Thursday, October 27, 2005

Frugal Travels: Hotel Phones & Free Internet

Travelers beware. Whether you’re on the road because of business, pleasure or a hurricane, it pays to save your communication dollars. Telephone, internet and fax communications can add up to costly tabs for travelers.

For example, hotels, motels and bed & breakfast inns can slap a variety of extra charges onto your bill for telephone calls made from your room. These charges typically apply to local and long-distance calls and represent an additional fee added to the basic cost of the actual phone call. And if you’re careless or uninformed about potential charges, you could face an eye-popping bill at check-out time.

Minimize your bill, by making full (and smart) use of your mobile phone. Reserve the hotel phone for outgoing calls and if the hotel has a toll-free number, give those digits to friends, families and business associates. Use your cell phone (or buy an inexpensive phone card) for out going calls. And don’t forget to pack your battery charger.

And if you have to use the hotel phone, be brief. The Tightwad Gazette, a frugal textbook, recommends the one-minute phone call. To get under the sixty-minute wire, begin by mapping out “talking points” before you even pick up the phone. And eliminate a costly paper chase by keeping pertinent information (business notes and other facts) close at hand. Don’t keep the meter running.

There are a variety of choices for Internet service. For instance, the Springhill Suites Marriott in Pittsburgh, Pa. offers free wireless Internet services for travelers armed with a laptop. Other chains offer pay-as-you go services for Internet, computer, printing and fax machine access.

Scrutinize your bills when paying for these services and report any failed connections, poor quality printing or other computer errors. On one recent trip, the hotel’s Internet vendor graciously reimbursed me for an expensive, Internet connection that repeatedly failed as I tried to complete an assignment on deadline.

And don’t be a snob when traveling. Public libraries have a wide assortment of computer terminals, programs and Internet service—all free of charge. Indeed, I’ve spent hours at the public library in Kissimee, while vacationing with my family in Orlando. At that library, my kids enjoyed a literary break from the overwhelming amusement park scene and I was able to log on to the Internet free of charge. It was a win-win for everyone and my boys enjoyed using the computer terminals in the extensive children’s section.

And don’t forget, Internet cafes. Many of these outlets have affordable rates and great coffee.

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