An internet connection in today’s world is about as much of a necessity as running water. But like running water, healthcare, electricity, and other necessities in life – it ain’t free. In fact, an internet connection can be downright annoyingly pricey considering how low cost/high margin it is for internet service providers.
Whether you are fed up that you haven’t been able to lower your internet costs or you are traveling for work or pleasure, it’s good to know what your options are for grabbing free Wi-Fi, particularly if you don’t have access to a mobile hotspot plan or data tethering on a mobile device.
Fortunately, there are a number of national restaurant chains that offer up free Wi-Fi at many of their locations. It’s a very low-cost, high-return value add to lure in loyal patrons – and because of that, you can only expect it to become increasingly popular with retailers and restaurants.
For now, here is a list of seven of the most popular free Wi-Fi locations in the country. Free Wi-Fi – when it’s a combination of at home, work, school, friends, family, and your favorite restaurants and coffee shops can allow you to make the shift from expensive “unlimited” plans to the cheapest data plans when you pair them with my tips on how to cut data use on iPhone & Android.
McDonald’s Free Wi-Fi
McDonald’s significantly upped the free Wi-Fi competition when it started offering it at over 11,500 locations in the US. Stores in Canada and the UK. also offer up free Wi-Fi. Here is a location finder. I’m not a big fan of McDonald’s incredibly unhealthy menu, but I will give them a bit of credit for offering a few healthier products lately. Enjoy the free Wi-Fi, so long as you can stand the smell of grease for more than 5 minutes (in which case, you are stronger than I).
Starbucks Free WiFi
Starbucks offers free Wi-Fi at all 14,000+ cafes in the United States, putting it in close competition with McDonald’s as the nation’s largest free wifi provider. As the saying goes, “you can find a Starbucks on every corner”, and therefore, you can find free Wi-Fi on every corner too.
Starbucks has become a VERY popular option for Wi-Fi seekers. The last few times I’ve been there it has absolutely been packed with customers whose faces are focused on their laptop screens. In some ways, this is a little problematic. Most Starbucks locations are pretty tiny and there isn’t much room to find seating because people don’t freaking leave! And since there are dozens of customers all connected to the same connection at once, speeds on Starbucks Wi-Fi can be a bit slow, from my experience.
Barnes & Noble Free Wi-Fi
Now that Borders is defunct, Barnes & Noble has probably seen an influx of free Wi-Fi seeking, book-loving patrons. All Barnes & Noble locations have free Wi-Fi from AT&T and they encourage you to just come in and relax and use it.
Barnes & Noble operates over 630 stores and 773 college bookstores. And there is usually a comfy spot that you can find on a couch or lounge style chair.
If you’re not going to buy anything, Barnes & Noble can be a pretty guilt-free way to get some free Wi-Fi.
Panera Free Wi-Fi
Panera Bread has over 2,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada. And all of them have free Wi-Fi. I don’t eat at Panera often (not a big chain restaurant type guy), but if I were in need of some food and an internet connection at the same time, I’d hit up Panera. Their menu has some healthy alternatives and the food I’ve eaten there has been high quality.
Buffalo Wild Wings Free Wi-Fi
Buffalo Wild Wings offers up free Wi-Fi at all of its locations. BW3, as it is affectionately called, has 1,238 locations across the country and are in almost every state. Probably not a great option if you like to eat healthy – but it’s the only option on this list where you can toss back a cold beer while connecting, and that’s worth something.
Whole Foods Market Free Wi-Fi
Whole Foods Market might be a “sleeper” on this list. Unless you’re a self-sustainable grow-your-own food master, you have to buy groceries, right? This helps remove the guilt and pressure to have to buy an endless stream of food or drink. Let’s face it, it’s not very comfortable to walk in to a sit down restaurant like Buffalo Wild Wings to grab an internet connection for hours on end when you have a waiter or waitress endlessly checking in on you. And if you walk into a Starbucks or McDonald’s, there is an expectation that you will buy something while you are there.
Most Whole Foods have a small Starbucks style cafe, but it is usually attached to the larger store. So if you go in and sit down with your groceries or with no groceries at all, there is not the pressure to buy things that you’re going to find at another restaurant.
Whole Foods has over 479 locations in the U.S. and not every one of them has Wi-Fi, so you’ll have to call ahead or just show up and try to connect.
Yeah, OK, it’s not really a “chain”, so to speak, but libraries are found nationally and in many places where restaurant chains are not. They are also the least guilt free way to find a free Wi-Fi internet connection without buying something or stealing it from your unsuspecting neighbors.
Whether the internet connection is through their machines, through an ethernet plug-in, or through Wi-Fi, the library is about the only place that you can go where you won’t get kicked out if you don’t buy something. Since the entire appeal of free Wi-Fi is the “free” part, that probably makes it the best place to grab an internet connection for free. When traveling, just do a Google Maps search for “library” and you’ll find a list of the closest locations.
Of course, internet is only one of many free things at the library.
Free Wi-Fi Discussion:
- Where have you gone for free Wi-Fi?
- Do you get the “free Wi-Fi guilt” if you aren’t buying something?