What Is Hotel Breakfast Really Worth?

Reader Pete asked the following in the “Ask Lucky” forum:

As a non-freq, I am often confused by the breakfast rate. It seems like I can’t purchase the breakfast buffet at the hotel, only when I book. The breakfast rates are higher and in most cases around 10-20$ per person or more.

How would you go about this? When traveling, I think there is a huge value in having a convinent, safe place to eat my breakfast and get ready for the day rather than figuring out where to eat first thing in the morning in a new country. But, are the rates justifiable in your opinion?

The timing of the question is funny, since earlier in the week I wrote about how I’m sort of over hotel breakfast. While a restaurant breakfast every morning sounds great in theory, the reality is that over time the excitement of it wears off. Nowadays I’ll often grab an iced coffee and spinach feta wrap from Starbucks, even when I have breakfast included in my rate.

So admittedly I’m coming at this from a slightly different perspective than Pete, given that I almost always have breakfast included on a rate due to my hotel elite status, and on top of that have sort of grown sick of most hotel breakfast.

With that in mind, when does it make sense to pay extra for hotel breakfast, and at what price point?

Some hotel breakfasts buffets are spectacular

Assuming travel is something special as opposed to your everyday life, there are some really spectacular breakfasts that even I get excited about. I’d say in general they’re most common in Asia and the Middle East, where you have some truly over-the-top presentations.

While I certainly have a tendency to graze at them, in most cases they’re worth the extra couple of hours on the treadmill. Those are in many cases buffets where non-hotel guests dine as well, which is usually a good sign that it’s worth visiting.

That’s especially true in the Middle East, where many of the best restaurants are in hotels (in the UAE you’ll typically only find alcohol at hotels, which is why so many good restaurants are inside them).

St-Regis-Breakfast-2

St-Regis-Breakfast-1

Breakfasts which aren’t really worthwhile

Other than the above types of buffets, I tend to think it’s generally not worth paying extra for a hotel breakfast. If you’re just staying at an “average” chain hotel outside of Asia/the Middle East, you can generally expect breakfast won’t be that spectacular.

Radisson-Blu-Royal-Copenhagen-27

Personally in Europe I view having breakfast included with the rate as almost a disadvantage. You can’t beat the “coffee culture” in many European cities, whereby you can go to a local cafe and get some great coffee and local specialties, whatever they may be.

Cappuccino

So in Europe I’ll generally only bother with hotel breakfast if it’s a great hotel with a nice restaurant, and if it’s included.

In general US breakfasts aren’t that great, and I tend to think you won’t do much better than a trip to Starbucks.

So what’s a reasonable cost to pay for hotel breakfast?

In almost all cases you can pay for breakfast when you get to the hotel, though it’ll almost always be much more expensive than “local” prices, and also more expensive than the “package” rate. So what’s a reasonable price to pay as part of your room package to get breakfast included? Admittedly this is highly subjective, and you have to factor in:

  • How much you plan on eating (are you going to sightsee all day and want to eat your body weight in breakfast)
  • How expensive of a city you’re in (obviously breakfast in London is worth more than breakfast in Warsaw)
  • How good the breakfast is (this should be easy enough to figure out using TripAdvisor and some Google searches)
  • Other random factors (for example, I value hotel breakfast a lot more in cold climates than warm climates, since I’m less inclined to go outside early in the morning if it’s freezing outside)

As a general rule of thumb, I wouldn’t pay more than an extra $20 (or so) per person for a rate inclusive of breakfast. And I’d probably only be willing to pay substantially less than that if it’s not an expensive city, if it’s in Europe (where I enjoy going to cafes), or if the hotel isn’t that great.

Bottom line

There’s no right or wrong answer, though the whole hotel breakfast discussion seems to elicit some pretty passionate responses.

Some people are almost morally opposed to hotel breakfast because they’d rather eat outside the hotel, while others refuse to stay at a hotel which doesn’t offer a breakfast inclusive rate.

Where do you stand — how much of a premium are you willing to pay for a hotel which includes breakfast, and what factors into that decision?

Comments

  1. I have just come off 6 weeks of ‘breakfast included’ at a hotel in England. I would not encourage it. I only ate the breakfast twice there. I can’t stand English breakfast and over there you can’t avoid them. Their pastries were not up to scratch. And I didn’t want to have brek cereals.

    I was outside London. But I have found that even in the better London airport hotels, the breakfasts were not worth it.

    I have spent a lot of time recently in Eastern Europe. The breakfasts at 4+ star restaurants there were excellent. Pine nuts, dried fruits, decent cheese platter, sweet dumplings etc.

  2. The hotel breakfast has become an important element of our weekend trips. It is a time for planning activities and coming to a consensus with my traveling companion as to what is important for each of us to see during our short time at a destination. We review city maps, transportation options, and sights we want to visit. The content of the breakfast is secondary to the ritual but we are always excited when the setting is elaborate and the variety of local food unique. While the planning could also be accomplished at a coffee shop/restaurant outside the hotel, the convenience of not setting out into the city quite yet and having the meal included are compelling reasons for just using this time to gear up for the day. Would we pay extra for this? Probably not, we would catch something light outside the hotel and seek out a fun place for a late lunch.

  3. I find that hotel breakfasts are often priced at a “I’m going to brunch with friends on a Sunday morning” price rather than a “I’m gonna grab something before going to work” price. 20 $ for a brunch with friends is reasonable. But 20 $ everyday for a few weeks, it gets expensive really quickly.

    Even when I’m not travelling for work, I don’t always want a big breakfast and sometimes just want a croissant and coffee.

    That said, I tend to prefer rates where breakfast is included when my hotel is in a more secluded place where I know I will have trouble finding something to eat quickly near the hotel. But when I’m in a big city, I don’t mind a rate without breakfast since there’s always a coffee shop nearby.

    So I guess I would say that I value hotel breakfasts more when in a secluded place than in a big city.

  4. On multi night stays, I make it a point to stay at hotels that offer, at least, a mini-fridge in the room (microwave is a big plus). I go to the grocery store, buy some milk, yoghurt and fruit and do my own breakfast (I go down to get knives, spoons and disposable bowls on day 1 when they include breakfast, or buy some in the grocery store if they don’t). I do hot water in the coffee machine and use Sbux VIA.

    Much healthier and tastier than powdered eggs, dried out sausage, greasy bacon, tasteless muffins and sugary cereals.

  5. Another factor that sometimes turns me away from hotel breakfasts is the chance to taste the local food there. I’ve had many, many, many great experiences eating at random shops along random roads. Though it’s always nice to have a full stomach that lasts until dinner when you’re roaming about and travelling. 😛

  6. I tend to be more interested in properties that have some sort of executive lounge. I rarely want more than a decent continental breakfast (NOT the Key and Peele variety!) and having a place to relax, get water, have a drink, etc. is more valuable to me than just breakfast. Consequently, I’ll pay a premium for lounge access (if I don’t get it based on status), but I’ll rarely go for the “Breakfast included” rates. I’ve generally been quite satisfied with non-US lounge breakfasts.

  7. Thanks for the answer Lucky! Was really excited to see this blog this morning.

    I am planning on taking my parents on a surprise trip to Bangkok this Christmas, kinda like what you did with your parents but on a much smaller scale. I am considering either the Intercontinental (cheap government rates) or the Conrad, both of which seem to have a solid breakfast option.

    @AndyAndy: I do get lounge option included with my special rate at Conrad Bangkok, as well as plan on booking on Club level for Intercontinental, so maybe I’ll forego the breakfast option at eat at the lounge.

  8. @Lucky sez: “While a restaurant breakfast every morning sounds great in theory, the reality is that over time the excitement of it wears off. Nowadays I’ll often grab an iced coffee and spinach feta wrap from Starbucks, even when I have breakfast included in my rate.”

    LOL. It seems that you have come around to my way of thinking! You used to claim — may still do — that there is no “material difference” between HHonors Gold and Diamond elite levels, and your main rationale for making this demonstrably bogus claim was that both get free breakfast. My view was and still is that you were setting the equivalence bar between the two HHonors elite levels too low by basing it on the fact that both get free breakfast. I travel mostly in Asia, where free FULL breakfast, which almost every hotel of any major chain offers, is nothing short of a royal feast. However, even then I’ve never really cared much for this perk. I often simply sleep right through it, unless I have a reason for getting up early enough to catch it. Give me a cup of a good strong French roast in the morning and I am good to go!

  9. On this topic, when breakfast is “included”, when do we know if it is included as an “in-room” breakfast?

    Is there any region who typically allows for “in-room” breakfast?

  10. @flyingfish — In-room breakfast is generally considered “room service” and would usually cost more. It is generally not a good idea, although being a late night person, I have found myself ordering “in-room” breakfast at odd hours because I was hungry and it was the only thing available; it is usually on the expensive side, relatively speaking…

  11. In Oslo, the hotel breakfast in the budget hotel my grad school class stayed in was nice – we were on our feet all day, and we could be flexible with where we had lunch. The buffet was more extensive than any other US hotel buffet I had seen.

  12. How much do I value breakfast in exec lounges as a HH Diamond? I have stayed at Conrad BKK twice, each a 3-night award stay during which I was upgraded to a suite, and not once did I bother waking to have breakfast in the exec lounge, whose interior I just now saw for the first time by following the link that @AndyAndy posted above! 😉

    I will be at Conrad BKK again this coming January. I will try to know the place a bit more, including checking out the exec lounge…

  13. 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.

  14. Well, in my opinion, depending on your setting, I would always like to experience free breakfast.
    When I do business travel in Europe (FRA, HAM, MUC) I have been seeing rates of up to EUR 36 – USD 40.
    And even not settling the bill privately, I find it great value to enjoy this “Mezze” for free.
    Frankly, I only enjoy a coffee and a croissant

  15. However, the best breakfast list is this;

    1) HKG-Shangri-La Kowloon
    2) DXB-The Atlantis – Club lounge
    3) FRA -Sheraton Frankfurt airport

  16. Some companies require very detailed expense reports. I worked for a company that limited breakfast to $5. But if I could get a room and breakfast rate, most of the time, they would not catch that on the receipt for the hotel, so I could get a nice breakfast at the hotel instead of zipping through fast food drive-through’s on the way to meetings. So, I always looked at the room and breakfast packages as a convenient way to slip one through the expense report audit. It usually didn’t show up as a separate line item on the hotel receipt.

  17. Something some people (ex: diabetics) have to consider is medical needs. I have a med that needs to be taken one hour before meals or two hours after. When there is a breakfast I put some clothes on and go down. If with others and they are also eating I will stay and eat with them, otherwise will grab some food and take back to my room (if breakfast is free most places allow this). I eat and then proceed to get ready for the day. Sure bets having to get dressed to go out, eat and then trying to remember to take med two hours later when you are in a meeting or whatever.

  18. I’ve stayed at the Conrad Bangkok and it’s great. With lounge access you do get the free breakfast, but you don’t have to take it in the lounge, you can still go for the wider selection in the main breakfast restaurant. Go for it.

  19. The answer to the question, like most other questions is, it depends. It depends on the subjective evaluation of each individual as you point out. The old saying is that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. I value a hearty and nutritious breakfast because it gives me the fuel to play or work until evening with no lunch or a very light one.

    The best free breakfast benefit I have experienced was at the Sherton Pretoria, SA hotel. Not that the restaurant spread was as fantastic as at some top end Asian hotels, but room service is part of the benefit for Platinums. Are there other hotels that include free room service in the breakfast benefit?

  20. @DCS – Nope, I have been through Hotels that state that “breakfast included packages” means “in-room” possibility, and yet also “breakfast included packages” that excludes “in-room” option.

    In the US, the luxury hotels I have stayed in, allowed “breakfast inclusions” for “in-room” (Fairmont, St Regis, etc), but yet some luxury in Asia have a different interpretation (a negative side surprise).

    I have never considered this option that much in the past, though going forward, I would like to do so, hence my question. Perhaps Lucky could help since he is still staying at hotels full time, and his breakfast is always included.

  21. I stayed at Le Meridien Barcelona a few days ago.

    The hotel is plainly: terrible.

    But the breakfast? WOW, what an amazing value at 20€/person I never had such an amazing breakfast before..

  22. i always get something out of the breakfast whether fruit or a nice croissant. Of course, I look to see what might be the optimum choice at that particular breakfast. For instance at the Morrison Doubletree dublin, they made whatever you wanted which was outstanding. Nevertheless, if we are leaving too early, or not using it for some reason i have always given my coupons/vouchers away to another tourist & they seem appreciative. We have actually stayed a few nites for which they give you 2 tickets for each morning. I gave them away when we did go to eat. They folks used them right then & there & felt like they hit the jackpot! The charges if i actually paid range from $12.50 to $60. Even if i get a cheese snack, kiwi, or anything, that’s still some savings while you are on the road

  23. On holidays I see breakfast (and especially hotel breakfasts) as a waste of a meal. Vary rarely is there anything you couldnt have had in your home town, or even have made yourself.

  24. This is the ultimate subjective “chain hotel” question.

    Personally I don’t really understand the obsession with hotel breakfasts and particularly their inclusion free or lack thereof in elite programmes. I don’t usually eat it though – so subjectively I don’t really care.

    It can be a really nice bonus when travelling for fun especially with others to sit and take time over breakfast; when your mind is on work and time is short then it’s a different story.

    Doesn’t it also depend on the individual hotel? I adore English breakfasts unlike the first poster – but yes you wouldn’t want one every day for 6 weeks, and of course you can just have toast or cereal or a coffee or grab a coffee even in England. Ben has probably achieved breakfast “burn out”.

  25. I’m not a big breakfast fan. A normal breakfast for me is fruit, cheese and veggies if available. So paying anything for breakfast in a restaurant is a waste of money. I’d find a grocery store to buy my staples if I have a room with a fridge.

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