I have been looking at a few hotel aggregators (hotels.com, trivago.com & hostelworld.com) & have noticed that many of them have separate options for "Free Wifi" & "Free internet access". I thought that free internet access would've been an internet access, including Wifi, Ethernet & a computer in the lobby, but I have seen that many hotels are shown as having Wifi, but no internet access.

One possible answer is that internet access means that it doesn't require you to bring your own computer (they have a computer for you to use), or that in many places, non-Wifi internet access is seen as so old-fashioned that hotels don't even bother to tick the tickbox next to that listing.

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    As mentioned in Peter's answer, it's probably a case of poor definitions. From a technical perspective, "WiFi" is provided by Wireless Access Points (WAPs) which let you connect wirelessly to the network they're connected to, and internet access is provided by different network devices, so it's possible to have a building full of WAPs, providing WiFi, but not have a connection to the internet. You could stiff your ISP so they cut you off, set your broadband cable on fire, even fall victim to a road crew cutting a fiber cable somewhere, etc. Jun 22, 2016 at 20:00
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    Let me guess, they added the two so they get less questions.. I am sure many nontechnical guests ask funny questions.. I would even add "facebook available, twitter available, etc." Jun 22, 2016 at 21:21
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    At least on hostelworld.com Free internet access usually means, they have one or multiple PCs connected to the internet to be used by guests. This used to be very common, but now many places don't have PCs anymore. Jun 22, 2016 at 21:22
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    @LưuVĩnhPhúc It does not relate in technologies, but it definitely relates in travel as hotels are used to advertise Wi-Fi = internet access over WiFi. And people are used to read it this way. Also common folk does not have a clue about technology and never met a Wi-Fi without internet (even when WAN access is down they say that Wi-Fi does not work ;-). I had to explain these concepts to quite a few people already. They get it fast though, it's just that they never really gave it much thought.
    – okolnost
    Jun 23, 2016 at 6:54
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    @LưuVĩnhPhúc While you're not wrong, when advertised as an amenity (e.g. at hotels or on airplanes, ships, etc.) having "Wi-Fi" is implied to mean that you have Internet access through said Wi-Fi.
    – reirab
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:34

4 Answers 4


I think that the websites are confusing terms. I have also seen this on AirBnb where places have separate checks for WiFi and Internet. I think that what they actually mean is:

  1. WiFi - non-wired internet access
  2. Internet - Wired internet access

As someone who deals with computers on a daily basis for work, these types of bad definitions annoy the hell out of me.

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    Another common bad terminology problem is the conflation of Internet and the WWW, as in I don't need Internet, just email.
    – choster
    Jun 22, 2016 at 18:34
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    Maybe he's browsing hotels in North Korea, in which case, it would be entirely plausible that they'd have WiFi access points, but no connectivity to the internet. :) Jun 22, 2016 at 19:56
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    @HopelessN00b At which point you have intranet access, specifically to that WiFi router's intranet so the NK gov't can see all your data.
    – cat
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:15
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    @phihag According to the AP Style guide what was the Internet is now the internet .. capitalization no longer needed. Not that I agree with that.
    – Peter M
    Jun 22, 2016 at 20:52
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    @Peanut That is simply not true. Ethernet is one of many protocols used in local networks. Internet is global network. You can access internet using different protocols in your local network. You can also have local network with Ethernet and WITHOUT access to the internet.
    – okolnost
    Jun 23, 2016 at 6:45

I actually know of a hotel, which has free WiFi but charges for Internet access. Through the free WiFi, you can access the hotel's internal entertainment system, order room service, check out, "call" the front desk, etc. But if you want to connect to the Internet, you have to pay an extra fee (which you can also book through the free WiFi).

As soon as you have confirmed the booking, your MAC address gets unblocked in the router, and you have full access. You also get a keycode with which you can unlock up to 2 other device's MAC addresses.

So, this particular hotel would indeed have Free WiFi but no Free Internet.

Interestingly, I even know of a hotel, which has free WWW access, but you have to pay for Internet access.

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    This used to be quite normal here in Germany, before the laws on liability for access point providers were clarified, and a clear provision was added that access providers are not liable for anything that is transmitted across their access points until and unless they have positive knowledge of crimes being committed, and they have no obligation to monitor the traffic to detect crimes. Before that, it was unclear whether or not access point providers could be made liable, and so they employed strict filtering proxies that only allowed a "safe" subset of the web. Jun 23, 2016 at 0:30
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    While I haven't seen this personally from a hotel, this is actually quite common on airlines, at least in the U.S. You can connect to the on-board Wi-Fi and get to the airline's website and the onboard entertainment portal (which can stream movies, TV shows, etc. as well as showing the position of the aircraft on a map and such,) but you're not allowed access to any other part of the Internet without paying a fee. On Southwest, this is how all of the on-board entertainment is delivered. It's also on almost all of Delta's fleet, though much of their fleet also has IFE screens.
    – reirab
    Jun 23, 2016 at 15:31
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    How misleading if any hotel actually advertises "free wifi" in this way. Nobody who sees "free wifi" is going to think "Great, I can't wait to see what's on the hotel's internal network!" Sep 20, 2017 at 7:20

I can only speak for hostelworld.com which I use a lot, the difference there is pretty clear to me:

Free WiFi

This means Wireless LAN is available in the facility, but not necessarily everywhere. Often it's just in the lobby but not in the/all rooms. The WLAN is connected to the public internet, so if the guest has a device supporting WiFi, she can use it to go online. This is free of charge. This is very common now.

Free Internet Access

This means there are desktop computers available (running Windows, or sometimes Linux or even MacOS) which can be used by the guests free of charge. These PCs are connected to the public internet. Often there is a time limit on the usage if someone else is waiting. This used to be very common in hostels but newer places often don't bother anymore because everybody has a mobile device with WiFi.

  • This is the correct answer, in standard terms as used by non-tech people.
    – smci
    Jun 23, 2016 at 21:47

I would consider both statements insufficient for what I usually want, which is generally connecting a personal laptop to the internet.

Some hotels advertise «Free WiFi internet access», yet getting to the internet from the room requires an extra charge (usually disproportionate and daily). You need to look at the fine print which says that restricts that offer to «the common areas»

Internet access may simply mean that there are some computers available for you to use. These computers may be severely constrained (eg. kiosk mode), be running very outdated software, be infected with credential-stealing malware… So I wouldn't recommend using them but for very light tasks (eg. looking up the opening times of a museum)

Thus, when searching with a hotel aggregator those fields would be useful hints, but I would then go to the actual hotel website and check what they claim there to have available. Call them to clarify if needed.

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