How to Get Wireless Internet Access in a Hotel

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Start the Connection Process

Woman using tablet at hotel
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Some hotels offer free wireless internet access, the most important amenity for hotel guests. Even if a hotel isn't one of the top free Wi-Fi hotels, however, your hotel will most likely offer wireless access for a daily fee. Here's how to connect to a wireless network in a hotel, and make the best use of it. If you want to keep your browsing history private, here's how to hide it.

The setup is pretty straightforward and follows the basics of creating a Wi-Fi connection in general, but there are a few special considerations and things to do before you get started working out of a hotel:

Make sure your system is up to date and use a VPN to secure your information

Most hotel wireless networks aren't password-protected or encrypted with strong WPA2. Open wireless networks or ones that use the WEP older protocol are not safe, making any information you transfer over the network prone to hacking. So, first, make sure you have a firewall installed, the latest system updates, and the latest antivirus updates. Then, secure your browsing session by using VPN or a remote access solution.

Make sure your wireless adapter is on 

Naturally you'll need for your laptop or mobile device to be able to use Wi-Fi. If you don't have one built in, you can purchase a USB wireless adapter or a PC card for your laptop instead.

Now, your first step is to find the available wireless networks:

  • Find the wireless network icon on your computer. On Windows laptops, the icon is in the bottom right on the taskbar by the date and may look like 1 or 2 monitors or a set of bars. On Macs, look to the top right of your screen and find the wireless symbol (which looks like a striped handheld fan).
  • Click on the wireless icon to see the list of available networks. (On Windows XP, right-click it to "View Available Wireless Networks" and on Vista, click it and select "Connect or disconnect...").

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View Available Connections and Select the Wireless Network

In the new window that shows all available wireless networks, find the name of the hotel's wireless network. You can usually find this information, as well as any passwords needed to connect, in the hotel's guidebook in your room.

In this example, honors (for Hilton Honors) is the name of the network, and, as you can see, it's an unsecured network.

Click on the wireless network (Mac) and, for Windows, click the "Connect" button to connect.

Depending on your hotel's network setup, you may be prompted to enter the security passphrase to connect. You can usually find this information, again, in the hotel guidebook.

Notes: By the way, another way to get to the list of available networks (e.g., if you can't find the wireless network icon) is by going to your control panel, then the network connections section. Right-click on Wireless Network Connection and choose to "View Available Wireless Networks".

If you're having trouble finding the right wireless network name on the list of available connections, see this tip on manually adding a wireless network or joining another network (for Macs). However, chances are if the network isn't visible--and especially if you don't see any wireless networks there, there's something wrong. Time for some wireless network troubleshooting or you can call your hotel's help desk.

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The Wireless Network Connection Begins

Next, your computer will start connecting to the network. On Windows, you'll see a progress bar and on Macs, you'll see the wireless icon animated to show it's in progress.

If this step takes too long (more than two minutes), you may need to restart the connection process. When all else fails, rebooting your laptop might help.

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Connection to the Wireless Network

If all's gone well, you should now have a connection to the wireless network. Your wireless connection window will show you that you are now connected. If you go into Network and Sharing Center, on Windows (click on the wireless icon then "Network and Sharing Center"), you'll also see your computer connected to the wireless network.

We're not done yet, ​though! Almost ready to access the Internet from your hotel...

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Get Authorized to Use the Hotel Network

You'll need to open your web browser before trying to use any Internet-connected services like email, so you can go through the provider's landing page. This is where you'll enter in your credit card information (if the Wi-Fi isn't free), an authorization code given to you by the hotel, or at the very least accept the terms and conditions for using the service.

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Confirming Wireless Network Connection

Once you've submitted your authorization information, you should now have full access to the hotel's Wi-Fi network and able to browse the Web, send and receive emails, and so on.

Most likely you'll get a confirmation screen like the one above showing how much time you have to use the hotel's internet access (if you're paying for the service). Keep an eye out for any time limitations so you can schedule your work most productively and take full advantage of the Wi-Fi service.

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Connection Details and Troubleshooting

Move your mouse to hover over the wireless icon in your taskbar on Windows (or on Mac, click the icon) to get a quick look at your connection: It should show the network connection and how strong your signal strength is. If you have a weak signal, try moving your laptop to another location in the room to see if that improves.

If you have trouble connecting to the wireless network, before you call the help desk, there are several things you can check, depending on your specific type of issue. If you can't find any wireless networks, for example, check if the wireless radio is on.

For more detailed checklists for fixing common Wi-Fi problems, select your type of issue below:

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Connection Options - Share the Hotel Wi-Fi Signal with Other Devices

If your hotel's wireless service isn't free, after you sign up, you may only be able to access the internet from one device (e.g., your laptop), depending on the hotel's setup. Many of us also travel with other wireless devices we'd like to have connected, though, such as a tablet or smartphone.

A travel wireless router, such as the ZuniConnect Travel IV, can be used to not only share a wired Ethernet connection but also extend the Wi-Fi signal to multiple devices. Connect the travel router or access point to your laptop to set it up. See top travel wireless routers.