Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hotel WiFi Disservice

Last weekend my housemate went to Atlanta for an event she wanted to attend. She stayed at what is generally considered a moderately priced hotel chain which caters mainly to business travelers. After a nearly nine hour drive she wanted to unwind on Friday night and, being very much the geek, chose to go online. The hotel, like most major chains, offers free WiFi service. Perhaps more relevant to my point, they advertise free WiFi service.

Well, she could connect to their wireless network but couldn't get to the internet or connect to any websites. The hotel staff was neither helpful nor knowledgable when she reported the problem. She could ping their router so she suspected a DNS issue. She called me and I gave her the IP addresses for the OpenDNS nameservers. That solved the problem. It turns out the hotel did have free WiFi provided you are technically competent enough to troubleshoot a DNS problem and have alternate nameserver IP addresses on hand for DNS resolution. I somehow think that for most of their guests WiFi was effectively down.

A few years ago I traveled extensively for business. I found that hotels which had wired internet service were generally reliable. Hotels which offered WiFi services had problems far too often. I can't expect a hotel clerk or even a hotel manager to know how to solve wireless networking issues. I can expect them to care if the service is down as much as they would care if telephone service or TV was down throughout the hotel. In my experience they just don't.

In one place without working WiFi I was told they hoped to have the service provider in to check the system the following week. I had reservations for four nights. I checked out after one night and went to a different hotel. My work depends on my remaining connected. That is one hotel, a fairly expensive one at that, where I would never stay again. I would think, in this day and age, hotels would begin to realize just how important connectivity is to their guests. Sadly it often isn't the case.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Deceptive Pricing At CompUSA

On Friday my housemate and I went down to what used to be the Tiger Direct retail store in Raleigh. It turns out that Tiger Direct bought out what was left of CompUSA and has renamed their stores. I guess the CompUSA name is better known as a brick and mortar retail computer store.

The main reasons for the visit were for my housemate to upgrade the RAM in her Dell laptop from 1GB to 2GB and for me to buy an SD card to use in my Sylvania netbook. Some of you may have already noticed that I am now writing regularly for DistroWatch Weekly which means I am trying out different Linux distributions on a regular basis. It might be nice (not to mention less risky and somewhat easier) to install to the SD card rather than my hard drive when first checking things out. Anyway, Tiger Direct has always had very good prices on such things.

The good news is that my housemate did find the memory she wanted for the very nice price of $14. She also pointed me to an 8GB SD card priced at $9.99. Just what the doctor ordered! I also picked up a spindle of LightScribe CDrs which were way less expensive than anywhere else. I went to the register where the SD card rang up for $29.99. It turns out that the $9.99 price is after a rebate.

Here's the issue: the only way you'd know there was a rebate was to read some microscopic print on the price tag. I mean really, really tiny print. This is in the "bring your magnifying glass" category of tiny. I kid you not. There are price tags all over the store that have rebates. Most have the words "Final Price" in big, bold, red letters so that you know there is a rebate involved. This one didn't. It also wasn't the only tag like this.

My housemate immediately called this "deceptive pricing". I have to agree. So do some of our state legislators. A few years back some tried to pass a bill to ban this sort of pricing. I guess it never passed because the practice continues.

Look, I would have had no complaint if the price tag made it clear that a rebate was involved. As it is I decided I didn't want to lay out over $30 with tax and wait months for a check in the mail. Since a 4GB SD card is really all I need I decided to choose one of those instead. In that case the price on the tag was all I paid.

Will I still go to CompUSA? Yes, so long as they have really good prices. I'm not organizing a boycott or anything. However, I did voice my displeasure in the store. Maybe if enough of us complain they can be convinced that they'd do better to make it clear what you pay up front and what will be returned in the form of a rebate.