Mandatory Holiday Dinners: Have Hotels Lost Their Fool Minds?!?

Filed Under: Hotels

It’s December, which means it’s time for my traditional scramble to book something interesting over New Year’s. It’s really the only time of year where my husband and I can both take a few days off, and since we don’t really care where we go, we’ve typically let award availability dictate our destination. That’s led to some fun trips, and we’ve variously spent time in Dubai, London, Oman, Edinburgh, Copenhagen, Thailand, and Jordan over the past few years.

And while I loved our adventures in Jordan last year, this New Year’s Eve I’m aspiring to something a little more luxurious than this:

I actually did try to plan ahead this year, but for various reasons my original (and alternate, and backup) plans have fallen through. So I spent some time this weekend looking at options, and trying to find that seasonally rare combination of reasonable flights and available hotels. In practice I’m about two weeks early for this method to really be successful, but I like to have an overview at least.

And I just have to say — the Mandatory New Year’s Gala situation is out of control.

Ben has written about compulsory holiday hotel dinners before, and even caved and reluctantly attended one a few years ago in the Maldives.

Our general consensus is that while we understand why the properties want/need to have these events (especially in remote locations like the Maldives), they’re unnecessary, and obscenely priced. If you’re paying in points for the room the price of the “gala” isn’t as painful, but at the same time, I doubt anyone is going to places like the Maldives for the food to begin with, much less for a fancy New Year’s Eve buffet.

Others clearly disagree, as The Park Hyatt Maldives has somehow managed to raise their prices, and is charging $590 (+ 22% tax) per person. The St. Regis Maldives is going even beyond that, and their mandatory New Year’s Eve dinner supplement is $895 (+22% tax) per person. Meanwhile the Food & Beverage manager at the W Maldives must have a crazy hookup, as they’re “only” charging $490 (+22% tax) per adult. Oof.

Still, in the Maldives, with a captive audience and limited food suppliers, I’m a little understanding of the concept. These compulsory dinners are definitely more prevalent in some regions than others — I don’t see many being charged in French Polynesia or Mauritius, for example, which theoretically have similar supply challenges.

Meanwhile you have properties like the Grand Hyatt Dubai, which clearly thinks very highly of themselves, at ~$354 per adult (the room rate for New Year’s Eve is ~$465, so you’ll pay more for a compulsory dinner as a couple than you will for your room) . Meanwhile the Park Hyatt Dubai, just across the river, is charging “just” $325. Both are ridiculous as a mandatory fee in a city with amazing restaurants and endless opportunities on New Year’s Eve.

The example that is so offensive as to be laughable, however, is the Vana Belle, a SPG Luxury Collection Resort in Koh Samui, Thailand:

On December 31, 2017, there is a mandatory New Year’s Eve dinner that is included in all room rates. For awards reservations, there is a compulsory supplemental charge of 15,950 THB per adult and 7,975 THB per child excluding taxes.

In theory I like that the dinner is included in room rates, but I find it absolutely unacceptable that the hotel thinks it’s reasonable to charge a supplement only to those paying with points. The reimbursement rates from Starwood should certainly cover this if it’s included for all guests otherwise.

Not to mention that you could straight-up book a paid room for New Year’s Eve and save 33% versus paying for the gala for two adults. Heck, you could even book a villa that’s way bigger than my house and includes a pool and butler, and come out ahead.

And all of that is still ignoring the main problem, which is that someone thinks it’s reasonable to charge $490 per person for a hotel buffet dinner in Thailand. Thailand!!! I took seven people to Thailand for ten days over New Year’s 2015, and we spent $643.10 total on food.

For seven people.

And ten days.

I don’t see any other hotels in Koh Samui with a mandatory gala fee, and they’re certainly not common in Thailand, so I’m not sure what the logic is here. I’m fluctuating between insulted and flabbergasted, but needless to say you will not find me at the Vana Belle on New Year’s Eve!

Bottom line

As a rule, I prefer street food to fine dining, and avoid eating in the hotel as much as possible. So I realize these events aren’t catered towards guests like me. Having compulsory dinner rates that are higher than the price of the room seems unjustifiable.

But, many of these hotels are fairly booked over New Year’s Eve, so maybe I’m missing something.

What do you think? Would you appreciate a mandatory festive gala? Have you attended one before?

  1. I’m actually staying at the Vana Belle over NYE. After paying crazy prices in the past in Bora Bora and elsewhere, I was expecting it.

  2. be a miser. don’t book on 31st 😉

    I recall renting a tuk tuk to roam in phuket rather than paying these morons new year add ons….my posterior….and it costed me less than 20$

    challenge solved…why gripe about something which you can’t control …………..

  3. I’m currently fighting with Hilton Phuket Arcadia, both with hotel directly and via Hilton support. Booked 4 nights with points and get one night free, which falls on Dec 31st.

    They have a charge of 200 bucks per person for a gala dinner…

    I find it beyond ridiculous, for 200 bucks you can eat in a fancy pancy restaurant with lobsters and champagne, meanwhile, their gala dinner includes one… ONE drink and some shit food.

    I’m trying to argue my way out of this craziness, but doubt it will work…

  4. I have planned my flights to arrive in Thailand at 0830 on 01JAN morning just to avoid this silly surcharge. Plus it is always fun to spend New Years somewhere with ambiguous time zones in flight! 🙂

  5. While I agree they’re outrageous and completely ‘milking’ the hotel guest (given what you get is never worth even half the price), the reality is that if people keep staying and paying, they’ll keep doing it

  6. i’m surprised hotels in turmpistan haven’t started doing this, the clown-in-chief likes to fuck people over

  7. The solution is simple:

    Don’t stay at sh!tty resorts, especially not on New Years Eve.

    This is just one of many reasons I’ve grown to dislike hotels, especially resort hotels, especially on beaches. I prefer small boutique hotels on out-of-the-way beaches, or beach cottage rentals. Neither of those would charge you for a New Years Eve gala.

    The reason why resorts can get away with these holiday celebration surcharges is because people are willing to pay them. And the reason people are willing to pay them is because some people love a lively New Years Eve party with tons of alcohol, music, and crowds of people dancing on the tables. But if you don’t find that worth the money, Tiffany, you should just find somewhere else to stay! As I said, there are many better options – but of course, if you constrain yourself to hotel chains, you’re cutting off the best options.

  8. That you are able To use points to stay there doesn’t mean you are the kind of guest they are expecting…cheap Americans!! Smh…how is this different from the forced resort fees you pay in vegas, florida, etc

    You are not a valued guest paying with hawked credit card points, so they won’t miss your cheap behind. Shalom!

  9. My wife and I went to the mandatory Christmas dinner while on an award stay at the Park Hyatt Maldives a couple years ago and ended up quite frustrated. For starters the mandatory dinner and cost wasn’t disclosed to us until weeks, if not months, after booking and only via email. We felt like we were kinda trapped at that point.

    While I don’t remember the food as being especially spectacular I don’t recall it being subpar or disappointing either so let’s say the food was ok. The entertainment was cute and full of effort but again nothing spectacular. The best part was probably the cocktail hour beforehand on the beach.

    The worst thing about it was simply the time. All told I think it took 3-4 hours: it was quite late and we were quite tired by the time we got back to our room. If I recall we both agreed that if we were there for another mandatory holiday dinner we would rather stay in the room and get food delivered even if it meant paying for both the mandatory holiday dinner and room service fee. We’d value our time over the whole experience.

  10. I would definitely look elsewhere. I have never been to a buffet dinner worth more than 50 bucks (could be just me missing out on those super upper class Oscietra caviar buffets though…).

    I once checked in to a hotel on Dec 31st, at around 8 PM, and as soon as I entered the lobby, without having introduced myself, I was welcomed by name, as apparently all other guests had arrived before dinner time and subsequently had had dinner at the hotel property.

  11. Well, prices in Koh Samui (and Phuket, for that matter) are a bit absurd on a normal day (by Thai standards). Really the whole mandatory gala thing is like a “resort fee” or “urban destination fee” that are meant to “enhance” your stay. The hotel could just jack up their prices to reflect much higher demand on 12/31. But they can save on taxes and avoid looking too pricey in search engines by assessing a “NYE fee.”

  12. Very timely article Tiffany-my friend and I are at the moment disputing a compulsory gala dinner included in a resort booking. We are very upset as we didn’t see the gala dinner booking (or the cost) in the fine print until it was too late. It was for a resort in Thailand and with a reputable travel website- but they have been very dishonest. I had never heard of this practice previously- but at least I know I am not the only one being “ripped off”!

  13. hotels seriously think they can get away with adding a ton of “mandatory fees”. Someone joked that before long, every hotel will advertise “Stay for a buck” and then add $$$$ in fees on top for everything, including using the front door.

    The crazier part? Regulators are letting them do it! Many problems with the airline industry, but at least 1 thing correctly imposed on them is to only advertise the price that is inclusive of all “mandatory fees / fuel / carrier imposed surcharges”.

  14. Sorry but with crazy airfare prices plus this total nonsense for hotels just confirms that the best place to soend Christmas and New Year is at home. I was happy couple years ago when I finally convinced my wife that these are dates in the calendar like many others so there is no reason why we need to spend this much money to travel in those dates if we can travel on much cheaper dates in the year.

  15. It’s capitalism. They should increase the price by 10 fold if people will pay it, and why not? It’s not a charity soup kitchen.

  16. I’m really getting tired of these fees. I recently stayed at The Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge and was surprised to find a $20/day resort fee on my folio at checkout. What did it include? Nobody knows for sure, as it wasn’t mentioned during my arrival (Thankfully a quick email had it removed). I don’t mind paying the price for convenience, added benefits, etc etc, but please just include all these fees in the published price and let me decide if it’s worth it.

  17. @AndrewOnTheRoad

    We might have been there at he same time as you at the Park Hyatt Maldives over NYE 2014/2015. I booked our room on points and their website and the reservation confirmation stated nothing about their mandatory dinner. I got an email about a month before the trip informing me about the dinner. I immidiately called Hyatt Diamond Desk and fought it. Argued it wasn’t in the reservation and wasn’t on the website when I booked (had screenshots of the website) and they got in touch with the hotel and the Park Hyatt was reluctantly “forced” to open a restaurant that night in addition to the NYE buffet.

  18. @ snic — I mean, I agree about the resort concept in general, and the past several years I’ve stayed in small properties. Last year I was literally in a tent in the desert!

    But this still seems incredibly excessive.

  19. @ Shallah — That’s cute, as almost all my SPG points come from over 400 paid stays over the past eleven years. And this hotel normally requires 60,000 points per night (which means the reimbursement from SPG is substantial), so it’s not like this is a bargain. If the property doesn’t want “that kind of guest” then they should not affiliate themselves with a loyalty program.

    But my personal situation doesn’t matter — this is still an outrageous charge, and if it’s included in the room it should be included regardless of the form of payment.

    And don’t you think there’s a substantial difference between ~$30 per night resort fees (which I also disagree with), and $490 per person compulsory dinners? No issue with fees that are higher than the room rate?

  20. @ Santastico — Yeah, it’s my least favorite time to travel, but it’s also the only time I know we can go somewhere and neither of us will need to take a 3AM conference call or work the entire time. So I struggle.

  21. @Santastico – Some people have kids, and can only travel with them during school vacations. I’d love to be able to take a vacation when the entire rest of the world is NOT taking a vacation, but for the last few years, that’s been impossible.

  22. By charging high amounts those hotels are trying to cater to a select clientele. Clearly, they must have plenty of people willing to pay if they are able to charge those amounts.

    I am spending NYE at the Buddha Bar in Monaco, for instance, and entrance with one glass fo champagne (nothing else) is 190E per person. But I know for a fact that everyone will be dressed up nicely and will actually “fit in” while there.

    While not perfect, in this case price could be a good discriminant.

  23. Not sure if this is the same concept but here in San Diego (where I live) I’ve attended New Years Eve Hotel Dinners (with party and countdown activities) which included the room in the price. Both were somewhat formal events. I recall my boyfriend spending around $1200 plus tips. We had a great time and the food, room and entertainment was first rate. And the hotel was booked both times.

  24. These New Year’s eve dinners are rather popular amongst the Bangkok elite/cool, who go to Khao Lak, Phuket, Krabi, Koh Samui, etc for the event but typically only stay a night or two. This is a mechanism for the hotel to have a few free rooms for that clientele or others willing to pay what you call as absurd. I am in agreement with you, but I know a few Thai people and they typically like to get out of Bangkok for that evening.

  25. @Shallah not a big fan of freedom of choice are ya? Or is that your jealousy showing of America’s superior system, where we get to do what we want…

    Also, if they don’t want to accept points, why are they part of a loyalty program?
    If the hotel were really that exclusive, it wouldn’t be in a loyalty program at all.

    Finally, you’re dumb. Do you think you’re smart? Does anybody think you’re smart? You happy with life? Is ignorance bliss? See how fun it is to berate people without reason?

    Good comment though, buddy.

  26. I realise that your looking for a beach getaway but NYE is great fun in Tokyo, You can get a really good Airbnb for the price of your dinner, check out a temple festivals ringing in the new year for free, roll on to a club if that’s your thing.

    Down/upside is Tokyo is a bit quiet and some stuff is closed over the holiday.

  27. As someone who lives on Koh Samui, I must exclaim the following:
    • Vana Belle (and W) are insanely overrated. Vana Belle has notoriously terrible management, and the entire experience feels fairly 4*.
    •The bean-counting GM Bruce hates the SPG program, its benefits, and simultaneously juggles managing the Sheraton next door…
    • 5* Private villas with 5 in staff are plentiful, and clearly the value choice.
    • Unless you’re a schmuck the only expensive things on Koh Samui are wine and Vana Belle’s hilarious joke of a NYE dinner.

  28. @ Ed — That sounds really fun! I’d like to do a wintertime trip to Japan at some point, but since this is our first Northern winter in a decade, I’m really hoping for some sun. It was dark at 3:30PM yesterday!

  29. I visited Tokyo a few years ago between Christmas and New Years; Ed’s warning is spot on. Many sights were closed for the week in between the holidays. Had a great time still and the weather was milder than expected

  30. Hotels should only be able to advertise an all in price. If there is a mandatory dinner, it should be reflected in the rate. Taxes and resort fees need to go in there as well.

  31. @snic: I have two kids in elementary and middle school. We take a 2 week family travel vacation during summer and 1 week during Tksgiving. I can guarantee you I never had to pay mandatory BS fees in hotels or ridiculous airfares to go anywhere. Many people travel during summer months in the US and Europe and I still can get to amazing places without paying stupid fees. Thus, Christmas and New Year (most overrated time of the year to travel) I spend at home and I still take my family out for 3 weeks of the year without having to fund nonsense airlines or hotels.

  32. @Tiffany you can avoid this if you check-in on Dec 31 and let the Hotel know that you will arrive after 9 or 10pm. I did this on Le Meridien Chiang Mai last year where the Gala Dinner was mandatory (I stayed the nigh before on a Hotel right across the street).

    In December 31 2014 I had a mandatory at Le Meridien Tahiti, but my flight from Auckland arrived after 10pm so by the time I got to the Hotel the dinner was over, they could not charged me that fee. I didn’t do this on purpose, there was only one flight from Auckland with Air Tahiti Nui, besides I was able to receive the NYE twice because my TN flight departed from AKL on January 1 and arrived at PPT on Dec 31, who does that? 😉

  33. Yea…..I would have to cancel….and then file a complaint. There is no way I would eat at a resort, let alone being forced to eat there AND pay those rates.

  34. Tiff- why dont you come over to Brazil? Our summer is just starting, and you get to experience Reveillon- our traditional New Years celebration. Everyone wears white and the whole country parties all night. Typically people head to the beach, but many hotels have packages with all you can eat food, drinks, DJs, bands, fireworks, etc.

    I would totally recommend you coming down south to experience the Brazilian culture and incredible beaches.

  35. I’m staying at the Vana Belle on points over NYE and I received an email several days ago with the NEW rate of 18,773 Baht, which works out to $575 per adult. There are 8 of us which is going to make for a very expensive evening! Oh, and bar packages are on top of that. $100 more per person. Granted, the hotel disclosed this shortly after our reservations were made last summer so we could have made alternate arrangements. However, I was not aware until I read your post that this only applies to folks who booked rooms with points. The whole thing seems offensive as you suggest.

  36. @ Mike F. — I’m offended on principle, and added to what JRL said about the property will likely never stay there, but in your case I would absolutely take this up with SPG corporate. The fees weren’t disclosed at time of booking, and I would insist they be waived.

  37. I stayed twice for nye at the PH Abu Dhabi (15/16 and 16/17), with the family. Was given the choice to go to the party/dinner. Chose not to, and didn’t have to pay for it.
    Just checked and they are adding a mandatory charge this year. Wonder if we were just lucky, or if this is new policy. If the latter, I’d definitely choose to stay elsewhere.

    Coming nye we’re staying at the HR Danang. No additional charges.

  38. I’m glad others rep for winter in Japan. The other great thing to do is skiing but don’t be tempted to do one of the big western hotels like the Sheraton at Rusutsu or the kiroro at Kiroro as they will no doubt subject you to this fee nonsense. Pick a ryokan at somewhere like Zao Onsen or Nozawa Onsen. Nothing like steeping in a hot spring after a day on the slopes.

    I’m going to Zao this year, I can’t wait.

  39. Wow, the food and entertainment better be good.

    Otherwise, there’s a Motel 6 just outside Reno that doesn’t have a mandatory charge 🙂

  40. My family and I have a tradition of celebrating New Year’s at home (where we come from, NYE, not Christmas, is the big holiday), so there’s about a 0% chance I’d ever end up at one of these. Still, it angers me on principle as much as mandatory “resort fees.” Obviously, like resort fees, this won’t ever go away because people obviously pay them, and are obviously willing to pay them to spend NYE at a place like the Maldives – but I hate the principle of the thing. It’s a blatant moneygrab where you’re paying for ten times more than what you’re getting, as if these hotel chains aren’t already making enough.

  41. The hotels are absolute twats!
    How ridiculous to charge a fee for dinner, that works out as being more expensive than the hotel room itself!

    Let’s all boycott and hope that they think better of it next year!

  42. I booked a 3 night stay Non refundable rate on the Shangrila website for 12/29 to 1/1 for Shangrila Chingmai. The rate was 900 dollars for the room. Two days later I receive an email saying that there is a mandatory dinner on 31st of 300 dollars per person. If they clearly noted this on their website About this mandatory dinner or added the cost to the 12/31 so a red flag is raised, I would Not have booked. This is very deceptive for someone who has never heard of this practice. Any suggestions from the community as to how to handle?

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