Avid travelers will understand that accessing the internet while in one's hotel is no longer a luxury. It's a necessity. For business travelers, selecting a hotel with slow or overpriced Wi-Fi can mean more than just frustration, but there are a few tips that can help you make the most of whatever situation you run into.
The one consistent factor regarding hotel Wi-Fi is this: inconsistency. Even amongst hotel chains, polices and speeds can vary widely from one city to the next. In general, however, 3- to 3.5-star hotels are your best bet for finding free Wi-Fi. Places like Hampton Inn, Choice Hotels, La Quinta Inns and Suites, Holiday Inn Express (not to confused with Holiday Inn), and Fairfield Inn & Suites routinely offer lower prices, free Wi-Fi, and free breakfast to compete with fancier alternatives. If you're staying at a 4- or 5-star place, chances are you'll be asked to pony up for internet access.
Should you find yourself in one of those posh alternatives, all hope isn't lost. I'd heartily recommend carrying an old model Apple AirPort Express ($69 refurbished) on every trip you ever take. It's barely larger than the average wallet and has a pretty impressive ability: it takes a wired Ethernet connection and creates a personal Wi-Fi hotspot that can be used by any gadget in your arsenal. If your hotel offers wired access, but charges per connection, this is a way around that. Simply connect the AirPort Express to the Ethernet, connect to the hotel's payment page over Wi-Fi using your laptop, and you'll have just enabled multiple devices (phones, tablets, etc.) to connect while only paying once. (The newer AirPort Express requires a lengthy power cable, which makes it far less compact and advantageous for travel.)
If you forget the device but have a laptop with an Ethernet port, there's one other useful trick: Internet Sharing. You can plug the hotel's Ethernet jack into your laptop, and then make your laptop act as a Wi-Fi access point for other phones and tablets to use. The only catch here is that your laptop will need to remain in the room and connected for your smartphones, tablets, or other laptops to also remain online. (Visit these links for how-to guides for Mac and PC.)
It's also worth pointing out that these tricks can save you even more when staying in a hotel overseas. In those cases, your smartphones and tablets will need to use Wi-Fi for checking e-mail or posting on Facebook in order to avoid extremely costly data roaming charges. As an example, loading your inbox upon landing in a foreign country could easily cost you $10 to $20 if you're using roaming data, so you'll be much better off waiting until you get to the hotel and allowing your phone to download what you've missed over Wi-Fi.