For travel and meetings, nothing has vaulted to the top of the must-have list faster than wireless hotel Internet access. Most properties now offer Wi-Fi, but spotty service and high fees can still be an aggravation. That’s not the case at Holiday Inn, Hyatt’s Andaz Hotels, or Peninsula Hotels though; they were among the hotel brands that made HotelChatter’s list of Best Hotel Wi-Fi in its Annual Wi-Fi Report 2010.

While the data rates of 3G cellular networks have freed travelers to do much more on their mobile phones and on 3G card–enabled laptops, a Wi-Fi connection is still faster than 3G and a must for many. HotelChatter’s report is a useful guide to finding free, high-quality service—or for knowing that you’ll be adding $10 to $18 per day to your bill for the privilege of logging on.

The information in the report can also be an important starting point for site selection for travel and meetings managers. The Association for Corporate Travel Executives recently polled members and found that more than half had travelers who declined to stay at a property where the connectivity was marginal or poor.

HotelChatter’s sixth annual report includes sections on the best hotel Wi-Fi (below), the worst hotel Wi-Fi, international hotel Wi-Fi, and, for the major chains, sums up its findings in this chart.

The bad news for meeting professionals is that many hotel companies offer free Wi-Fi at their lower price brands but charge for the service at their higher-end business and luxury properties. For example, according to the HotelChatter report, InterContinental Hotels Group offers free in-room Wi-Fi at its Holiday Inn, Hotel Indigo, Staybridge Suites, and Candlewood Suites properties, but charges for it at all InterContinental properties and at some of its Crowne Plaza hotels.

One solution is making Wi-Fi a priority at the negotiating table. Twenty-three percent of ACTE members surveyed reported that they remove Wi-Fi fees from their preferred hotel contracts. Another solution is joining frequent-guest programs, many of which do not charge a fee.

HotelChatter’s Best Hotel Wi-Fi 2010

  • Andaz Hotels
  • Standard Hotels
  • Peninsula Hotels
  • Holiday Inn Hotels
  • “The Little Guys”: Ace Hotels, Gansevoort Hotels, AKA Hotels, Desires Hotels, Luxe Hotels, Personality Hotels, and BD Hotels

Always Free, All The Time

  • Hotel Indigo

  • Courtyard by Marriott Hotels

  • Residence Inn Hotels

  • Best Western Hotels
  • Four Points by Sheraton

  • Hyatt Place Hotels

  • Element Hotels
  • Aloft Hotels

  • Red Roof Inns

  • Hampton Inn Hotels
  • Wyndham Garden Hotels
  • Wingate By Wyndham

  • Drury Hotels

Always Free for Loyalty-Program Members

  • Kimpton Hotels: free for InTouch members
  • JDV Hotels: free for Joy of Life Club members
  • Omni Hotels: free for Omni Select Guest members
  • Hyatt Hotels: free for Diamond- and Platinum-level members
  • Fairmont Hotels: free for Fairmont Presidents Circle members
  • Loews Hotels: free for YouFirst members at the Blue level
  • Wyndham Hotels: free for ByRequest members

Mostly Free, Depending on the Brand

  • Choice Hotels
  • InterContinental Hotels
  • Wyndham Hotels