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Never Pay Hotels for Internet Again (loganrandolph.com)
42 points by lbr on June 2, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 54 comments

Does anyone else feel this is unethical?

You are basically paying someone to circumvent the controls the price structure the employer has in place. This works because the front desk is empowered to make sure the customer is happy and therefore isn't investigated for every 'comp' that is provided to a customer.

However, that isn't the intention of the power the employer granted to the employee.

"Does anyone else feel this is unethical?"

Well on the surface yes. And probably yes. But read on.

"You are basically paying someone to circumvent the controls the price structure the employer has in place."

(Now I'm for the defense here and will argue the other side of this).

Well let's look at it from the employers point of view.

- They want to keep employees happy. So as long as this doesn't happen to much they will probably look the other way. (Cheaper than raising wages).

- They want to keep guests, especially desirable "clued in" guests happy. After all this guest now feels as if they got away with something and got a boost in their mental state (source: attitude of the OP)

- God knows if Jack Nicholson walks into your hotel and your front desks comps him for internet (just because he smiles and says "hi" in a nice way) the employee will feel good and the employer will probably feel it is ok as well. (They very well might have a policy for this special treatment of course but don't for tipping simply because they can't openly say that it would create all sorts of havoc).

I once had an employee many years ago who told me he was going to help his wife with her business on my time a small bit. (In so many words, he didn't say exactly that). I was ok with it because I figured he was going to do it anyway and I might as well suck it up.

Besides, and most importantly, if his wife's business made money he wouldn't be as quick to want a raise from me. If I told him "absolutely not, no personal business on my time" he would, in theory, be more likely to need to get a raise since his wife's business wouldn't contribute to the family income. All the details of this matter of course (no hard and fast rule) but over time the situation that I had allowed worked to my advantage.

I'm all for gray areas. I just think the problem is I'm really, really uncomfortable with quid pro quo that resembles bribery.

Let me provide a counter example...

Politicians want campaign contributions which directly benefit their goals and by extension the constituents who voted for them. [Frontdesk enjoys the extra money and reduces demand for raises].

Politicians can do small favors and not get caught. However, the power is intended to be used in the interest of all constituents. [Frontdesk is empowered to comp when it benefits their employer's interests].

I'm not seeing this as significantly different...and those 'small favors' have a tendency to grow as the person receiving the money finds themselves needing to do more and more to 'outdo' the other guy. After all, if I can bribe the other frontdesk guy for $5...why should I give you $20?

Its a very, very slippery slope that makes me uncomfortable.

I'm not saying these are terrible people. I'm just saying it is shady/unethical.

Yes, and this sort of thing is common in bars. But IMO the person behind counter is the one with the moral dilemma.

As a customer, it's not my job to decide where the line is drawn between great service and collusion against the establishment.

Yes, but Bars & Restaurants there is the socially agreed upon expectation that the appropriate people are tipped. Its a social norm that virtually everyone is aware of, including the employer when they started the business.

The 'bribe the front desk' is not in the same category imo.

I think if you aren't willing to consider where you think the line is as the customer, you are ignoring the impact of your actions which is generally not the best idea.

It'd be morally presumptuous!

It is almost by definition the agency problem. The hotel's agent has their own best interest in mind, rather than the hotel's, and can get co-opted by a small bribe.

Exactly! To elaborate, the $20 might not work if the desk clerks were paid twice as much, had benefits, and had occasional meetings with management reminding them not to take tips.

I agree. There are two paths for the hotelier.

1 - Pay employees a lot better, disallow tips, and make everything "All in" for the customers.

2 - Pay employees slightly better, and take all the discretion out of their jobs.

Yes, which is really what ethics is about isn't it?

There is the ethical thing...and then there is what allows you to get a greater reward for intentionally forcing the cost of the reward on to a 3rd party.

It is if they come back.

And this is the intention. The best case scenario, would be for me to come back to the same hotel. And tip the same front desk person. And then we build a relationship.

-I benefit because I get free stuff. -front desk benefits because they get cash. -hotel benefits because I keep coming back to the hotel (because of relationship i form with front desk attendant).

there is no need to rationalize. this is not what the hotel wants. they want you to pay for the internet.

However it is an example of successfully hacking some (non-computer) system to your advantage.

With one exception, I never [e.g. 4+ years pass] visit the same hotel/motel twice.

So to me...most of the customer is there once and never [e.g. 4+ years pass] again.

Maybe for someone who hits the same hotel/motel multiple times a year that would qualify.

Linkbait title. How do you go from "I tipped someone very well and they did me a favor" to "This will work every single time for any person"?

Want to know a trick to get favors like this without bribes? Be nice to the people serving you! Whether it's someone at a hotel front desk, at the customer service call center, or a bartender... They get treated like crap all day, so when you act nice to them and make their jobs more enjoyable, they'll be much more likely to bend the rules in your favor (if you ask).

I worked in customer service for four years. I treated nice people the best (as you suggest). But treated nice people who also tip even better. I don't think being nice, and tipping, are exclusive behaviors.

I'm not sure what that says about me... but. I think humans are reciprocal creatures.

I don't think this will work 100% of the time. But I think it will work enough that it's worth trying. In this case. I paid $20 for a service that typically costs $140. So even if this fails the next 5 times I try - I'll still be ahead.

Bribing is efficient, otherwise it wouldn't work. Would your opinion be different if you were the hotel owner, and the person bribing the clerk was on an expense account anyway? (I know - not the current situation)

I think the hotel owner would be glad to know that this was going on. I've invested in this hotel front desk agent. If I come back to SF, I'll come back to the same hotel. Tip the same front desk agent. She'll get to know me. She'll help me out. I'll help her out. And in the end of the day 1.) I'm staying at the hotel. 2.) I'm booking through the hotel, not a discount site like hoteltonight or expedia

I tried this once to upgrade my room to a suite, you basically put $20 in between your ID and credit card when you check in, and ask if there are any complimentary room/food/credit upgrades with a smile.

However, I was with a coworker who knew the 2nd-in-command boss of the hotel. So one night I was having fine dining with them and got pretty drunk on the free wine that was served to me. I accidentally spilled to the boss that I got upgraded to a suite just by tipping the front desk person, he got pretty furious about it and I think I cost that front desk person his job :/

The problem with these social hacks is that they continue to incentive shitty service. So instead of paying $30 for internet I'm paying $20, and to one of the few people who can possibly yell at the lazy internet vendor to fix things or to management to lower the price. Now, of course, she won't. So what if the login page is broken (or doesnt work with any iOS or Android browsers) or if the speeds are terrible. She got her $20, you got the backdoor employee login, and now the regular guests continue to suffer.

Even after my bribe/complaints/payment I'm stuck with yet another sub 1mbps internet that is literally useless to me. I just end up using the LTE tethering on my phone and minimize my usage so I dont hit my 5gb cap. I travel 6-7 times a year, usually to nice hotels, and am constantly shocked at how terrible the internet service is. Ironically, the cheap Super8 or Holiday Inn tends to have faster and cheaper/free service compared to the nicer hotel. Before my wife and I could afford nice hotels, we had much fewer internet issues. I imagine those cheaper outlets are actually competing for the dollar, while the fancier chains know that Joe Business traveler doesn't care about $20 a night internet because his company is paying for it anyway.

Worse, some hotels advertise 'free wifi' but once you show up you get a login page that tells you that 256kbps is free and if you want full speed its $20 a night. 256kbps is useless to me.

Has anyone started a wifi wall of shame yet? I was going to setup a small wordpress or drupal site just to post my speed results to warn other travelers, ask others to contribute, but the only time I'm motivated to do that is when I'm in the hotel frustrated, and of course then, the internet is far to slow to develop a new site on.

The real question is why is hotel management culture so broken and blind to the basic needs of their travelers. Imagine if the bathroom had a per use toilet paper fee and the paper was over-priced and of low quality. Would we stand for that? Hell, I'm going to start that site tonight. Catchy names anyone?

> The real question is why is hotel management culture so broken > and blind to the basic needs of their travelers.

Easy one: Travelers choose Hotels by nightly rate, many pay for internet whatever it costs afterwards. Especially with many companies' expense policies which require approval before booking the room, while internet is easily expensible ...

And comparing to holiday hotels: These won't pay that much, they pick hotel by "free internet" as part of the description.

Exactly - same issue as airplanes. They are forced to chase the bottom by external websites, so they nickel and dime you for everything along the way.

256kbps is useless to me.

So you're the guy trying to hook a Roku or AppleTV to his in-room TV and watch Netflix all night while all I'm trying to do is get my email and perhaps send a photo to my wife and kids.

The $20 upcharge sounds good to me.

Naww I'm the idiot who pities creators too much to install ad block or heaven forbid tries to open an attachment. Or browse a facebook photo gallery, upload photos, or use google maps without the patience of a buddha.

It doesn't help that tourist websites are poorly optimized and are unusable at very slow speeds.

If I have to pay $20 for ONE DAY of Internet access I'm going to use the hell out of it.

Your beef is with the hotel, not the other users.

This is referred to as the "Twenty Dollar Trick" and is very widely used by frequent (and savvy) travelers.


I guess "nobody ever tips them" is usually true re: bribing the front desk.

But in Las Vegas, it's de rigueur. Look at the results for a Web search for [the $20 trick].

Some hotels have 1-hour free internet per day, you just need to fake your MAC address. They do not even have a cookie, which is probably not an issue, since it can be cleared.

If you're at a Marriott internet is free, well sort of. Just add ?marriott.com to the end of your URL and tada. Pro tip: write a proxy that appends "?marriott.com" to the path in your request.

You just gotta pay for the bribe.

Still waiting for the day when Internet is treated as a standard utility like plumbing... imagine if you had to pay to get water to your room (in the US).


Ummm you do pay for your data plan right? So technically not really free internet, though you could argue that you would have paid for that data if you had used it on the phone anyways so it is really free since you don't have to pay extra for the hotel internet but that is true for anyone who has a smartphone with a data plan so that argument does not stand. :)

agree. Its amazing that in this day and age its so expensive for internet in some places.

It's expensive in expensive hotels with business customers who will just put it on the expense account.

I worked as a maintenance guy at a mainstream hotel that starts with 'H' a couple years ago. I used to get upset that housekeeping would get tips for delivering a set of towels, but all I ever got was anger for unclogging toilets and hauling up new tvs when theirs was on the fritz.

I remember there was only one case of a customer trying the $20 trick while I worked there, he was 'famous' and got treated very well.

This is why tipping is very silly. It's arbitrary, not proportional to effort, not everyone tips equally, and most people get excluded. It usually seems to me like it is sympathy money. "wow you have a go-no-where job. Here's a few extra bucks"

Ideally there would be zero tipping and people would just get paid more.

I prefer the good old MAC address spoofing trick. It's free!

I use that trick too, but unfortunately, it doesn't scale too well to non-technical users, especially when they have some permutations of smartphones, tablets, and laptops...

With tethering on my smartphone and LTE service, I don't feel a need for any local paid service. I'll use WiFi if it's free and reasonably stable, but if not, no skin off my back. I feel like the era of paid WiFi is already near its end.

Totally. Even if you have data caps, the cost of overages is probably less than 20 $, and certainly less than 140 $.

Many hotels give you completely free wifi if you sign up for their loyalty scheme - which is usually free and just involves giving your email address.

Hyatt and all Intercontinental Hotels offer free internet to people in their membership clubs. Just join those for free. That is at Hyatt hotels (not Hyatt Place or Hyatt house) or at Intercontinental (not Holiday Inn). At the places in parenthesis, most internet is already free.

If you are member of a hotel points group, you can request and usually get it for free

Bribing for small favors is hardly anything new.

I think it's quite old actually. So old that few in my generation do it.

It's seen as stogy, or awkward. A thing of Frank Sinatra did at restaurants (with a handshake). Or that you do at clubs or bars. But the point of this article is that you can do it in hotels. And you should.

And, that you should tip the front desk. Not the concierge.

Another way to get free internet in hotels is to tell them it was shitty internet when you check out. It always is shitty (just try watching a movie on it!). They always credit it back to me.

No need to eavesdrop the network and fake MAC addresses, then? At first, I got disappointed about the actual "hack" in the post. And then, amazed.

Nice title. Pays poor man in back alley to stand there with huge wifi antenna...Aim it more towards the right!

It's true - I paid. But I paid a steeply discounted rate. And it's the gift that will keep on giving this week.

How did this go from front page, #2. to third page, #72 in a matter of seconds?

Last time I checked the flagging penalty was about 40 spots. Maybe it's more nuanced and now it's 70 spots. Maybe dang knows.

Edit to add: I imagine this has some interesting overlap with YC's "tell us about the time you hacked something other than a computer" and sama's "Founder Ethics" advisory.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/s2014form

[2] http://ycombinator.com/founderethics/

Interesting that this got flagged. It is about hacking something other that a computer. It's about my opinion that tipping is not a crime. It helps me, it helps the person at the desk, and it helps me create a connection (and loyalty with the hotel). Hotels DO NOT tell employees not to accept tips. Its part of the game.

It's not even showing up in the top 200 for me.

People flagged it.

I never book a hotel without free wifi. Problem solved.

I think she wants you brother, go for it!

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