The Diminishing Marginal Return On Hotel Breakfast

Filed Under: Hotels

One of my favorite hotel elite perks is complimentary breakfast. As I’ve explained before, my two preferred hotel chains are Hyatt and Starwood.

In general I’d say Hyatt does breakfast best, as you receive a full, hot breakfast as a Diamond member whenever there’s not a club lounge (otherwise you receive club lounge access).


Meanwhile Starwood offers continental breakfast as a Platinum perk, though that has to be chosen in lieu of the 500 Starpoint welcome amenity. When hotels take the “continental breakfast” perk literally, it can be quite disappointing. Like when the only option is coffee and a basket full of carbs.


That being said, I find many Starwood hotels go above and beyond, and offer full breakfast instead — that’s more often the case than not at properties outside the US.



But that brings me to a bigger point, and I’m sure I’m not alone. After having lived in hotels for about 16 months, I think I’m finally over hotel breakfast, even when it’s free.

For example, in the past seven days I’ve gone to Starbucks (and paid) four mornings for a Venti cold brew coffee and spinach feta wrap rather than having the complimentary hotel breakfast.

How could I be over a “free” breakfast, especially since I’ve been staying at nice hotels with actually decent breakfast spreads?

I guess the first issue is that when you have access to something “free” or “unlimited,” there’s always the tendency to over consume. Amazing breakfasts are nice in moderation and on vacation, but when it becomes your everyday life, it’s less exciting.


Beyond that, it’s just a function of the time commitment. Going to a restaurant does take a fair amount of time, while you can (hopefully) be in and out of a nearby Starbucks in less than 10 minutes.

And lastly, I think when something which is usually special becomes an everyday thing it sort of ruins the fun. Is it nice to go to an awesome restaurant once a week? Absolutely. Is it as fun if you go every day? Not really!

I think I’ve actually started to value a decent complimentary coffee setup in the lobby (available to all guests) more than a complimentary breakfast as an elite member.

For those of you business travelers on expense accounts who also have hotel elite status, how much do you really value hotel breakfast as a benefit? How often do you actually take advantage of your complimentary breakfast benefit rather than just grabbing something at Starbucks you can expense?

No doubt this is a hugely valuable benefit for leisure travelers, and at the end of the day that’s the best part of hotel loyalty programs. They can make those most memorable vacations even better. I guess I’m sort of coming to the realization that if there are lots of people like me, providing breakfast as an elite benefit really isn’t that costly for the hotel programs.

I’d love to hear where you guys stand on hotel breakfast!

  1. Ben,

    As a non-loyalty, would you recommend booking the breakfast included rates over no-frill rates? It seems like with the breakfast, the costs go up about $10-20$ per person, but I’m not sure if its a good idea to include breakfast or buy it myself around surrounding restaurants. Do hotels offer a la carte rate for the breakfast?


  2. When I am traveling on my own, its not a big deal but when traveling with wife and kids having a free breakfast is a great perk. I have Marriott lifetime Platinum so when planning family vacations I always look for a Marriott property. I also use Hilton as a back up

  3. On vacation I do enjoy a full breakfast. But when I am working and trying to save any time I can in the morning, that is why I enjoy a good executive lounge style set up where I can quickly drop in and grab as much or as little as I want and go.

  4. At the Hyatt Arlington you can use your Diamond breakfast voucher at the Starbucks-ish in the lobby. I like that.

    What I really value is hotels that offer their complimentary breakfast via room service. I don’t want to take the time for a long breakfast in the restaurant. I’m usually working while I get ready, and I prefer that over getting ready and then going to work in the restaurant.

  5. When in Israel, GO FOR THE BREAKFAST. Hotels compete over presenting the most over the top “Israeli breakfast”. The term itself is weird because Israelis do not eat breakfast like that. It is necesary to plan the breakfast, try to avoid carbs simply to make room for more unusual fare.

  6. The thought of being somewhere like BKK, CDG, KUL, SIN, FCO, etc and sitting in a lounge of an American chain hotel and eating breakfast there makes me want to throw up. To be in wonderful places with great local cuisine, to be able to meet locals and see how others live and eat and to be able to partake is what makes travel, travel. I have mid and top level status with 4 chains and get breakfast. Do I take it, no. I’d rather spend a few $$$ and have an experience and not be cocooned in the familiar.
    Please don’t do a blog on how you can drink and eat dinner for free in hotel lounges and never have to go out except to go back and forth to the airport and to your first class cocoon.

  7. When I’m traveling on business, it’s actually rare that I take advantage of breakfast. Usually it’s expensed anyway or I’m at a conference where I have to be at breakfast so when I’m traveling on my own dime, it’s still pretty special (atleast for this Hyatt guy). 🙂

  8. The Westin Dallas Galleria does a nice breakfast in the club that takes their healthy living mantra seriously — fresh berries, greek yogurt, fresh eggs, steel cut oatmeal, flax seeds, walnuts, etc. — and is a great, fast choice for when I’m on business (good coffee, too!) but that I only do about 50% of the time. But when I’m on vacation, I love the breakfast spreads in the European and Asian SPG properties, even if they do take more time — they’ll keep you full for the day!

  9. As a 100 night/year business traveler, I absolutely value the complimentary breakfast, because it allows me to justify why I stay at one hotel (Hyatt, if available; Hilton, if not) vs. the conference hotel or the other options. If I expense breakfast separately, there goes that excuse. And, I find that Starbucks is one of the least justifiable expenses, because…do you *really* need a $4 coffee on the company dime? No.

    @Lucky, I would argue that your travel patterns make breakfast less efficient than a typical business traveler. I have a Doubletree near a satellite office that I stay at 20-25 nights a year. The wait staff know me, the omelet guy knows me, the various hostesses know me. I’m in and out with a full breakfast in 15m flat, which I’m never able to pull off at a hotel I’ve never been to before (much less an Asian buffet). And, they’ll set me up with a coffee to go along with the check.

    Even at hotels I do not frequent, if I have complimentary breakfast, I’ll use it 95%+ of the time. It’s nice, it’s free, and it lets me feel temporarily good about the fact that I’m allowing a hotel loyalty program to corrupt my travel decisions.

  10. Having done my tour of duty for months on end at both Extended Stay and Residence Inn for work, i have to agree, free hotel breakfast becomes boring after the 2nd week. I only ate at the hotel to save the expense money for something else later in the day

  11. Hotel breakfasts are much better than some bits and pieces breakfast from Starbucks. When it’s free, it’s even better

  12. And, I find that Starbucks is one of the least justifiable expenses, because…do you *really* need a $4 coffee on the company dime? No.

    They really should switch you to per diem for meals, it’s so much easier.

  13. Interesting watching your perspective shift over time.

    I generally don’t bother with breakfast, free or otherwise, when on work travel. Just like when home. Work travel means way more “free food” than anyone should be eating. Without discipline people end up out of shape and overweight.

    Hence also drinking club soda rather than booze or soda in flight. Eat/drink what you really want – not just because it is free/easy.

    Free hotel breakfast is appreciated on leisure stays, sometimes, but only if it dors not take away an option for something more genuinely local.

    “Maximizing” program value ultimately means the program owns your travel experience. That’s not a good place to be.

  14. I stay at Hiltons specifically for the free breakfasts. As a gold member, they are usually part of the deal, and they are almost always great. Love it!

  15. The thing that gets me is the ridiculous prices most hotels charge for their breakfasts to paying customers. I guess somebody has to subsidize the elites.

  16. I’d take a mediocre breakfast in a club lounge over a good restaurant breakfast. I’ll often go grab it and take it back to my room to get started working. As one of the earlier posters, I’m a marriott platinum so it’s a great help on family vacations. When all 4 of us are there it’s an 80-100 dollar a day savings. Not being much of a breakfast person I’d be happy to grab a chicken biscuit from Chick-fila and be on my way.

  17. 99% of the time I value time over a big breakfast and choose caffeine and a muffin. I definitely don’t want to sit down for a breakfast as that is giving up 30 mins of sleep. However, My company has per diems so if I can charge it back to the room and get a nicer dinner out, I will take a paid breakfast.

  18. @Better – I don’t see why you can’t do both. Breakfast in the hotel, rest of the day’s food on the street.

  19. I have and maintain Hilton Gold and Hyatt Diamond. That said, I actually stay mostly at “limited service” or extended stay settings like HIE, Staybridge, Hyatt Place, Hampton, and Hyatt House. Because of this, breakfast is just part of the rate, and I almost always eat a moderate one because I dislike doing lunch. When at a Hyatt property other than an HP or HH, I actually value the lounge access more than the “breakfast benefit”, and grumpily accept the breakfast benefit in those properties that don’t have a lounge (with the exception being the Olive 8 in Seattle). At Hilton properties that have a separate breakfast service, it’s a mixed bag. About 70% of the time I’ll take the points and skip breakfast (other than caffeine), but every now and then I’ll take the breakfast benefit (especially if my wife is with me).

  20. I may be way off, and Euro zone readers may have more facts here, but FWIW I remember asking colleagues in Europe why breakfast was always included in my hotel rates, and they explained that the tax code in certain countries preclude companies and/or individuals from expensing breakfast. Accordingly, many hotels include breakfast in the room rate thereby making the expense deductible and the property attractive to business travellers.

    Having left my corporate job to pursue a more entrepreneurial path, every penny counts to me, so I appreciate the free bfast whether I’m on business or pleasure!

  21. When traveling for work, i love to pick up the free breakfast as a way to keep me regular and get a little nutrition. Grab a milk, yogurt, and some fruit to go. That way i dont feel as guilty when i am having a sandwich and chips for lunch, cookies for snacks, and a good steak and wine/beer/vodka the rest of the night…
    When with the family, its a great perk. The kids love being able to pick out whatever they want, even if the highlight to them is picking BOTH frosted flakes and lucky charms.

  22. I think Matt said it best for me.

    Overall, on work – too busy for a sit down breakfast, free or expensed.
    On vacation – I like a mix of free breakfast and no breakfast. If I eat anything more than fruit/non-fat yogurt or egg whites, then I can’t eat lunch. And if I’m in Italy or Singapore, I’m excited about the lunch prospects, even if it is just grazing at interesting food shops during my walks.

  23. The hotel lounge breakfast does get very old. As someone who is Platinum right now with Hyatt and Marriott and Starwood I love when I’m staying near a whole foods and can go there for breakfast for delicious sliced meats and cheeses, fresh organic fruit, & a refreshing bottle of kombucha

  24. On a daily basis, I just get some cappuccino and toast as my breakfast. If I’m really hungry (which I am never at 07:00 am, I eat some fruit). That’s it.
    Whenever I travel of holiday, I usually eat it around 10:00 to 11:00 am. So it kinda works as a “brunch” for me.
    That way I pretty much eat as a lunch as well

  25. I see where you are coming from, but you really think the prefabricated spinach feta wrap at Starbucks is healthier than a simple hotel breakfast like oatmeal, fruit, yogurt, and hard boiled egg? I agree the coffee at Starbucks is probably better…

  26. As a leisure traveler, complimentary breakfast is huge and key. As a Hilton and SPG gold, I find myself choosing Hilton properties over Starwood precisely because of the free breakfast! However, I agree that if I lived in hotels I’d probably get tired of the free breakfasts too. Sooo, hotel loyalty program folks, no free breakfast for business travelers, only for leisure travelers!

  27. Definitely love free breakfast as Hilton Diamond! Best to date has been the Conrad Singapore 🙂 However when I have these massive breakfasts on holiday I then tend to skip lunch – both to avoid over-indulging and because I’m genuinely not hungry after a really big breakfast. When travelling for work I tend to have a fairly small breakfast (like I would at home), otherwise I’d put on far too much weight!

  28. I have found that when traveling for business, my first preference for breakfast is at the hotel regardless of if it is free or not, assuming it meets the following criteria:
    1.) It is decent quality
    2.) It’s fairly fast (pretty much any of the buffets work for this)
    3.) My coworkers don’t have other plans

    I do find myself less likely to eat breakfast at the hotel the longer I’m on the road or am staying at a particular hotel. Even a great buffet or varied menu will get boring after a few weeks.

    I do agree that the free breakfast is a marginal value, since the cost is borne by my company, whether I get a crappy Starbucks wrap or a well laid out buffet.

    It does drive me towards certain hotels with price being close to equal, so I get the benefit when traveling for leisure. So in a way, it’s a sales/marketing cost like most elite perks.

  29. For business travel, it’s often less than exotic for me. I end up staying in Hamptons and Hyatt Places and other places that give free breakfast anyway. When in bigger cirties, I typically stay at Starwoods, take the points instead of breakfast, and go to Starbucks. But I slog away at business travel in part to earn great family vacation experiences, and this is definitely a case where the blog’s perspective is on the solo traveller. For family trips where my status gets the family breakfast, and we’re in no hurry, the perk is enormous.

  30. I agree with Larry. I stay at lower end hotels that all give everyone free Internet, breakfast and even some evening snacks at times all free. They aren’t fancy but it is quick and easy. My biggest problem is getting them to start serving at 6am instead of 6:30 or 7am since I need to get to work. We all have pet peeves I guess. The leasure breakfasts you show are good on vacation or for business meetings though.

  31. Most hotel perks are really for my personal travel. When on the road for work I am getting up early so will just grab something small and quick. It’s when I am traveling with my wife that an awesome free breakfast (like at the Park Hyatt Place Vendome) really pays off. Same could be said for suite/room upgrades which mean very little on biz travel.

    Still the few times a year that I actually use it make a big difference.

  32. It really depends on the location for me, but overall follow the following:
    1) whether work or vacation – if street food is not yet something I know enough about what’s safe, i’m in the hotel. unless i’m on a time crunch, otherwise i will try to try something new outside.
    2) if work and exec lounge access, time saved is preferred over trying something new
    3) if work and restaurant based free breakfast, more likely to hit a starbucks
    4) if vacation i’m usually either out the door too early to catch the start, or asleep past the end

  33. I just came back from 10 days in Spain and Portugal (for leisure) where most mornings I had some pretty amazing breakfasts in the hotel restaurants. But the funny thing is, the breakfasts I enjoyed most were the two mornings in Lisbon where breakfast was not included in my hotel room rate or as an elite benefit. I walked around, found a cute cafe, sat by the window, and had a delicious coffee and croissant. I will remember that far more than the breakfast rooms at the large international chain hotels I stayed at.

  34. Starwood Platinum, Hyatt Diamond, Marriott Lifetime Platinum…….rarely use the breakfast even in the lounges……easier and quicker to just drive through somewhere. Only take advantage when travelling with family.

  35. First of all, for all the new readers — make sure you find out at check-in how much your status offsets your breakfast costs. For example, Westin Riverwalk San Antonio gives $15 off per person to SPG Platinum members whereas Hyatt Lost Pines near Austin gives $40-45 per person to Hyatt Diamond (although, to be fair, many Hyatt properties let you exceed the limit somewhat). So “free breakfast” may not always be completely free!

    Secondly, I prefer to get hotel breakfast in the mornings because it’s quicker. Even in a restaurant setting, you don’t need to spend a long time. Restaurant vs. lounge is also an interesting dilemma… In theory, restaurant breakfast sounds better but in Tokyo we actually preferred the food and atmosphere at Grand Hyatt’s lounge as opposed to Park Hyatt’s restaurant. In US hotels lounges generally are pretty bad though 🙁

  36. @Better why then even stay in an American chain hotel? If you really want to “see how others live” why not couch surf?

  37. “But that brings me to a bigger point, and I’m sure I’m not alone. After having lived in hotels for about 16 months, I think I’m finally over hotel breakfast, even when it’s free.”

    Anything done to excess, to the point it because monotonous, will kill any interest. Even heavy corporate travellers generally spend time away from hotels, so if doing something extreme as Ben is doing now – even with chopping and changing hotels – no surprise it’s caused some burn out. No biggie though, a break will easily restore some former love.

    As most people have said here, comped breakfasts are considered most valuable for leisure travel with family and friends.

  38. Marriott Residence Inns tend to be my go-to domestically, which include a free hot breakfast. I actually prefer it for business travel, especially if there aren’t restaurants within walking distance of the hotel. If I get bored I have a full kitchen to amuse myself. Sometimes I don’t get a break or lunch at client sites, so the hotel breakfast will be the only meal I’ll have until 9pm or later.

    For leisure I’m not as picky — I’ll usually sleep in anyway and miss the hotel breakfast offerings. Besides, I’d rather explore and see what the locals are up to when I have time.

  39. Does anyone know who actually ends up paying for elite breakfasts, suite upgrades, etc? Is it the hotel chain or the individual hotel? Because it doesn’t really seem fair to the individual hotel to have to pay for say, breakfast, if the guest only stays there once. After all, the guest is being rewarded for loyalty to the chain rather than the hotel.

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