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 Wi-Fi hotspot via a mobile hotspot plan or via tethering from 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 15,000+ cafe locations 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.
Burger King Free Wi-Fi
Burger King offers free Wi-Fi (dubbed “Whopper Wi-Fi”) at its 7,000+ Burger King locations. I haven’t had a Whopper in decades, but if I needed some free Wi-Fi… I probably still wouldn’t have a Whopper.
Panera Free Wi-Fi
Panera Bread has over 2,150+ locations in the U.S. and Canada. 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 decent.
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 1,216 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.
Taco Bell Free Wi-Fi
Taco Bell offers free Wi-Fi up at all 7,700+ US locations. Given how late their restaurants are open, this could be a great place to tap in to Wi-Fi during the later hours of the night. Just make sure you bring some Pepto-Bismol and wet wipes.
Dunkin’ Free Wi-Fi
Dunkin’ offers free Wi-Fi at all 8,500+ US locations. If you’re not looking for a meal and need some wi-fi, but don’t love hanging out with the Starbucks crowd, Dunkin’ seems like a great alternative.
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.
A Word of Caution on Public Wi-Fi
Any time you connect to public Wi-Fi, you risk a hacker easily seeing your private login, password, and other data. If you are going to connect to public Wi-Fi, it’s highly recommended that you use encryption through an app like the 220.127.116.11 Warp app (free) or a paid VPN service.
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?
Sams Clubs and Walmarts all usually have free wifi
Good to know, Phil! Thanks.
I have used McDonalds before when I was in Michigan’s upper peninsula and there are almost no places to find an internet connection. I have also used Biggby wifi before, and yes I do feel guilty sometimes.
Biggby is a good one for those in the Midwest. I think they are in Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Illinois – but spreading quickly. Definitely know what you are saying about the upper peninsula!
I’ve made phone calls using my iPod from my car in a McD parking lot. Very handy for those of us without a cell. OK, maybe I’m the only one without a cell… :)
Thanks for the list, G.E. As always, your articles are timely and informative.
Some of the smaller sandwich shop chains also offer free wifi, like Beach Hut Deli.
Yes, I absolutely feel the guilt when I use internet without buying things. That is why I avoid it at all costs. It is also one of the reasons why I don’t consider it free. Technically it is, but with the obligation purchase, it adds up.
The library and Panera Bread (in that order) were two of the first to offer free wifi in this country.
What I’d like to see more of from these places offering it, is more power outlets.
Chick-fil-A also has free wifi but good luck finding a spare outlet.
There’s a laundromat near my home that offers it. Although I’ve never used it because I do have internet with the dreaded Comcast at present. i would think that perhaps at a laundromat, there’s not as much guilt because the owner isn’t usually around much. The one to which I’m referring has a guy that comes into clean the place and i’ve only seen the owner sporadically. I know this because years ago (before they even had a TV in there and certainly no wifi, I washed clothes there regularly.
I just found your site last night and it couldn’t have happened at a better time. I need to get rid of Comcast!!! I was SOOOOO grateful tolearn about Ooma!
Happy shopping everyone!
Publix grocery store. Shop there all the time so I do not feel guilty using it.
Wish a lot more restaurants would offer because I am on Weight Watchers and my WW app shows many restaurants and the points for what I order.
Burger King and Dunkin donuts also have free wifi and many malls do too
Many local Hospitals & doctor’s offices offer free WiFi!
Home depo, Walmart (of course) Denny’s, and in some areas X-finity has an open hotspot for non-customers that offers 1 hour free & you can but time (example: 2 hours, 24 hours, 1week, etc)
McDonalds has been the best free wi-fi I have used
Are the free Wi-Fi hotspots at the chain stores safe to use-
I’ve always heard they’re not & all your sensitive information ( banking , credit cards & so on ) can be hacked at those locations.
My iPhone won’t let me go to the App Store or use Safari when I use the free Wi-Fi.
I’m on Straight talk tho & not sure if hat makes a difference
Jack in the Box!