Free hotel Wi-Fi coming, with strings attached

Starwood Hotels' decision to offer free Wi-Fi to members mirrors a move by Marriott International

Another major hotel chain is planning to eliminate wireless Internet charges, but only for guests who join its loyalty rewards program.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., with more than 1,200 properties including the brands W, Westin, Sheraton, Four Points and St. Regis, announced last week that standard in-room Internet will be free to all Starwood Preferred Guest members starting Feb. 2.

The move mirrors a decision announced last month by Marriott International to offer free standard Wi-Fi to members of its loyalty rewards program, starting in January.

With the Starwood offer, loyalty reward members get the Wi-Fi if they book through Starwood’s online sites or the SPG app. Without a loyalty membership, guests pay up to $20 per day for basic Wi-Fi service, with even higher prices for Internet with premium speeds.

Guests pay nothing to join the Starwood rewards program. Industry experts say hotel companies value loyalty membership because it enables the hotels to pepper guests with offers and shower them with perks to keep them loyal.

“Once they get you into their system, they can start to track you and your buying behavior, and that’s valuable to them,” said Carl Winston, program director at the school of hospitality and tourism management at San Diego State University. “It’s a prudent business move.”

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin.

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