Call for change?

From my (modest) hotel room, I called the front desk, told them I was about to make some calls to the UK, and wanted to know how much it would cost. Much to my suprise, they were able to tell me, which is more than some hotels I’ve visited.

“A very large amount! There’s a $3.80 connection charge, and then between $8 and $15 per minute depending on whether AT&T or MCI pick up the long distance.”

Now, I’m sorry, but this is getting ridiculous. That’s between five and ten times what it costs me to call back to the UK on my roaming UK-based mobile. And to make things worse, I know that Seattle businesses can get rates of 8c/min to the UK with a little negotiation. So we have a markup of between 10,000% and 20,000%.

Can this really be sustained? I would have thought that if the hotel and carrier had simply had a modest markup of, say, 400%, which might be considered more than generous for a service which essentially involves no effort on their part, they would make a lot more money. But I guess such profits might still be negligible compared to what you can get from one visiting businessman who makes a few one-hour calls to Japan and doesn’t care about the bill.

In my case, the hotel was good enough to point out that the gift shop was still open for another half-hour, and that they sold prepaid calling cards. I found that the rate on these is 10c/minute. I don’t care how many of my 120 international minutes remain unused when the card expires in 6 months’ time, because it cost the same as less than one minute at the hotel’s rates.

What’s even more bizarre is that my room has a good-quality broadband ethernet connection. And it’s free! Time for hotel gift shops to start selling IP-based telephones?

© Copyright Quentin Stafford-Fraser