Want free wifi without elite status at a major hotel chain? It might be time to take another look at Marriott. The company announced today that it will offer all members of Marriott Rewards free wifi on all stays globally starting 15 January 2015. Not surprisingly there are a few exceptions and some fine print but this is a significant change in the market and makes signing up for a free Marriott Rewards account a pretty smart move.
The main caveat is that in order to qualify the booking must be made directly through a Marriott channel. Bookings made through 3rd party sites will not qualify for the free WiFi. Those stays also don’t generally qualify for other Marriott Rewards credits or perks so this is not too surprising a development. Still, given the market being targeted with this announcement it seems quite easy to understand that calling out this exception is important. There are also exceptions for the Protea brand and about 20 specific properties. Still, given the massive footprint Marriot and its associated brands have around the world this is relatively huge.
The free service offered will be the “base tier” option at properties where multiple connectivity speeds are offered. For Marriott Gold and Platinum elites the premium speed option will continue to be complimentary.
Definitely good news for travelers here and also probably good news for the hotels. Giving up a bit of incremental ancillary revenue is likely to be much more valuable than giving up the 30% or more some OTAs can extract as a commission on a room night booking. And I don’t know many companies which would prefer to earn $10 while paying $30 rather than just keep the $30 in the first place. Hotels have tried to drive booking to their own channels in the past, mostly by taking away benefits from customers who don’t book direct. That worked well to shift the booking patterns of travelers who were already loyal to the brand but didn’t touch the more price-sensitive or occasional traveler. And not offering free wifi was arguably losing that business more than not. Now Marriott can say, “Just shop with us and you’ll get the wifi for free” and that solves the lost business aspect of things. And it saves them a lot of money in commission payment, too.
Perhaps the “stick” was not working so well and now Marriott wants to see how well the “carrot” can affect consumer behavior.
Marriott has a FAQ about the benefit available here.
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