G and 4G are a thing, but have no idea how they relate to Internet speeds (can you stream on 3G?), or what LTE does, etc. Also, neither of us has a ‘regular’ mobile contract (we use T-Mobile’s pay-by-the-day service, which has very limited phone-only broadband connectivity) that we can piggyback on to.

Having a laptop and tablet each, what hardware features are we looking for?

Initial hardware cost aside, are we likely to find no-contract connectivity for less than $15 a day? It looks like we may need an idea of usage, but beyond work-related up/downloads, we have no way of knowing what our usage will be. What’s a netflix movie? An hour of Spotify streaming?

I have no idea what else to ask.


What cell phone do you own?

I have a Galaxy SIII with T-Mobile no-contract service. I pay by the day—$3 gets me unlimited talk and text for the day plus some paltry amount of 4G service that falls to 3G for the rest of the day. It’s a total ripoff compared to what we’d pay for a monthly plan, but we since we only need it once or twice every month or so it’s a great deal (especially with wi-fi at a lot of the places we go). Our cell phone expense rarely exceeds $100 a year.

Travelling to a hotel is a weak spot in all this, but even if you add in their $140 we still come out way ahead of a monthly plan. If we can find out how to work out a hotspot, that’ll be even better.

If it’s email and texts just piggyback on someone’s phone who has a more robust monthly data plan than yours (mine is 12 gigs and some people have up to 30+) . Almost all current smartphones can act as wifi hotspots for several devices at once up to 15-20 feet away. If you need multimedia and major DL capability you will need to use the hotel service. If you are in an interior room not facing a cell antenna cell data reception might be poor.

Many hotels have free wifi in the lobby but paid wifi in the rooms. See what yours has. If you can agree to work in the lobby you can possibly use the free wifi.

Thanks. Back when I had a plan I used to tether my phone, but they shut down that service (though I thought I read somewhere that they couldn’t stop you from tethering anymore).

We have down/uploads during the day for work, and hope to stream then (e.g. while Mrs. Devil kerns) and in the evenings. So the hotel plan is our default; I’m just hoping there’s a semi-economical way to take care of it ourselves. Even it there’s a year or so until it pays for itself, it’ll be nice to be independent (kind of like buying our own cable modem–it costs a year’s ‘rental’, but it’s nice to have it).

Is this (relatively) new? It’s been a few years since I had to travel for work, but every hotel I ever stayed in had free wifi for all guests.

It’s been that way for a long time, but it very much depends on the market segment the hotel caters to. The higher-end the hotel, the more likely it is you have to pay. You’re probably going to have to pay at the downtown Hilton but it will be free at the Holiday Inn Express in the suburbs.

I’ve never stayed in a hotel in the last 10 years where I had to pay for wifi.

Why would it be pay-for-use at high end hotels???

That’s how we’ve found it for a long time. Thanks to Priceline, with rare exceptions we usually spend Holiday Inn prices but stay in four-star hotels. This trip out is a good example. The hotel we’re staying at now is a four-star that listed (it’s sold out now) at $147 on Priceline (rack), Orbitz, Expedia, etc. We went through the ‘name your own price’ option and got it for $83. There are few things that really live up to the hype.

Almost all higher-end hotels charge for access whereas budget-friendly hotels comp it. We figure the lower cost hotels are aware that their customer base is price concious whereas the higher cost hotels figure most people won’t sweat (or whine about) fifteen bucks a day–or are travelling on their company’s dime.

4G (even 3G) can be sufficiently good that people cancel their ADSL lines at home. If you have good signal you can see 50Mb/s. But you can be subject to much more congestion, so those are peak rates. If there is a nearby base station you can get silly speeds. I lost the phone connection at home for about a week a while ago. Not being able to cope without my daily SDMB, I just turned on my WiFi hotspot (iPhone 5, at the time 3G only available) and the connection was better than by ADSL. But a 1GB/month plan, so I was a bit wary. The reality is that I struggle to get much past 1GB at home in a month anyway. I don’t stream movies, and it is only when downloading things like major OS upgrades or software that I get much above that. Working from home will tip it up a bit, but not all that much. I think my mobile plan is 3GB now, and I could actually also see killing the ADSL off, except that I need the link to stay up 7/24, not just when I am at home.

What you don’t know in hotels is how many guests you are competing with for your bandwidth. Or what the connection is. A lot of places only have a simple ADSL link, and whilst free, the entire hotel shares it. This may still be true for the paid access as well.

High-end hotels usually charge for services that are free at cheaper venues, like parking, wifi and breakfast.

Several possible reasons come to mind:

  1. High-end hotel users are price-insensitive, either because the charge is small enough that it doesn’t matter, or because they are business travelers and don’t personally pay the bill.

  2. If you have status with a hotel frequent-traveler program, they often give you free wifi as a bonus. If they didn’t charge for it, they couldn’t offer it free as a perq for elites.