Hotel Guests' Top Craving: Free Wi-Fi

A comfy mattress and a hot breakfast are still important to hotel guests, but free wireless Internet access is the most desired amenity, according to a new survey of 53,000 travelers.

The survey by J.D. Power & Associates found that free Wi-Fi was the most important feature for guests in nearly every segment of the hotel industry.

The most expensive hotels were the least likely to offer free Wi-Fi. Of guests staying at mid-scale hotels, 96 percent said they got free Wi-Fi, as did 64 percent of guests at budget hotels, according to the survey of guests who stayed in hotels from May 2009 to June 2010. None said they got free Wi-Fi at luxury hotels.

Hotels are likely to feel more pressure to offer the service at no charge, said Stuart Greif, vice president and general manager of the global travel and hospitality practice at J.D. Power. He noted that free Wi-Fi is available at many businesses.

At the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain, the fee for Wi-Fi access is a top complaint among guests, said spokeswoman Vivian A. Deuschl. (The new Ritz-Carlton in downtown Los Angeles charges $12.95 a day.) Some Ritz-Carlton hotels offer free Internet access in the lobbies and other public spaces.

"We have no immediate plans to change the policy, but it's an ongoing subject of discussion," Deuschl said.

American's fleet gets an upgrade

American Airlines, owner of the nation's largest fleet of MD-80s, is moving to replace its 250 or so aging McDonnell Douglas aircraft with more efficient and roomy Boeing 737-800s.

The upgrade began last year and is expected to be completed by next year.

The new Boeing planes burn 20 percent to 30 percent less fuel and can seat about 20 more passengers than the MD-80.

American Airlines announced a few months ago that it had hired Boeing to retrofit its fleet of 737s to include all the amenities in the newer 737-800.

The upgraded planes include economy seats that have a higher pivot point, offering more knee room even when the passenger in front of you reclines. The cabin will also include several electrical outlets and drop-down 10.4-inch LCD monitors.

The overhead bins have been redesigned to nearly double the storage space.

Spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said American Airlines would still impose the limits on carry-on bags mandated by the Federal Aviation Administration.

"We are trying to make the travel experience the best for our passengers," Wallace said. "But we will continue to follow FAA guidelines."

'Family only' areas on planes?

Even with roomier, more comfortable cabins, an airline flight can be a hair-pulling experience if you get seated next to a fidgeting child or a screaming infant.

That may explain why nearly 80 percent of respondents said they support creating a "family-only" section on planes, according to a poll on travel website Farecompare.

The objecting 20 percent said separating out parents and their children would be "family bashing."