How to Get Free Wi-Fi at Airports That Charge for Internet Connections

By Frugal Duchess on 25 July 2009 (Updated 4 May 2011) 18 comments

If you're stuck at an airport that charges for Internet connections, here's a solution: Go to the gift shop and ask for a a free Wi-Fi pass.

That's what happened to me last week. I was in LaGuardia Airport and my flight — surprise, surprise — was delayed. I decided to use that gift of time to check my e-mail and do a little bit of work.

So I charged up the laptop and tried to go online. No luck. The airport offered a pay-as-you-go system called Boingo and I was not able to hitch a ride on any of the other unsecured Wi-Fi systems. (See also: 8 Frequently Under-Budgeted Air Travel Costs)

But while looking at the Boingo pay-now portal, I noticed that there was slot for a promotional code. HMMM?

Minutes later in the gift shop, I saw a stack of "15 minutes Free Wi-Fi" coupons from Boingo. Boingo provides Wi-Fi at over 500 airports, 17,000 hotels (Marriott, Hilton, etc.) and 9,000 McDonald's.

Hmm. The clerk gave me a Boingo card and I sat down to log on for free minutes.

The promotional code did not work, but I called the tech support number and the Boingo customer rep offered me a complimentary code that would get me online while I was waiting for my flight.

That did the trick. My flight was called and I had no need for the free pass. But I learned the following lessons:

  1. Inquire about free Internet passes at the airport gift shops.
     
  2. If there are no passes, go to the fee-based Wi-Fi portal (website) and look for a toll-free number. Ask the customer rep for a promotional code that will provide you with free minutes.

By the way, the customer service number for Boingo is 1-800-880-4117. I'm keeping that number with me when I travel.

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Guest's picture
Puleen

This was a great tip, I wish I knew this when I used to travel back and forth during my consulting days.

I did have some tricks of my own from when I used to do consulting. Most airline reward/membership programs which offer customers lounge access also provide free wifi to the customers from within the lounge area. One of the things I constantly had good luck with was almost all the time my gate was always near one of these president's club or lounge. Sitting near these areas, I was able to pick up the free Wifi signal offered by them.

Debbie Dragon's picture

Thanks for this tip, I wouldn't have thought to do this.  I think there should be free Wi-Fi everywhere, but since there isn't, this is a good work-around.

 

 

Guest's picture
Jeff Wagg

While I have no problem asking a business for a free trial, to do so repeatedly without ever intending to pay for their service seems dishonest to me. A free trial is a contract: "Try our product, and if you like it, please consider a long-term arrangement." If you're not willing to do the latter, you shouldn't do the former, IMO.

Guest's picture
AJ

This was a great tip. I hate paying for wifi.

Guest's picture

I can't tell you how many times I've been stuck in an airport refusing to pay for service... especially Hartsfield in Atlanta, but also Texas in a few others. I hope they all have these sorts of promotions!

Guest's picture

Nice Tip! Very smart - and am with you - Wifi is like water - we shouldn't have to pay for it!

Guest's picture
Kevin

Regarding Boingo hotspots; this isn't a free solution but it's handy. If you have the most recent version of Skype for Mac, you can use Skype credits to access Boingo hotspots.

It can save you some money; with the Skype credits you pay by the minute, instead of having to buy a block of time from Boingo that you might not use up.

Link: http://www.skype.com/intl/en/allfeatures/skypeaccess/

Guest's picture
Justin

Thanks for the tip. This is a definite must to remember the next time in the airport.

Nora Dunn's picture

Great tips - thanks! I tend to spend a fair bit of time in airports, and have a marathon trip next month that will take me 36 hours in all, with a number of layovers in airports. I'll try this out myself, and report back!

Guest's picture

Wow, awesome tips! I will definitely inquire about free internet passes next time.

Jabulani Leffall's picture

Great tip and btw, I like your work a lot. I never knew this information. Remember Internet travelers, Airport Hotspots are a breeding ground for malware and shoulder surfers and spoofing sites.

PLUG (LMAO!): http://www.wisebread.com/not-taking-jack-how-to-deal-with-identity-theft

 

 

Jabulani Leffall

Monetary Gadfly, Common Currency

00000 Broke Blvd. Kitchenette #68 & 1/2

Lowcash, CA 90000-0000

Guest's picture
Jason

We were stuck in Atlanta during what turned out to be a 7 hour "layover" on our way home from Mexico. So I attempted to kill some time by purchasing a Boingo wi-fi day pass. Within 30 minutes I was blocked from their wi-fi for 'excessive' connections, despite me just browsing news websites. I attempted all fixes on my end before calling customer service. I ended up being stuck in the initial queue for like 30 minutes before I gave up and went back to the "old fashioned" airport time killer -- reading.

Guest's picture
StayBank

You don't get out much -- do you?

Guest's picture

Great Tip! The article was very informative!

Guest's picture

If it is for free I will use it and abuse it!

Guest's picture
Guest

Or how about. Figure a way in. Hack it man

Guest's picture
Deputu

Looking for free wifi in public area is not secure. Be careful when you are connected to public area. Avoid to use free internet connection in public area to do electronic transaction, such bank payment, etc.

Guest's picture

Thanks for the great tip. I now can finally check my email at airports when I'm waiting. This always happens to me and next time I will be sure to ask around for a promo code.