It’s somewhat of a strange paradox – the nicer the hotel you stay at, the less likely it is you’ll get free internet access.

Moderately priced hotels frequented by business travelers such as the Hampton Inn, Marriott’s Courtyard, and Sheraton’s Four Points all allow each guest to access free high-speed internet throughout their hotels. So then why is it that when you’re dishing out the big bucks to stay at the Ritz Carlton, the Waldorf-Astoria, or other Hilton and Hyatt upper-tier establishments, surfin’ the web becomes an a la carte option with some high fees?

Some of these high priced hotels charge fees in excess of $50 a night for internet access. $50 is often times more than most people pay for internet access at home for a whole month.

Joe Brancatelli, a business travel writer for Portfolio magazine, tries to get to the bottom of this bizarre pricing paradox:

“I don’t apologize for charging $15 a night for internet,” says the general manager of a luxury resort property who nevertheless demanded anonymity. “Only a fraction of my guests use the internet when they’re staying with me. Those that want it pay. Those that don’t aren’t paying for it as part of their room rate.”

The problem with pay-as-you-go internet is that hoteliers look at Web access as a profit center. Just as they jacked up the price of guest-room phone calls, they are running up the price of internet access.

“We’ve warned our franchisees about overpricing,” the executive of a major full-service chain told me last week. “But they live and die with the bottom line, and they’re worried about the rising cost of providing internet service. Guests are really gobbling up the bandwidth now that they’re downloading movies, playing games, and doing video conferences.”

I, for one, am not a frequent guest at some of our country’s fanciest hotels, but I can see how it would anger someone who shelled over almost $500 for a night at one of those places to be surprised when their laptop can’t connect.

But it seems like just a matter of ignorance on the part of those rich people. If they’re too lazy/dumb to not think free internet access comes standard with your hotel, then maybe you deserve to pay a high fee for it?

On the other hand, it does appear odd that many lower end business-traveller-friendly hotels go out of their way to laud free internet access in their commercials, but their grown-up and more expensive ‘sister’ hotels are appalled by guests making that very assumption.

So what are your other options? The Portfolio article suggests purchasing a Boingo account for all yout hot spot needs, but I would just hit up the closest Starbucks/college campus. Babes, ahoy!

Portfolio: Why High WiFi?, July 15, 2008