Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

Why can't I send mail from my hotel room?

I checked in to my hotel which provides free high speed internet. All was
well and good, except that after a while, I could no longer send email. I could
receive all I wanted, but all my attempts to send failed. And the weird thing
is that the next morning, sending mail worked … again, for a while. What’s
going on?

I’ve run into this as well. It’s very strange and even frustrating,
but once I understood it, it began to make sense.

And understanding it also allowed me to work around it.

But it’s the kind of thing that I wouldn’t expect the front desk to be able to
help with at all. You and I? We’re kind of on our own.

The root cause of all this?

Spammers.

]]>

Port 25

SMTP is an acronym for Simple Mail Transfer Protocol which is the protocol used to transport email messages from computer to computer until they reach their destination. SMTP is used … continue reading.

From the Ask Leo! Glossary

You may already know, but when you send email your desktop email program connects to a remote email server, and communicates on a particular “port”.

Port 25 happens to be the default SMTP mail sending port. It’s used not only to send email from your computer to the email server that you use, but also between email servers as they deliver email all across the internet.

Hotels and Port 25

Many hotels (I’ll use the term to refer not only to hotels but also any place that provides internet connectivity for free or for a fee) are intercepting mail being sent to any mail server on port 25. Instead of connecting to the server your email program requests, they intercept and connect to their email server instead.

“Many hotels … are intercepting mail being sent to any mail server …”

Even though your mail program is configured to send your mail through the SMTP server of, say, your isp, the hotel’s infrastructure sends it through their email server.

And now that they’re controlling it they then often impose a cap on the amount of email you can send.

Reasons for Interception

Naturally the first reaction is to wonder why in heaven’s name would a hotel, or any one for that matter, want to intercept and limit the amount of email I can send? Isn’t that my business?

Well, yes and no.

Email you send while you’re at the hotel could possibly be traced back to the hotel and even cause the hotels internet connection to be blacklisted.

Blacklisted?

Yes, blacklisted.

If you are a spammer, or your machine is infected with a spam-sending zombie, sending unrestricted email that originates from the hotel’s IP address some anti-spam technologies will eventually blacklist the source – the IP address of the hotel.

If that happens you, the other hotel guests and perhaps even the hotel staff themselves may be able to send all the email you want, only to have it be filtered as spam and never reach its destination.

By limiting the number of emails you can send per day the hotel effectively restricts your ability to be a spammer, and dramatically reduces the possibility that their network could be accused of being a source of spam.

Work-arounds

There are workarounds.

And yes, the spammers can use some of these as well, should they be so motivated. However even by blocking the default case hotels can at least make a signficant dent in the problem.

  • Use web mail. If your ISP has a web interface, than can be a quick way to be able dash off that important email with no further thought.

  • Use an alternate port. If your email provider supports this, you may be able to configure your email client to connect via a port other than 25. If they provide an SMTP over SSL connection (more and more common these days) that’s often via port 465 or 587. Being SSL they are significantly more difficult to intercept and thus typically left alone. Your ISP may also provide traditional SMTP access over an alternate port such as 26. The good news about either choice is that things should continue to work when you get back home without having to “undo” anything.

  • Use a VPN. If you or your corporation have the ability to connect using a VPN, or Virtual Private Network, that connection bypasses these types of redirections.

  • Use SSH tunneling. This gets pretty geeky, and requires an ISP willing to grant you SSH access, but also bypasses all port 25 intercepts.

I don’t really blame the hotels, they’re trying to address a very real and serious problem. I do wish that they had better information available about what they’re doing, or at least a warning of some sort. But ultimately I blame the spammers and the purveyors of malware that have forced the hotels and others into the position of having to take these types of actions.

About that Internet Connection…

One final thought about that internet connection that’s being provided to you.

It’s essentually the moral equivalent to an open Wifi hotspot, even if you’re not using Wifi.

The hotel is acting as your ISP, and as I’ve said before, your ISP can see everything you do. And yes, there is anecdotal evident that hotels might be looking at your unencrypted data.

On top of that, depending on how the network is configured even connections “nearby” your wired internet connection may also be able to see your data passing by, exactly like an open WiFi hotspot.

The solution?

Whenever you are using an internet connection provided by a third party that you know little or nothing about treat it like an open WiFi hotspot.

(This is an update to an article originally published December 19, 2005.)

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Tech problem solving & safety tips & a weekly confidence boost in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow

Slow Computer?

Speed up with my special report: 10 Reasons Your Computer is Slow, now updated for Windows 10.

NOW: name your own price! You decide how much to pay -- and yes, that means you can get this report completely free if you so choose. Get your copy now!

19 comments on “Why can't I send mail from my hotel room?”

  1. Interestingly, I have this issue quite often also. However…

    I am working through a corporate VPN tunnel!!!

    This issue is real for me and only on certain connections. I do not understand how it could happen within the vpn infrastructure though.

    BTW – If the message I send is VERY small (i.e. only few bytes), it may well get sent successfully.

    Any ideas?

    Jules

    Reply
  2. Don’t know if you know about this one. When I send or reply to email from AOL…it always fails

    thanks for any help

    Reply
  3. Have met this issue with Egyptian and Middle East hotels. One concern is that under some countries’ Company regulations there is a legal requirement for all business emails to be logged. Thus by diverting the email away from its intended path (and thus preventing its being logged at the site mailserver) whatever its intentions are, the hotel may be committing an offence, or causing an offence to be committed.

    Reply
  4. Leo, as always, you’re a font of valuable knowledge. Thanks. I’d like to share one more tip that may help others stuck in this situation. I just found that those of us with Gmail accounts, if setup for pop access, can configure our mail clients to use gmail as our SMTP server. Sweet. Just need to configure the correct servername, port, and login info. Interested folks should check out the blog entry that clued me in, at http://www.geekzone.co.nz/tonyhughes/599. Or for more info, see my own blog entry: http://carehart.org/blog/client/index.cfm/2007/3/23/get_around_blocked_smtp_email

    Hope that helps someone.

    Reply
  5. What I did to solve this problem is sign up with http://smtp.com, which listens on other ports like 2525, and so keeps working in any hotel room. I haven’t had any issues with outbound email since, but the only downside is that it costs about $4 per month.

    Reply
  6. I solved this problem by changing the email account settings in Outlook 2007. In the

    Tools > Account Settings > Change > More settings > Outgoing Server

    section just activate “Log on to incoming mail server before sending mail”. I don’t know if it will work for any email account, maybe it depends on the hotel, but it always works for my Hotmail and business accounts!
    Hope this helps…

    Reply
  7. Matt’s trick worked for me at one of the extended stay hotel, thanks matt
    Puneet

    I solved this problem by changing the email account settings in Outlook 2007. In the

    Tools > Account Settings > Change > More settings > Outgoing Server

    section just activate “Log on to incoming mail server before sending mail”. I don’t know if it will work for any email account, maybe it depends on the hotel, but it always works for my Hotmail and business accounts!
    Hope this helps…

    Reply
  8. We use alternate port 26 and also select “logon to mail server before sending mail” and it works for one of our email servers but not the other! I think this may depend on the alternate port settings the email server is using. Why is it so hard to find a universal set of email settings that work everywhere? We have to coach our users to change these outlook settings depending on which office or hotel they are in. Some users are OK with it but others find it all too technical. As IT support, I find this issue very frustating. Outlook 2000 setting behave differently than 2007 settings too, just to add some extra challenge to this issue.
    Bruce E

    Reply
  9. I signed up with a really nifty service, which is quick and easy to implement: Click here to check out smtp2go.
    I used to spend many frustrating minutes (adding up to hours) first explaining to hotel staff what an smtp server is, and then persuading them to find the information for me. Some hotels (e.g. Ibis) don’t allow any outgoing mail at all.

    Reply
  10. thanks for that i set up new home wifi with different supplier and my e mails wouldnt work with aol router joined smtp2go worked straight away

    Reply
  11. Ive left that hotel. Ive even left the island. im in Greece. and i still cant receive email, though i can send it. the last three entries in my in box are

    Welcome!
    To access the network, please open up your browser and connect to a web site.
    Or, you may click here to access the login page.

    i never even logged into this server, but sense then i cant get email.

    please help.

    ps. i can still get it on my phone and ipads but not my macbook

    Reply
  12. Another solution is to get a $20 per year smtp account at http://www.travelsmtp.com. They run their servers on lots of ports, also on 443 (https) with SSL. No firewall, ISP or hotel will ever be able to block that, unless they block regular internet traffic (which is never the case of course).

    Reply
  13. Leo, I find that most SMTP servers now support Port 587 WITH authentication without SSL in order to avoid Port 25 blocking of its subscribers when not directly connected. When SSL is offered on an SMTP server, I find it’s almost always on Port 465.

    Season’s Greetings

    Reply
  14. I had the same problem, but it was not at a hotel. It was anywhere I could get a wireless network connection. I went to stay at my nephews feeling quite happy I could connect whilst away from the office. I could receive ALL mail, but I could send none.
    In my case it was purely because my ISP account had a static IP address.
    The problem was only overcome when I went onto Openzone account with my ISP, to use wherever place available.

    Reply
  15. There’s another possible cause, though in this case sending never works at all. If you get “relaying denied” there is a strong possibility that your ISP’s servers have simply rejected the connection from the hotel’s servers. This can because “relaying” is disabled in your account settings, or by your ISP, or because the hotel server’s security, anti-virus and anti-spam configuration doesn’t meet your ISP’s requirements, which is determined during a handshake process when the hotel’s server attempts to establish a connection. In the latter case, alerting the hotel’s – or its ISP’s – IT staff may resolve the problem, at least for future guests.

    Reply

Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.