Free Wifi Hotspot Access at 7 National Chains

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 wifi, 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 wifi 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 wifi locations in the country.

McDonald’s Free WiFi

mcdonalds free wifi

McDonald’s significantly upped the free wifi competition when it started offering it at over 11,500 locations in the US. Stores in Canada and the UK. also offer up free wifi. 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 wifi, 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 free wifi

Starbucks offers free wifi 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 wifi on every corner too.

Starbucks has become a VERY popular option for wifi 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 wifi can be a bit slow, from my experience.

Barnes & Noble Free WiFi

barnes & noble free wifi

Now that Borders is defunct, Barnes & Noble has probably seen an influx of free wifi seeking, book-loving patrons. All Barnes & Noble locations have free wifi 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 wifi.

Panera Free WiFi

panera free wifi

Panera Bread has over 2,000 locations in the U.S. and Canada. And all of them have free wifi. 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 WiFi

buffalo wild wings free wifi

Buffalo Wild Wings offers up free wifi 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 WiFi

whole foods free wifiWhole 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 wifi, so you’ll have to call ahead or just show up and try to connect.

The Library

library wifi

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 wifi 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 wifi 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 Wifi Discussion:

  • Where have you gone for free wifi?
  • Do you get the “free wifi guilt” if you aren’t buying something?

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