Maybe you’ve experienced road warrior panic, as I did last week.
I was traveling for work and during one important video call in my hotel room, the WiFi flaked out and we disconnected. Early the next morning, my laptop kept getting booted off the in-room internet while I was trying to meet a deadline.
I was sleepy, still in my pajamas and stressed.
Crummy WiFi in your hotel room isn’t the world’s most pressing problem. But when you pay for a home (and an office) away from home, you expect some comforts: a cozy bed, a hot shower and reliable internet access.
You can’t fix the internet in your hotel. But you are not completely powerless over that flaky hotel WiFi.
Why is internet often terrible in hotels?
It’s complicated to spread internet access to all rooms, and hotels haven’t typically treated WiFi as a priority.
Many hotels know their guests expect internet access, but that doesn’t mean it has to be any good. Hotels’ internet equipment and software may not have kept up with your love of video streaming, Zoom calls and other data-hogging activities.
“They didn’t necessarily invest in the best WiFi,” said David Henry, president and general manager of connected home products and services at Netgear, which makes internet equipment.
Hotels also are stuffed with WiFi-blocking obstacles such as walls, electrical equipment, and other humans all sharing limited internet bandwidth.
That’s not an excuse, though. It’s also tricky to pipe hot water to 100 rooms of people taking showers at the same time. You don’t put up with balky plumbing, and you shouldn’t accept unreliable internet.
What you can do: Try to move around
If you’ve having trouble, experiment to see if some parts of your hotel room have a stronger internet connection. On my flaky video call, it seemed to help when I moved away from the window.
Parking yourself in an uncrowded hotel lobby or business center with a separate internet connection might be a step up from the in-room WiFi shared among 50 rooms.
Some hotels offer basic internet service included in the room price and speedier WiFi if you pay extra. I hate this, but a couple of internet experts said the paid tier might be a good bet.
If most people don’t pay for the zippy service and you do, then you’ll be using a less crowded internet lane.
Ask for help
Sascha Meinrath, a telecommunications professor at Penn State University, suggested asking hotel staff (nicely) if you can switch rooms.
He said that hotels may set aside rooms for loyal guests or VIPs, and internet service is likely to be better there. I’m not bold enough to ask for an upgrade, but you could try.
Front desk staff are not your tech support, but it might also be worth asking them about your in-room WiFi troubles. They might know areas of the hotel with perkier internet service.
Use your phone as a WiFi hotspot
Depending on your mobile service plan, you may be able to use your phone to beam WiFi to your laptop.
You may need to ask your phone provider or look up instructions for using your phone as an internet hotspot. (Here are FAQs from Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.)
This isn’t a great solution if you travel a lot. Using your phone as a WiFi hub chugs through data and your battery, you might be charged extra and the phone company may slow down your connection.
You can also buy dedicated mobile hotspots, although that adds another phone bill to your budget.
Don’t keep crummy hotel WiFi a secret
Not everyone cares about the same hotel amenities. Having a pool at the hotel might be important to you, and it isn’t for me. Unreliable WiFi is a dealbreaker for me and maybe not for you.
But if quality internet service matters to you, let the hotel know in customer feedback and reviews.
“The ball is in the court of the consumer to elevate the importance to the hotel operators,” Henry said.
Travel websites aren’t necessarily helpful in empowering you.
After my hotel stay, I wanted to see if other people complained about the hotel’s balky WiFi on sites including Hotels.com and Travelocity. It was almost impossible to sift through reviews for specific amenities or terms like “WiFi.”
And while those travel websites tend to list whether a hotel offers internet service and whether it costs extra, they don’t appear to assess the quality.
Expedia Group, which owns travel websites including Expedia, Hotels.com and Travelocity, said search results on Hotels.com include a “traveler experience” filter for properties with “business friendly” amenities including WiFi. You can also choose to read only reviews written by business travelers. I didn’t find these options helpful.
After I checked out of my WiFi dead zone hotel, it emailed me a feedback survey. I usually ignore those things. This time I responded and said I probably wouldn’t stay in the hotel again because I couldn’t rely on the WiFi.
I felt like I did my small part to help future pajama-clad guests trying to meet work deadlines.
One tiny win
I love rules. Here’s my colleague Chris Velazco’s golden rule for gadgets:
“If it isn’t seriously broken, and you got whatever it is less than two years ago, don’t even think about replacing it.”
For phones both new and old, repairs might be a good return for your investment, Chris says. You might spend $100 at a repair shop having your battery replaced or more to fix your busted screen. That’s not cheap, but it’s a bargain compared to the cost of a new device.
Shira Ovide writes The Washington Post’s The Tech Friend, a newsletter about making your technology into a force for good. She has been a technology journalist for more than a decade and wrote a tech newsletter at the New York Times.