It’s no secret that the airline industry is struggling. Customers are no longer just paying for seats; they’re being forced to pay for every facet of the flying experience, including demanding payment for check-in, food, bags, Wi-Fi, and even eliminating seat-back screens. But airlines nickel-and-diming customers is extending beyond inflight-comforts and luxury, most airlines, today view charging for Internet access as a necessary move.
The airline industry, as a whole, is scrambling to find ways to offset diminishing revenues; the first quarter of 2017 saw profits drop to $1.9 billion. For comparison, the first quarter of 2016 raked in $3.1 billion for airlines. These companies know that passengers, especially the millions of Americans who travel for business every week, will pay for Wi-Fi access because they simply cannot afford to lose working hours each day. Like the uptick in baggage prices, airlines view Wi-Fi as a luxury additive that they can leverage to spike revenue.
The tab for in-flight Wi-Fi typically depends on airline; Southwest charges $8 per day (and per device) for Wi-Fi access, whereas American Airlines and Delta charge up to $16. While some airlines are determined to turn a profit off of device dependency, others like JetBlue, are realizing that there may actually be more value in not charging for Wi-Fi.
Although it’s easy to gripe about the airlines that don’t offer free, high-quality Wi-Fi, it’s important to remember providing Wi-Fi in the first place comes at a cost. For starters, airlines have had to outfit their fleets with Wi-Fi antennas that make it feasible for aircrafts to grab signals from any nearby ground towers.
As more airlines and airline Wi-Fi providers scramble to find ways to entice passengers not just with prices, but with quality of Wi-Fi, many are adding additional Wi-Fi antennas onto the vessels. Additionally, many are adding more satellite antennas atop aircrafts to make it easier for passengers to stay connected on overseas flights.
These antennas were not just costly to install, but they also add fuel costs by increasing the drag on planes. If airline companies, themselves, have to spend more money to make in-flight Wi-Fi feasible, it only makes sense that they find ways to charge customers for access.
Both airlines and Wi-Fi providers are working to make connectivity more seamless because they know it is a priority for customers. Wi-Fi connectivity on flights is expected to continuously improve in speed and quality, but it is not necessarily expected to decrease in price. So if you were hoping that free Wi-Fi would become this era’s generation of free peanuts, it’s time to wake up and remember that at the end of the day, the airline business that will always find new ways to make money off of customers.
If you’re not lucky enough to fly JetBlue all the time, here are three other strategies for obtaining free (or cheap) inflight Wi-Fi service:
1. Tap into credit card deals.
Credit cards are in the business of incentivizing their memberships, and many have set their sights on introducing rewards aimed at making professional life easier. Many prominent credit card companies now offer deals and rewards that consumers can put toward in-flight WiFi purchases. Others have exclusive partnerships with Gogo, and offer members up to 12 free GoGo passes per year.
2. Go for GoGo.
Because in-flight Wi-Fi is not a universal perk among cell phone providers or airlines, it’s unrealistic to expect to be able to obtain free Wi-Fi on every flight you take, especially if you travel multiple times a week. While GoGo may not be the only player the in in-flight Wi-Fi space, it certainly is the most prominent. Now the company has revamped its satellite Internet system, 2KU to deliver faster connection speeds. Even if you don’t think you want to pay a $19.00 daily pass or $50.00 monthly plan, having quality connectivity at your fingertips may be well worth the price.
3. Switch to T-Mobile.
If your contract is up and you’re looking for a travel-friendly provider, T-Mobile’s hour of free Wi-Fi (per flight) built into your contract could be worth your consideration.
Before you jump into a GoGo plan or switch cell phone providers, you have to ask yourself what it’s worth to you. If you only fly a few times per year (and not even always for business) then coughing up $10 here and there for Wi-Fi won’t break the bank.
If your job requires you to travel several times a month, then making the effort to talk to your credit card provider about rewards, learning about GoGo packages, or finding ways to make your trip work within JetBlue’s routes will be well worth the effort and expense.
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.