Costly Wifi Means More Unhappy Hotel Guests

A new study shows that hotel guests' customer satisfaction is slipping.

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Vacationers this summer may find themselves less impressed by their hotel accommodations than in years past. According to a new study, hotel guest satisfaction is on the decline.

Overall guest satisfaction at hotels has fallen by 7 points this year, to 757 on a 1,000-point scale, according to J.D. Power and Associates' 2012 North America Hotel Guest Satisfaction Index Study. That may look like a modest drop, but it obscures significant customer complaints.

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Customers are dissatisfied with a variety of factors at their hotels: check-in, check-out, food and beverages, service and facilities, says Jessica McGregor, senior manager of J.D. Power's global travel and hospitality practice. She adds that ratings of guest rooms are within one point of all-time lows.

"A lot of hotels reduced staff during the economic downturn and staffing levels haven't increased as occupancy increased as much as they should have" since then, she says, making for "longer lines, longer waits for things, negatively impacting satisfaction."

However, McGregor adds that those declines would be larger if it weren't for another category: price.

Hotel costs and fees "have not gone up to where they were pre-economic downturn. they haven't caught up with inflation," she says.

Customers might be content with those costs, but there's another pricetag in particular that irks them: the pesky fees for connecting to the Internet. Only 11 percent of people using the Internet during their hotel stays are charged a fee, but it can drastically worsen their experience. On J.D. Power's scale, those who pay for Internet service have a satisfaction score 76 points lower than those not charged a fee or for whom the fee is a part of the room rate.

And more and more guests are likely to have that problem. Currently, 55 percent of hotel guests use the Internet, nearly triple 2006's 20 percent.

This irks guests more now than it used to because free wi-fi is often so widely available in other places, like coffee shops and restaurants, says McGregor.

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"When guests learn they have to pay for Internet or when connection speeds are slow at a hotel, they are much more dissatisfied than they were in the past," she says.

And it may only get worse. USA Today recently reported that the company that owns Ramada, Wyndham, and Super 8, which largely offers free Internet for its guests, is considering new payment models.

That trend could be growing as guests use up more data with things like streaming movies and video-chatting, the newspaper reported.

Hotels that J.D. Power considers "luxury" and "upper upscale," as well as extended-stay hotels, are less likely than their peers in the "mid-scale," "upscale," and "economy/budget" categories to offer complimentary Internet access, according to the study.

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Still, luxury hotels, led by Ritz-Carlton, received more positive ratings than any other segment in the study, averaging 822 points. Economy/budget hotels had the lowest scores, with an average of 676.

Danielle Kurtzleben is a business and economics reporter for U.S. News & World Report. Connect with her on Twitter at @titonka or via E-mail at dkurtzleben@usnews.com.