Help me stop sitting on the floor outside the Admiral's Club checking my email.
February 13, 2007 9:45 AM   Subscribe

Starting in a few weeks I will be doing a lot of travelling with my laptop. Help me choose a wifi provider for airports and possibly other locations.

I do not have a cell phone, so I can't add on to a cell phone plan. My home DSL ISP does not have any roaming plan. I would like to be able to access wifi primarily at airports, but hotels and/or other places would be good too. It would help if the plan were international so I could connect when I am in Australia, but other countries don't much matter. I have a MacBook so anything requiring a card is unlikely to serve my purposes, unless there is something I do not know about how they work.

Basically I would like a way to connect to multiple access points per day a small number of days a month [N=3-7 usually] in a fairly hassle-free manner.

I had a Boingo account briefly to try it out and thought it was pretty simple and just worked. Maybe that's the answer, but I'm wondering how the other providers work in terms of a) coverage and b) price, especially "Can I get the price down by paying for a year at a time?" since Boingo was $21.95/mo, no obvious discount for multiple months. Also if there are places to look for deals and/or sales on this sort of thing, please point me in that direction. I have already seen the Free Airport Wifi list. Thanks.
posted by jessamyn to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've had good luck with tMobile in the US and Europe because of their Starbucks partnership and the fact that they're really a German company. Except for Italy. Italy has no wifi.
posted by lilithim at 10:01 AM on February 13, 2007

Seconding lilithim, I've found T-mobile Hotspot seems to have the best coverage. Here's their plans. They're not cheap, although its cheaper if you are already a T-mobile customer.
posted by vacapinta at 10:09 AM on February 13, 2007

I use the T-Mobile $6.00 an hour plan when I'm traveling, but the $9.95 for 24 hours works well also. $21.95 a month seems like a great rate for wi-fi connection. Let us know if you find something cheaper.
posted by Xurando at 10:16 AM on February 13, 2007

My travel is primarily in the US and about the same [N]. Another vote on the T-Mobile Hot Spots; no matter what else the airport might not have, it's likely to have a Starbucks.

I do not find the T-Mobile to be frequently available in my actual hotel room or in hotel meetings, though -- I usually have to go to a Starbucks or Hot Spot to get logged in.

What has also helped me re wifi in the hotel room is that the bigger hotel chains catering to business travellers have begun offering free wifi to loyalty club members. The Fairmont and Omni both jump to mind, and I've received the same amenity at some Hiltons. (Don't stay in Starwood properties much so can't speak to those.) So, for the price of my time to sign up for the hotel preferred guest membership, I'm saving the $10/day for internet access.

I find the hotel preferred programs convey loads of other benefits too, but that's a different AskMe.
posted by pineapple at 10:18 AM on February 13, 2007

I just heard an interview with someone that got back from an Australian tour and their hotel wifi was frequently charged by the byte. He said he racked up hundreds in charges over a week by going over the 10Mb or whatever limit (and he said it was mostly email).

Last time I was in Sydney, there were still lots of cheap internet cafes and I never paid more than $1USD/hr to access the net.
posted by mathowie at 10:27 AM on February 13, 2007

This is a major problem when traveling, T-Mobile is the only one that comes close to being ubiquitous. Within the US I always use an air card, if you find a better solution for international travel please let us know. Friends that travel outside the US are much more ad hoc about it than I would like to be, that is they end up spending a lot of money on whatever the local vendor compared to actual use.
posted by geoff. at 10:28 AM on February 13, 2007

Panera Bread has free WiFi.
posted by smackfu at 10:55 AM on February 13, 2007

Perhaps you could become a fonero?
posted by fvox13 at 11:51 AM on February 13, 2007

Jess, Boingo is decent, but for what it's worth, I don't have any sort of roaming plan and get along just fine, and I travel a lot. All Marriott and Starwood hotels I've visited have internet access, and if it's not free in the room, it's often free in the lobby. If you don't mind bumming around coffeeshops, but hunting for no-cost access isn't your thing, T-Mobile is also a good option, as others have noted.

Another possible option is to pair with your phone. The MacBook will bluetooth pair with a fair number of phones using the scripts available here. Make sure you've got an unlimited internet access data plan before embarking, however (you won't incur huge charges just doing testing, though). EDGE or UTMS/HSPDA are the current fastest connection options, but standard GPRS (for a GSM phone) works. I don't know what the CDMA equivalent of GPRS speeds is. If that went over your head, feel free to shoot me an email or ask here, and I'll try to clarify.

Also, don't discount peoples' laxity regarding security. If I get in a real pinch, I can often wardrive around a neighborhood and "borrow" someone's access for a (very!) short time.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:57 AM on February 13, 2007

Oops, I just reread that you don't have a cell. Please disregard paragraph two!
posted by TheNewWazoo at 11:58 AM on February 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for all the responses. My major hurdle is airports, because I can usually find some wifi somewhere enough to check email and whatnot if I'm not in a damned airport which seem to be locked up with whatever proprietary vendor is around. I hadn't thought about Starbucks. I also had thought Boingo might be on the spendy side but if that is not the case, I may start looking at them more favorably and just buying by the month since they were super easy to use. If anyone has any other ideas by all means put them in here.

: my fonero is already on the way!
pineapple: thanks for the reminder, I'll have to stay on top of my Hilton Honors account.
posted by jessamyn at 12:37 PM on February 13, 2007


I was about to post a comment along the lines of "SHE SAID AIRPORT, PEOPLE."

Thanks for beating me to it.

My qualifications: I travel intra-nationally at least twice a week on business, lately mainly between NYC airports and ORD, however in the past year or so I've been to Boston, Orlando, Miami, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas / Fort Worth, San Antonio, Austin, Houston, Denver, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Sacramento, Vancouver, Montreal, and that's just off the top of my head.

Your best choices, I'm sorry to say, are what you've already discovered - Boingo or sitting on the floor outside the Admiral's Club. I go with Boingo - I thoroughly investigated an annual rate with them and found nothing at the time. However, of all the airports I've sat in, I have found that my Boingo account got me connected more times than any others. I had the flexibility to try more than a few over the past few years as I was able to charge it in for work.

Sure, there are plenty of Starbucks in airports. I've found that less than half of them (at best) have dedicated T-mobile like their almost all of their non-airport locations do.

A Boingo account gives you WiFi access anywhere that Boingo has a network, or a partner network, which includes Sprint, iBahn, and AT&T to name a few (I always see the list when I'm logging on at a non-Boingo location and think "wow its a wonder there's any airport I can't get connected at).

Now, all that said, if you absolutely positively must get signals at all airports, consider the cost of the AmEx Platinum at $395 / year. A number of my co-workers do this - not only does it get them access to Continental, Delta, and Northwest's clubs, you get a stupid amount of other benefits, not the least of which is rental car insurance (if you happen to be renting cars for personal use on a frequent basis). That's only a total cost of about $12 more a month than a year's worth of Boingo access. don't get the Boingo access with it.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:29 PM on February 13, 2007

Oh, and as far as loyalty clubs go (for hotels or airlines for that matter), a bird in the hand is certainly worth 2 or more in the bush. Almost all of these programs, if you call them, will agree to match your status level with an alternate hotel chain / airline if you simply provide proof of your current status with their competitor. They see this as a win for them in gaining a key customer segment.

I've used this to gain status on multiple airlines and hotel chains that I use mostly on an infrequent basis. The key is to have your go-to that you always keep actually booking miles / points to so that you do maintain a "real" status somewhere.
posted by allkindsoftime at 3:33 PM on February 13, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sure, there are plenty of Starbucks in airports. I've found that less than half of them (at best) have dedicated T-mobile like their almost all of their non-airport locations do.

In case it isnt clear above, I wasn't referring to Starbucks but to independent T-mobile hotspots inside airports. I use T-mobile and have never set foot in an aiport Starbucks.
posted by vacapinta at 4:36 PM on February 13, 2007

I wasn't referring to Starbucks but to independent T-mobile hotspots inside airports.

Point taken. I haven't done a detailed comparison of the Boingo family vs. T-mobile's coverage - T-mobile does seem to be in most of the major hub airports - but my rough guesstimation still falls in favor of Boingo.
posted by allkindsoftime at 5:49 PM on February 13, 2007

Oh, one more option is iPass - the company I contract for provides it for all of their employees. iPass is a bit more airport-oriented, it seems.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:15 PM on February 13, 2007

Regarding T-Mobile Hot-Spots: as far as I could tell, after purchasing a month of T-Mo access in the UK, then coming home to the US, then going back to the UK, UK T-Mo access is considered a separate network from US T-Mo access -- so you'd have to pay an 18c/minute 'roaming' fee to use the same company's network in another country. Which pretty much defeats the purpose. The whole "wireless broadband alliance" is a "customer scratches my back, customer scratches yours" crock.
posted by xueexueg at 7:13 AM on February 14, 2007

Jessamyn, Not that I would ever condone this or anything, but you can get TMobile for free for the next 90 days if you make one small tweak.
posted by crazyray at 10:00 PM on February 17, 2007

P.S.- Since you are using an Intel Mac, a Parallels Desktop VM with Vista (either beta or retail) would allow the TMobile trick to work w/o any messy ethical or legal questions. As an added bonus, once you have the Vista VM working on the WiFi, Safari/ Firefox will work as well. Here you go. Good luck!
posted by crazyray at 10:46 PM on February 17, 2007

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