How would you like it if your hotel offered you unlimited, free international phone calls?
Perhaps you wouldn’t care if you’re a global jetsetter who can easily navigate the intricacies of international cell phone coverage and/or afford to pay sky-high roaming charges, or if you’re addicted to Skype. But if you don’t fall into those categories, this perk might really appeal to you – and hopefully hotels will figure this out!
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I recently raised this topic on my Facebook page, following my spring break trip to Mexico last month. While at Palace Resorts’ all-inclusive Moon Palace resort, I was surprised to see that all guests could make free calls from their in-room phone to the U.S. and Canada. (Yes, Wi-Fi is free, too.) The free calls came in handy because I hadn’t previously arranged with my provider (Sprint) to make international calls; instead I’d turned off my cell service and had planned to rely on email and Skype, which I’ve come to appreciate over the last year.
What’s more is that this wasn’t a meaningless perk that’s buried somewhere in fine print. The hotel tells guests about it upfront when they check in. Using the phone on the desk, I called my parents in New York just to test it – and sure enough, it worked. No hassle. Direct connection. High quality sound. Free.
The free-call concept certainly appeals to Karthick Prabu, travel tech track news site Tnooz.com’s general manager for Asia.
“Two years ago, I went on a vacation to Hong Kong, stayed at a 4-star hotel and used the room’s phone to call home,” he told me on Facebook. “I used the phone for about 35-40 seconds – actually the call didn’t go through, I heard some IVR type voice. But, while checkout, I was presented with a bill of about HKD 70 (about US$9) for using the phone for that 35-40 seconds call that didn’t go through.”
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I’ve been hearing about the free-call concept on and off for a few years. I was always intrigued by it, because I had been thinking that hotel-room phones were increasingly becoming obsolete given our societal shift to mobile phones.
In 2012 while at USA TODAY, for instance, I wrote about the (Vancouver) Opus Hotel’s move to offer guests complimentary iPhones to use during their stays to make calling home easy and free.
And last month, I read that the Hyatt Regency Tsim Sha Tsui in the heart of Hong Kong’s business district made a move similar to the Opus Hotel.
The Hyatt property now gives guests free use of an Alcatel OneTouch Idox X smartphone, according to tech tracker Ubergizmo.com. The phones let users make unlimited calls to the U.S., the U.K, China, Singapore and of course Hong Kong. They also come with unlimited data and tethering, and pre-installed travel and social media apps such as Facebook, Instagram and Skype.
To alleviate privacy concerns, the phones have a “clear” button to erase personal information – thought that might not satisfy everyone.
“In terms of privacy we’re sure there are some who might be wary about phones that might have been used by hundreds of guests in the past, but if you just want a phone to do some light surfing and make calls without racking up a huge bill back home, this should do the trick,” the article says.
This topic caused quite a stir on my Facebook page, so I wanted to share some of my friends’ opinions…
“I travel with my Vonage phone for longer business trips and that gets me free calls home (as long as the hotel room has an ethernet plug),” writes Rob Newman, a Los Angeles based commercial producer who books rooms for his projects around the world. “But I don’t take it for shorter trips – and that being the case, I’d love the free calls back to my home country.”
It’s not as appealing to frequent traveler and social media expert Lin Humphrey. He says free telephone service is “not a compelling offer with Skype and T-Mobile free global data. Maybe about five years ago, but today I would find value in other areas.”
Carol Margolis, a frequent traveler and Skype user, also isn’t that impressed. “I hate touching hotel phones and I want portability. I don’t want to be tied down to where the phone is,” she wrote on Facebook.
Readers: I know that we all get excited about free hotel Wi-Fi, but what do you think about receiving free international phone calls from your hotel? Big deal or not?