When you're going to spend several hours at a public place, or even a friend's house, how often do you ask for the wi-fi password? Maybe, you need to finish a work project on your laptop, or you are megabytes away from exceeding your cell phone monthly data limit. Whatever the reason, this guide can help you find free wi-fi anywhere.
Each wi-fi network has different user policies. Some networks won't let you stream movies or download large files so all users can enjoy faster connection speeds. Other hotspots have enough bandwidth to stream music and movies.
Knowing where to find free wi-fi is an easy way to save money.
Fast Food Restaurants
Not too long ago, coffee shops were the most likely places in town to offer free wi-fi. Today, most fast food brands offer wi-fi. In most cases, you don't need to make a purchase, but it's possible to get free restaurant food too!
A growing number of fast-casual chains and sit-down restaurants are rolling out free wi-fi, but don't expect universal wi-fi at these places. They still need regular table turnover so waiting customers can eat sooner instead of later. Throwing free wi-fi into the mix only means diners might stay longer.
Most free wi-fi is either provided by AT&T or Google. You don't need to be a current customer of either provider to get free wi-fi hotspot access.
The following restaurants have free wi-fi at most locations:
- Burger King
- Taco Bell
- Jimmy John's
- Dunkin' Donuts
- Krispy Kreme
- Caribou Coffee
- Panera Bread
The above list compiles just a few of the restaurants with free wi-fi. There are also plenty of local mom-and-pop places sharing their internet access; however, you will have the highest probability of getting wi-fi by trying these restaurants first.
You are less likely to find free wi-fi at the above brands if they are in a shared space. For example, the restaurant may not offer their own network at an airport, mall food court, or gas station.
National retail brands are also joining the free wi-fi bandwagon. This can come in handy if you use their shopping app to find deals and cross items off your shopping list. Some buildings may also be a dead spot for cellular data; in-store wi-fi is useful in this situation too.
Some stores no longer place printed catalogs in the aisles. Instead, you might see a sign telling you to text a code to a certain number. You then get a unique link to browse the vendor website to pinpoint the exact item number.
Here are some of the retail stores with free in-store wi-fi:
- Sam's Club
- Apple Store
- Best Buy
- Barnes & Noble
- Office Depot
Most of these places won't be comfortable if you need to use the internet for more than a few minutes.
Other random retail establishments offer wi-fi as well. Some examples include oil change places, car dealerships, and even fitness centers. While the mechanic works on your car, you can stream a movie or keep working on that upcoming presentation.
National grocery chains also offer free in-store wi-fi. This can be a win-win if you grab lunch at their deli or coffee at the in-store Starbucks. You may also use their network for in-store coupons. You can even activate real-time offers with a grocery store receipt app like Ibotta.
Grocers with free in-store wi-fi include:
- Whole Foods
Your regional chains may offer free wi-fi too. Call ahead or ask on your next shopping trip to see!
Many public libraries offer free wi-fi. You may need to have a current library card to log in. Other networks are open to non-members and only require you to agree to the terms and conditions. If wi-fi isn't available, there should be a public computer you can use for essential business.
Libraries can also be one of the best places for free wi-fi because there are plenty of seats. Plus, there can be fewer distractions than a store or restaurant.
Your local community center may offer free wi-fi to residents too.
Select American Express credit cards provide complimentary Boingo wi-fihotspot access for a $180 annual savings. Boingo is the best way to get free airport wi-fi. You can also connect to over 1 million private hotspots at local businesses, coffee shops, hotels, and stadiums worldwide.
Even if there's a free public network, consider using the Boingo hotspot first. Your connection speed may be faster and more secure.
Technically, Boingo isn't free wi-fi (as these credit cards have an annual fee). For instance, the Platinum Card from American Express annual fee is $550. The “real reason” you own the Amex Platinum is for travel benefits like airport lounge access, airline and hotel fee credits, and point transfers. The wi-fi access is more like a fringe benefit.
As a side note, you may get better wi-fi (plus free food) at an airport lounge like the Centurion, Priority Pass, or Delta Sky Club networks.
Instead of flying or driving, you can ride the train. Amtrak offers free wi-fi on select routes and at several stations. The bandwidth can be slower-than-expected, as you won't be able to stream music or video, but it's fast enough for basic web browsing.
Select airlines offer free in-flight wi-fi. JetBlue is your most extensive option. You get free wi-fi on all domestic flights.
Southwest Airlines offers free wi-fi but only for their entertainment app. You will need to download the app to your Android or Apple device. Then you can watch live TV and on-demand content on most flights. It costs $8 to buy a daily Southwest Airlines in-flight wi-fi pass.
Other airlines have similar free wi-fi policies as Southwest. You may be able to stream curated entertainment options or send free text messages, but you won't have full wi-fi access unless you buy a day pass or monthly pass.
Most hotels offer free lobby and in-room internet access to guests. To play it safe, joining the loyalty club gives you free in-room access at most hotels that still charge a fee. Plus, you earn rewards points that can be redeemed for free nights.
You are most likely to pay a fee at brands like Hilton, Marriott, and W Hotel; however, this doesn't mean you will pay for wi-fi at their hotel partners. One example is The Hampton Inn & Suites, which is in the Hilton Honors portfolio, which provides free wi-fi for all guests.
Now, if only you can get free hotel breakfast and avoid resort fees.
Select rest areas across the United States' interstates have public wi-fi; though, finding one can be a gamble. If you really need wi-fi, you may have better odds of finding a fast food restaurant or Starbucks. For the most accurate list of rest areas with wi-fi, visit the state's Department of Transportation page.
FreedomPop is a prepaid cell phone carrier using the Sprint network. Their free plan offers up to 200 MB of data each month. This can be enough data to get you out of a pinch, but you will need to either upgrade to a paid plan or find a wi-fi hotspot.
Your Home Internet Provider
Many home internet providers also offer free public wi-fi. Some of these spots are open to the general public. Others require you to be a subscriber to get private access. Checking your app can also be one of the quickest ways to find local hotspots when you're traveling.
Free Wi-Fi Tips
Free wi-fi is convenient and can help you save money, but you're also at a higher risk of compromising your personal data. These suggestions will help protect your personal data.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is one of the best ways to encrypt your connection. Most public networks support VPNs, although your connection speed will be slower. If you plan on using the free wi-fi to access your bank account or password-protected email and shopping accounts, consider logging onto a VPN first.
If you're traveling for business, your employer will likely require you to use a VPN before you can access any company-specific software or accounts.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication can also help prevent scammers. In addition to entering your password, you must enter an email or text security code. Many banks, online brokers, digital wallets, and social media networks are now requiring this extra step.
Avoid Password-Free Networks
If at all possible, avoid using networks without password protection. Typing in a password doesn't make a free wi-fi hotspot hacker-proof; unless you know and trust the business owner, you might be logging into a scam. Most legit networks now require a password.
The best free wi-fi places are fast food restaurants and your public library. You may also be able to get free access from a loyalty program or even your home internet provider.
Where do you go to use free wi-fi? Which place has the fastest speeds?