How Much Is A $100 Food/Beverage Hotel Credit Worth?

Admittedly these problems are as first world as they get, but you know how in this hobby there are so many decisions where you’re sorta “screwed if you do and screwed if you don’t?”

How do you really maximize the value of a first class award ticket?

Take redeeming miles for an international first class award ticket, for example. That’s a phenomenal use of miles, so say you’re flying from New York to London.

On one hand the greatest benefit of traveling in first class is that you get a flat bed and proper bedding (hopefully), so you can travel in comfort and arrive well rested. At the same time, is the best use of miles really for a flight you won’t even remember?

Most would probably want to enjoy the food, drinks, and service, and if you do that you’ll likely arrive tired, hungover, and stuffed. I’ve been there many times over. I know I’ve gotten off international first class flights where I feel like I would’ve been better off just flying coach and not eating seven courses while consuming several bottles of champagne.

What’s hotel “credit” really worth?

In a way I have a similar struggle with hotels. As most of you probably know, I’m in the process of moving into hotels full time in a bit over a week. One of the things I’ve been paying a lot of attention to are programs like Virtuoso, American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts, and Starwood Luxury Privileges.

Many properties that belong to these programs offer a $100 food & beverage credit in addition to complimentary breakfast with every stay, no matter how short it is. So over the weekend I stayed at the Fairmont Vancouver Waterfront, which I booked through American Express Fine Hotels & Resorts.

I got a phenomenal rate of $185 for my one night stay:

Fairmont-Waterfront-Vancouver-FHR-1

This included the following benefits:

  • Noon check-in upon arrival, when available
  • Room upgrade upon arrival, when available*
  • Daily breakfast for two people
  • 4pm late checkout
  • US$100 food and beverage credit to be used during your stay

Fairmont-Waterfront-Vancouver-FHR-2

I only arrived at the hotel at 3AM so couldn’t eat anything the day I arrived, and the following morning had breakfast in the restaurant, which was included.

Fairmont-Waterfront-Vancouver-40
Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver ARC Restaurant

Fairmont-Waterfront-Vancouver-51
Fairmont Waterfront Vancouver ARC Restaurant breakfast

By the time I was done with breakfast it was 10AM, and I had to check out at 3PM to catch my flight back home.

And I was legitimately frustrated for the rest of the day trying to figure out how to spend $100. After all, if I didn’t spend the credit I’d basically be “throwing money out of the window,” as my mother has always said.

At around 2PM I decided to head down to the restaurant for lunch. I wasn’t really hungry, but knew I wouldn’t have the chance to have a meal again that day, so figured I’d eat something.

There was a crab roll that looked good, so I ordered that. But then I thought to myself “hmmm, how am I going to spend the rest of the credit?” Should I order an appetizer? Two appetizers? Dessert? Two desserts? An appetizer and dessert? Two appetizers and two desserts? Alcohol?!?! Grrr!!

Fairmont-Waterfront-Vancouver-53

It’s easy to lose sight of what constitutes value!

So as much as I like maximizing value, at times it’s easy to lose sight of what constitutes “value,” I think. If I had left the restaurant having consumed an appetizer, main, and dessert, and stumbled out of there drunk, I wouldn’t have gotten any more “value” out of my stay. At the same time, at the end of the day I got ~$20 out of my $100 food & beverage credit.

When I did the mental accounting on my rate I figured I was paying $185 and was getting a $20 breakfast and $100 food & beverage credit, so using that logic the stay was really only “costing” me $65. Of course that’s not accurate because “value” should be calculated based on what you’d otherwise be willing to pay for something.

Balancing that with trying to stay healthy while living in hotels…

Really for me this kind of poses an interesting long term question. I’ll be living in hotels full time, so on one hand there is a lot of value to me in having a food & beverage credit included. At the same time, my biggest challenge in moving into hotels full time is trying to stay healthy. Hotel living isn’t healthy, between the lack of “fresh,” easily accessible food (okay, in fairness the fridge in my apartment is empty anyway, so that’s not a big loss), and the number of ridiculously delicious breakfast buffets I have easy access to.

Most people staying in hotels are on vacation, and as I’ve heard a million times before “you’re on vacation, splurge!”

A real life example — book the rate with food & beverage credit or not?

The W Seattle belongs to the Luxury Privileges program. The Luxury Privileges rate is equal to the flexible rate. So for a random date, here are the rates for this hotel:

W-Seattle-Rates

As you can see, I could book a AAA rate for $209 including tax, or the Luxury Privileges rate (equal to the flexible rate) for $232. Is it worth paying $23 for a $100 food & beverage credit here? And the math gets more fuzzy if you want to book the stay for multiple days, since for a two day stay you’d be paying a $46 premium for the flexible rate.

Anyway, would be curious to hear how you guys approach this, and what you really value a hotel food & beverage credit at?

Comments

  1. you should the credit based on the likelihood that you will use it. obviously, checking into a hotel at 3am is not only a waste of a food credit but a waste of the 185 bucks you paid for the hotel. you would have been better off basing your hotel on the cheapest option available. you’re still one of my go-to bloggers, but it really makes me wonder if you would throw money out the window if you didn’t have a blog to support (or vice versa).

  2. I had this same “problem” last summer at the Ritz in South Beach, which I had booked with my Ritz credit card. That card comes with $100 daily credits when staying 2 nights or more, but it also comes with 3 annual club upgrades. I stayed 3 nights and ate all of my meals in the club because it was the quickest way to eat on a business trip. The final night I was frustrated that I had no way of burning through the $300 credit. So I ate in the restaurant (alone), ordered the most expensive items on the menu and a bottle of wine. At the end of the meal I was stuffed and the next day hungover.

  3. In general, I’ve found that “hotel credit” is worth about 3 times less than the stated value to me in city hotels and basically 100% of the stated value at resort hotels.

    At city hotels it’s a combination of outside food being generally better and cheaper, plus being a pain in the butt to come back to the hotel for lunch/dinner if we’re already out and about.

    At resort hotels, I always spend $100+ on F&B, so it’s a much better benefit.

  4. Not only that, but in some (many/all?) cities you can eat much cheaper outside the hotel than you can inside.

    I met up with some more well off friends at their hotel for dinner while traveling through BKK. We were at the Millenium Hilton, and they were at the Mandarin Oriental across the river. We shared a bottle of wine, and while discussing dinner options, I observed that “BKK has wonderful street food for dirt cheap prices. I have a hard time paying $10 for something I can get for $1 on the street.” They agreed, and off we went.

    Point being, is the $100 credit at the Mandarin Oriental “worth” $100 in cold hard cash?

  5. Oh, club lounges provide a similar issue. When I evaluate the costs and benefits of the lounge, I start thinking about free breakfast, free booze, and free canapes/dinner.

    And then I find myself constantly eating in the hotel to “get my money’s worth.” Since I only travel for pleasure, part of the point is to get *out* of the hotel and see what the local food scene is like.

    So now I gots myself a conundrum.

  6. Look at it as a bonus but not figure it into the costs of the room. A lot of business travelers are on expense accounts which do not deal with this effectively. I assume these credits can me used for room service in addition to at location dining ? A lot of hotels are offering better choices for food so you are not restricted to “heavy” unhealthy meals. When I travel I plan a lot of activities ahead of time and can be actually live healthy. I am not against stopping at a store and buying fresh good for the hotel fridge if I have one.

  7. I always follow your logic. A $185 rate goes down to 65 in light of a $20 breakfast (which is cheap for a hotel) and a $100 food credit. I always have hotel breakfast and then do local places for lunch and dinner. One hotel dinner isn’t a problem as my stays are usually long so I have many days to try local restaurants, which in my case would at cost least 1/2 the time as much as the hotel’s restaurant. Living in hotels full time and using this benefit can really cut your bills down. You just have to decide how often you want to check out and in since it’s just once per non consecutive stay.

  8. I generally prefer to Hotwire or Priceline Express a hotel deal. You get a highly rated hotel in the area you want without having to worry about any brand loyalty. Hotel rewards programs are based on spend anyway. Over the years, I’ve traveled in style and saved thousands of dollars. I end up eating at better restaurants anyway.

  9. Can you purchase items at the hotel gift shop/snack area with the credit? If so could purchase over priced wine and give them as gifts.

  10. @ JBG — It was a food & beverage credit as opposed to just plain hotel credit, so I could have used it to purchase wine. Ultimately was just traveling with a carry-on so didn’t want to check it, but that’s a great idea for the future.

  11. @ JOhn — Well in this case I had all morning and most of the afternoon, so wanted to stay in the city vs. at the airport. And in this case all Starwood and Hyatt options were priced within ~$10 of the Fairmont. So at the end of the day I think it was still a good option, and I don’t think I would have done anything differently.

  12. “Trying to stay Healthy while Living in hotels”….I will be very curious to see a review of a Westin property and how their “healthy options” fit into that goal…..$100 credit/club access perk is probably the most valuable whenstaying in a large expensive city……..no so much elsewhere…….

  13. My last 4 night stay at a total rewards property in new jersey had 4 coupons for $165 f&b credit each plus access to 4 diamond lounges serving things like pizza, carved to order roast turkey, shrimp pasta etc from noon – 10pm plus two free buffet coupons. The room was free and I had $860 in free play. I couldn’t possibly eat even half the value of the coupons even when ordering an extra entree to take back to the room.

    on the way out I had another coupon for a total rewards property in PHL for $65 lunch which I used for 2 entrees and an appetizer. Ate about a 3rd of that and still didn’t use the full value of the coupon, plus I stopped in the lounge for new York strip steak and shrimp cocktail as well!

    I still consider the f&b credit worth at least how much of the food it buys I can actually consume

  14. In terms of health, I’ve always found the better hotels to provide a good and constant selection of fresh fruit. For me it has always been just a matter of discipline, in choosing to eat that as opposed to something else. And there’s often a nice (and expensive) salad or vegetable dish around.

    Combined with taking a tablet down to the hotel’s gym for a daily run, and I think it’s possible to stay healthy.

  15. You can always burn it by buying a round of drinks for folks at the bar. You also can take that bottle of wine to your “room”.

    I’ve found F&B credits pretty worthless unless I know I’m going to hit up the hotel bar for drinks. The only time I do dinner at the hotel is if I’m traveling for business, then I don’t generally get credits.

  16. I recently stayed at hotel that I didn’t know was part of FHR. Initially I was upset that I missed out on $100 but when I looked at the hotel restaurant menu there was only $15 worth of healthy food that I would actually eat. The rate I paid was more than $15 less than the FHR rate so I’m glad I didn’t book through FHR.

  17. With some exceptions, hotels are not the best place to eat. Exceptions are places like China where the best restaurants were often in hotels (JW Marriott in Chongching).

    I value it at the cost of a modest breakfast, since that’s what I”d normally eat and it the one meal I’d prefer at the hotel.

    If it’s at a resort that I intend to stay on premises for, then I would either value it at full breakfast or modest breakfast plus lunch by the pool/beach.

    And that is never $100.

  18. You’re young. As a blogger entering a new adventure exploring the world and luxury, I’d say add additional layers of fun: sort of a “supersize me first class” adventure. You should eat every bit of your hotel credits, a hearty airport lounge feast, and every course on flights. You will become morbidly obese; but no problem – first class seats are amply wide. It will be hilarious to see how they deal with a 400+ lb American around the world constantly asking for more food and wine! Live like a king! I guarantee you will get way more media coverage and followers (chicks dig sumo wrestlers in Japan) and probably get a TV program.

    Or you could give away booze. I order to go and given it to homeless.

  19. When I look at the rates I see the Luxury Privileges rates coming in $20-30 less per night than the Flexible rate at the W Seattle.

    In addition to the F&B credit you should also receive a welcome amenity with Luxury Privileges – another added value.

    I almost always spend something on food and beverage at a hotel, even if it is just a bottle of water or a nightcap. Since I am a vegetarian, I rarely order off of the menu. Therefore, the healthy piece is fairly easy.

    You can’t lost the $100 because it doesn’t actually exist. The only money that can be lost is the $23 rate difference.

    If the rate difference is $23 and you are getting $20 worth of breakfast and $20 worth of other F&B, I am not seeing that you are losing anything. At most, without the breakfast you would be out $3 (only eating $20 of the $100 in your example). Is $3 a reasonable amount to risk for a one night stay?

    For a multi night stay, you are still getting $20 per day for the breakfast, and can divide the $100 over the course of your stay.

    Plus, you get to support a small business when you book via a travel advisor 🙂

  20. I think Justin has the right idea — if you are staying in an area with other food options, $100 F&B credit is probably worth 2-3 times less due to hotel markups. But if you are at a resort where access to outside restaurants is inconvenient, it’s probably worth full $100.

    Anyhow, can we all agree that $100 F&B credit is usually a lot better than $100 spa credit that a lot of FHR hotels offer?

  21. @ Ivan Y — Meh, sometimes I prefer spa credits, really depends on the hotel. Spa treatments don’t have any calories. 😀

  22. I had a work trip once which had food allowance of $80 per day and it’s definitely quite some money to spend on food. Due to the fact that it’s an expense claim type, you can really indulge with eating and putting on that extra weight from work trips.

  23. Lucky, don’t conflate “cost” with “value.” Everything has an absolute cost, regardless of the value that you got out of it. With or without that $100 credit, that hotel stay cost you $185. Now, you can argue that that $100 credit saved you money that you otherwise would’ve spent on lunch, for example – but it didn’t make the cost of your hotel stay any less.

  24. The actual cost of a $100 f&b credit to the hotel might be at most $20 – $25, tops. The hotel revenue guys already calculated that into this “benefit” so in essence, the benefit is about $20 especially when breakfast is already built into the rate. One way to help make this benefit also disappear is for people to post “just buy a round for the bar” or “take a couple of bottles home as gifts”, et cetera. That’ll happen quicker than one can say “no more LH premium seats”. Come on guys, is the ability to squeeze every last solitary cent out of every single benefit on the face of the earth really that necessary? By not squeezing every last drop out of a benefit isn’t “throwing money out the window” – it’s more a sign of class.

  25. The same thing happened to me at a recent stay through FHR. We had a round of drinks the night before to use some of it up, but after a really heavy breakfast, we were still pretty full at 3pm when we were checking out. We ended up getting a sandwich and salad to-go and leaving a really hefty tip.

  26. Im fairly certain you meant a hefty tip was left in cash or on a card, and Hope the person receiving that wasnt “paid” with the balance remaining on the credit…since it can’t be used for or toward a tip. Like I said, immsure that wasn’t done but your post wasn’t crystal clear.

  27. I really like that when I stayed at the Hyatt Regency Lake Tahoe on an FHR rate you were able to use the F&B credit in their on-site store. They even encouraged me at checkout, saying I had $10 left, did I want to go back to spend it! Gave me plenty of provisions for my subsequent car journey 🙂 Certainly vastly more useful than spa credit!

  28. Find someone interesting (and/or attractive?) and treat them to lunch! There are always people traveling solo at hotels, and it would make for a better trip report!

  29. If you cant use the full credit, why not leave the remainder as a tip? At least someone gets it than.

  30. Doesn’t work that way, no matter which hotel offers that perk. It’s the same for all: “gratuity is excluded”.

  31. @CT,

    I looked back at my bill from the visit as well as my credit card, and I wasn’t charged for any of the tip I left. The whole amount (tip included) was charged to my room and the whole amount was credited off. Whether or not the waitstaff received the tip is a good question and, if not, I would feel pretty bad…

  32. After I replied to your post, I double checked with one of my cousin’s – who’s a revenue mgmt director at a Starwood property – and he said if that happened, the servers do not receive it. I posed this question to him again, after reading your entry today and his original answer stands. So if that’s the case and guests want to make sure ther server actually gets the tip, lead it n cash. Otherwise, they’re S.O.L. 🙁
    ps: and those people work add enough without having to get stiffed. Inadvertently or not.

  33. Are most F&B credit a one time credit to be spread over your stay? Or are they a daily/nightly credit?

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