Travellers accessing the internet from Wi-Fi connections at hotels, airport lounges and cafes are being ripped off by high and confusing charges, according to online travel agent Expedia.co.uk.
Despite offering similar levels of service in many cases, rates can vary by up to 1,100 per cent within a single area, the report said.
The investigation found that hotels with a lower star rating are more likely to offer free Wi-Fi access than international chains or five star hotels, where rates can be up to €21.00 (£18) per hour to connect.
Europe emerged as the most expensive for Wi-Fi, according to the research, and Venice topped the list with an average charge of €7.40 (£6.40) per hour. This compares to just €0.90 (78p) in Florida, where travellers benefit from an abundance of free Wi-Fi hotspots.
Expedia said that complex pricing models make effective comparisons even more difficult. Some places charge by the hour or half hour, while some charge for a certain amount of usage within a certain time limit, and some use flat day rates.
"In the 21st century, getting online while you travel should be simple and cost effective. Instead it is confusing and overpriced," said Alison Couper, communications director at Expedia.co.uk.
"If travellers know that they are going to need to access the internet while abroad, we are advising them to do their research to ensure they know the cost of web access upfront."
A separate Expedia survey found that 18 per cent of UK travellers are willing to downgrade their hotel star rating to safeguard their 2009 travel plans, and that the addition of free Wi-Fi in these circumstances is an added benefit.
"Simply dropping one or two hotel star ratings is a great way to reduce your travel budget in 2009 and, as our research shows, it can reap even more rewards in terms of free Wi-Fi and other extras, whether you're a business traveller or going on holiday," said Couper.
Expedia also urged travellers to consider using their hotel's business centre where available, as this is often free to use, and to ask for a deal that includes Wi-Fi when booking the hotel.
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