minibar_01It seems that my job as a wild-mannered IT trainer has become something of a travelling role with many of the courses I run being delivered face-to-face with people in other cities and other countries. If I were a young person with no kids, this would be awesome, as I have always really enjoyed the private room with pay TV, breakfast made for me and my choice of dinner venues where they will also make it for me. This, of course, is part of the reason I love Co-Consul so much: she usually cooks dinner.

Of course as a middle-aged person with multiple young children, the awesome is somewhat diminished. This does not mean, however, that I will not try to make the best of it and, over the years, I have learned a few tricks which can save you time, money and also make you happier during your stay in a random hotel.

1) Never check out before you finish your last complimentary breakfast!

Once you check out, your access to the free guest wi-fi gets cut off, so if you have paid for your breakfast (or, you know, your company has) and were thinking of using the interwebs for any reason while you ate, you would have to use your own data if you checked out beforehand! Unacceptable. Check out after breakfast & enjoy the freedom of free-download.

2) Don’t let the hotel’s TV lock you out of using your own media player.

If you have a media player or Chromecast you know you will probably need a HDMI port on the TV to use it. Many hotels lock out their TVs disallowing access to these ports, meaning you can only use the hotel’s own (often sub-standard) entertainment offering – not any more! Many of these TVs will have an RJ-45 cable (that’s a Cat network cable) plugged in the back of their smart TV, giving it access and login to the hotel’s network. If you can access the rear of the TV, simply disconnect this cable and you should be able to use the remote to change to the HMDI port you need! If this doesn’t work, you may need to turn the TV off, then on again with the network cable unplugged. Just remember to plug the network cable back in before you check out so the next guest in the room (who may not know ANYTHING about network cables) can use the TV. If the hotel’s remote does not provide access to change the port, you may need to read hack #3!

3) Buy yourself a cheap universal remote & carry it with you. 

Many hotels around the world use a non-standard, customised remote which does not allow you access to the features on the TV you might want to use (such as the HDMI port). You can fix this pretty easily and inexpensively if you carry remotes_pilewith you a universal remote. Universal remotes are designed to control most brands of TV and are programmed either using a brand-specific code which comes in a manual with the remote or using a laptop & a USB cable. If you don’t have a laptop, make sure you buy one of the code-programmed ones. Here are some known brands of universal remote: Logitetch, All For OneURC.

4) Don’t pay minibar price for your drinks or snacks

Everyone knows this, right? You don’t eat or drink from the minibar because minibar drinks & snacks are priced against their weight in gold (or are actually made of gold, I haven’t worked out which just yet). But what if you get in real late, everything around is shut and the hotel doesn’t do room service? And what if you’re hungry or thirsty? You only have one choice: minibar. Sure, you could wear a coupld of over-priced beers, but if you travel a lot, these little over-priced beers can start to add up. Well – never fear, if you happen to eat or drink something from the minibar and you really don’t want to pay that $6 for a bag of chips or $12 for a bottle of beer, then you can use the hotel’s own “do not disturb” or “do not clean” sign – hang it on the door before you leave in the morning. Then, before you return to your room that night, you go to the local supermarket and/or grog shop (that’s Australian for “liquor store”) and buy standard-priced exact replacements for the items you consumed and put them right back in the minibar. The hotel keeps their minibar items and you keep your money. Just be careful to make them EXACT replacements or you will be charged for the items you consumed (hotel staff know the difference between cheap beer and expensive beer). Clearly this plan will not work if A) you’re only staying the one night or B) if the hotel minibar is one of those painful electronic things which charges you the moment you remove something, but otherwise, it’s a pretty solid play.

5) Don’t let the hotel’s web page login stop your Chromecast.

Chromecast doesn’t allow setup on most hotels’ wi-fi network because it does not have a web browser to log into the hotel’s nice web page. There aren’t too many ways around this and quite frankly and unless you know what you’re doing, trying any of them could cause harm to your devices, but if you’re game (and you know what you’re doing, remember?), though there are a couple. Hotel wi-fi authentication web pages mostly check the MAC address of the device trying to connect to see if it has already authenticated – obviously, your Chromecast has not, so it will not get access to the network until it provides the room code or password BUT there is a screen in the Chromecast setup app which provides the MAC address of your Chromecast and if you can make one of your other devices temporarily pretend to be your Chromecast (by temporarily changing its MAC address), then your Chromecast will be able to connect.

There is a way to change a laptop MAC address on most operating systems and How to Geek has them mostly covered: How and Why to Change Your MAC Address. If you only have a phone (no laptop) and it is either rooted (Android) or jailbroken (iPhone)…(yes, all of these apps need your phone to be rooted or jailbroken), then there are a number of MAC address maskers you can download and use. Be careful, though – make sure you do a search and check the safety level of the app you install (using an app checker and verifying its authenticity using forums and user reviews) to reduce the chance of it being malicious (which means any app you install could hack you phone and rooted/jailbroken-only apps are already on the fringes). Having not tested any of them myself, I am not an advocate for any particular app and I have no idea which ones are legit and which ones are dangerous, so I will not provide any further information on that one.

IMPORTANT: Always make a note of your ORIGINAL MAC address before making any changes and always remember to restore the original one once your Chromecast has access!!

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