One day, wi-fi will be free, fast, and ubiquitous in the United States.
Capitalism has brought us many great things but free wi-fi is not one of them. In fact, capitalism likely is contributing to us NOT getting free wi-fi.
We just got back from a trip to England and there are loads of free wi-fi providers. They are run by massive corporations, like O2T, and there are millions upon millions of hotspots. O2 “limits” you to 10GB a month (!!!).
But in most areas, I can just use my phone to surf the web, check social media, and otherwise waste time. The only time I want fast internet is when I'm waiting… like at the airport.
Some airports have free wi-fi, some require you to pay, but there are ways to get the paid wi-fi for free if you're clever (or prepare ahead of time). The same goes for in-flight wi-fi as well… though one day I hope all airlines will join JetBlue in giving free high-speed Wi-Fi.
Free Boingo Wireless courtesy of American Express (In Airport)
Sadly, as of January 1, 2020, American Express no longer offers the Boingo Preferred Plan with American Express Cards. 🙁
Boingo has over 200,000 hotspots around the country, many in airports, and costs you $9.95 a month for up to four devices. There are over a million hotspots worldwide, though a global subscription is a whopping $39/mo.
At BWI, you can get free reduced speed wireless access for a limited time (30 minutes). If you want it for longer, you'll have to pay. Boingo also offers monthly Wi-Fi plans that give you access at faster speeds and for longer periods, but you have to pay a monthly fee. This is often the case in many airports.
Before the 1/1/2020 change, if you want faster speeds and access to the whole network, you could get it for free as a benefit of being a Starwood Preferred Guest® Credit Card from American Express cardmember. I signed up for the Starwood Preferred Guest American Express card to get the special 50,000 Starpoints promotion (it's my long term play to get to Disney for free!). That card was recently converted to the Marriott Bonvoy card.
FreedomPop (In Airport)
If you're a light airport internet user and only need 500MB of data a month, FreedomPop is a good option. FreedomPop offers 100% free mobile phone and internet service with a free basic plan that includes 500 texts, 200 minutes, and 500MB each month.
They also offer a Franklin R850 4G LTE mobile hotspot for just a $19.99 activation fee. That hotspot is what you'll use to access their 4G LTE – CDMA network (it's Sprint's network) and the free tier is 500MB each month. You will get 2GB your first month, which is their $19.99/mo plan.
While not unlimited, you can use this anywhere.
Gogo In-Flight Internet (In Flight)
Gogo is one of the most popular in-flight wi-fi providers with their technology in airlines like AeroMexico, Air Canada, Alaska Airlines, American Airlines, Delta, Japan Airlines, United, and Virgin America. It works on domestic flights whenever the aircraft is over 10,000 feet. You can purchase subscription plans starting at $49.95/mo.
If you are a T-Mobile customer, you get unlimited texting and one hour of free Gogo In-flight on your cell phone. Full details here.
If you have the Business Platinum Card® from American Express OPEN (and its $450 annual fee), you get ten Gogo in-flight internet passes each year (plus free airport Wi-Fi from Boingo).
If a $450 a year annual fee is too rich for your blood, another card that gives you complimentary Gogo Inflight Wi-Fi is the U.S. Bank FlexPerks Visa Signature card. The annual fee on this card is only $49 a year, waived for the first year. You need to register before your flight but the vouchers are good for a year. (full details)
If you are already a U.S. Bank FlexPerks cardmember, you can link up your accounts here.
Changing (Spoofing) MAC Address (Everywhere)
In instances where you can get free internet for a limited time (like 30 minutes), you can trick the system into giving you more time by making it think you're a different computer. The wi-fi network only knows your device by its MAC address (media access control address), which is stored on your network card.
When you change your MAC address (or spoofing, which means imitating another address), the wi-fi network thinks you're a new device and will give you more free time.