Last weekend I was staying at a Holiday Inn in the UK. As most geeks, one of the first thing I did after checking in was to hop on the wireless connection to pull down my email. Like many hotels, Holiday Inn outsource the management of their wireless guest network. This particular hotel was using a provider named Swisscom (I’m not sure if this true for all Holiday Inn hotels).

The wireless plans were as follows:
Business 24 hour – £15

  • ‘unlimited’ data access, but 250MB per session (whatever that is defined by).
  • Prioritized bandwidth

Economy 24 hour – £12

  • 500 MB data transfer
  • 256kbit connection

I went for the ‘Business 24 hour’ plan without much hesitation. Later that night I spoke to my friend who was staying at the same hotel and also hopped online, but on his iPad. He said that he only paid £7 for 24 hour access. I thought that was odd, but interesting. Was it the case that Swisscom actually charged less for data on an iOS device than on a regular laptop?

That turned out to be the exact case. The next day after my 24 hours expired, I hopped online to renew my connection. This time however I tricked Swisscom to believe my laptop was an iPhone (using the plugin User Agent Switcher for Firefox). As I did this, I was redirected to a mobile version of their site with a different price.

I now had a new plan called ‘SmartAccess 24 hour’ for £7. What made this particular interesting was that the plan actually had less restrictions than ‘Business 24 hour’. It offered everything that plan did, but without the 250MB per session limit — for less than half the price. I picked that plan and for the next 24 hours I was able to surf at a greatly discounted rate.

Part of the reason why I decided to write this article was because I’m curious if that is the case with other providers too. If you stay at hotels often, it would be great if you could try this trick and see if it works on other providers too and post a comment below.

Update: This article made Hacker News today (months after being posted), and an interesting discussion arose. The perhaps most interesting comment was from donnal where he confirmed a similar behavior on his Kindle Fire on a US Airways flight.