How to get 50% discount on Swisscom’s hotspot (and possibly also others)

September 25, 2011 1:53 pm    Posted by Viktor Petersson    Comments (9)

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.

9 Responses to “How to get 50% discount on Swisscom’s hotspot (and possibly also others)”

  1. Jonathan says:

    Cool. Swisscom is the biggest internet and mobile provider here in switzerland (I didn’t even know they also do some business in UK hotels..), and their prices are horrible, even for swiss criteria. They offer WLAN on all railway stations, but not for free. If you have a mobile contract, you can log in over your smartphone and then all WLAN traffic will just get subtracted from your mobile data quota. If you don’t have one, it’s just even more expensive. That’s why I feel like in stone age after taking holidays in HK and China where you can get free WiFi practically everywhere… But I have to try this trick here too then :D

  2. More likely is you have brought attention to this loophole, now they will close it, all because of your need for internet attention.

    • vpetersson says:

      Chris, 

      “because of your need for internet attention.” Wow — grow up, will you? That level of comments is usually reserved for YouTube. Also, for the record, I didn’t even submit this post to Hacker News myself. The article dates back to September of last year.

      Did you even read the full post? I wrote – ”I’m curious if that is the case with other providers too.” 

      And so what if they fix it?

      • Louiedog81 says:

        I agree with Chris. It’s an obvious hack; and it’s really dumb to publish that you possibly defrauded the hotel. I don’t doubt you wrote this for attention.

        • vpetersson says:

          If it is so obvious, why should I keep quiet about it? And no, I don not consider this fraud. I posted this because I thought it was an interesting observation and I wanted to hear if other people have had similar experiences (which they had).

          If a vendor use something as the user-agent in a browser to discriminate on price, I don’t really feel sorry for them if people game the system. Safari even comes with a tool for modify the user-agent built-in.

  3. Alexander Riß says:

    you can use an app like “Device Simulator” for Android to switch your user-agent to a desktop browser or to an IPhone btw

    • vpetersson says:

      Interesting point. I don’t know if the pricing discriminates against Android, but that would be interesting to find out.

  4. jstn says:

    Starbucks used to provide free wireless for iPhone users, during the iPhone 1 days. Turns out they did this by examining both the MAC address and user-agent of the client. 

    To get free wireless on my thinkpad I simply had a small bash script which cloaked my MAC to look like an iPhone and I used the aforementioned UA Switcher for FF. Then I could hit the http gateway and I was off and running. 

    Now wireless is free for everyone and I don’t feel particularly bad-ass anymore… *sigh*

  5. Richard Howells says:

    I planned a hotel stay.  Before arriving I phoned to find out what the internet provision was. “We use X” I was told.  (It’s not that I won’t say – I cannot remember.  I hopped on to X’s web site and there was a decent deal for 7 days access.  Cool.

    In the hotel room there is no sign of the 7 day deal.  Only far more expensive per hour and per day deals.  Hmm.

    I walked up the road to my client.  With the same laptop, same browser, but on the client’s network, the 7 day deal was back.  So I bought it.

    Back in the hotel I used it.  So maybe it also depends on WHERE you connect from (ie how captive you might be), not just browser strings.


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