Effective immediately, elite members of Marriott's Rewards program will not be charged extra for Internet access when staying at Marriott hotels.
The new perk comes bundled with restrictions. And it raises questions about hotel pricing and value.
The benefit is only for the two top elite tiers—Platinum and Gold, but not Silver. It only applies at hotels in Canada and the U.S., excluding Hawaii. And it applies only to the most expensive hotels in Marriott's network—Marriott, JW Marriott, and Renaissance—not to Courtyard, Fairfield Inn, Residence Inn, TownePlace Suites, and SpringHill Suites, all of which routinely feature free Internet access, no elite status required.
That distinction, between hotels that charge and those that don't, is a troubling one.
I happen to be a fan of Marriott's Courtyard motels, which among other things feature free Internet access for everyone, regardless of their loyalty program membership or status. Many other mid-priced hotels, within and outside the Marriott family of brands, do the same.
At the low end of the price spectrum, I recently stayed at a Motel 6, where I was charged $2.99 a night for Internet access. The rate was so low, however, that a-la-carte pricing seemed fair and reasonable.
But paying a surcharge on top of the already hefty room rates at a JW Marriott? To me—and I know I'm not alone in this—that feels like a gouge.
Of course, Marriott's policy has to be assessed in context.
Members of InterContinental's Priority Club Rewards get no breaks on Internet access at all, no matter what membership level they've attained.
Starwood only gives free Internet to its Platinum members, who have logged 25 stays or 50 nights in a calendar year.
Hilton includes free Internet on the menu of perks Gold and Diamond members of its HHonors program can choose from.
Hyatt grants free Internet access to all elite Gold Passport members.
Fairmont offers the Internet for free to all members of its President's Club. Unfortunately, Fairmont, with a mere 56 hotels in its portfolio, isn't a significant enough player to force the larger hotel chains to match its largesse.
And for members of Best Western's Rewards program, the question of who pays for Internet access and who doesn't is moot—it's free for everyone, and has been since 2004.
So for now, partisans of the larger hotel chains have two choices if they want to read this blog for free. They can stay 50 or more nights to earn elevated status in the hotel's frequent-stay program. Or, they can stay at a value-priced hotel, one that understands that in the 21st century, Internet access is no more an extra than tap water or air conditioning, and charges for it accordingly.