One hotel loyalty program executive relayed the common refrain she got from hotels in the chain when they first began rolling out a breakfast benefit for their top tier elites — “you mean we have to feed them, too?”
And yes – they do — because breakfast is a common benefit of hotel elite programs, at least at the time tier, and it’s something that the better programs need to offer in order to remain competitive.
The most coveted hotel elite perk is upgrades, especially to suites. But perhaps the second most coveted hotel elite status perk is breakfast.
The Importance of Breakfast
I think the first hotel breakfast I really fell in love with was at the Le Meridien Chiang Rai.
Then-General Manager Anne Scott told me that the first thing she did in pre-opening, on taking the position at the hotel, was to sit down with the chef and plot out breakfast. Her guests didn’t take the time for a leisurely breakfast at home and making theirs special would make the hotel memorable.
Here’s honey from a honeycomb at their buffet:
I loved sitting out on the restaurant’s porch, drinking my coffee, while tasters not on the buffet were regularly brought around to tables. It was peaceful, although it didn’t hurt that there were about a dozen guests on property while I was there.
A hotel that really blew it at breakfast was the Ritz-Carlton Grand Cayman — their staff was turning my table while I was up at the buffet, and seating other guests as I returned.
No discussion of hotel breakfast is possible without mentioning the Andaz 5th Avenue, which offers room service breakfast to Diamonds (if they didn’t they couldn’t serve everyone, let alone New Yorkers making a destination of the restaurant — too small) and offers high quality options. And the best pancakes in the world. Lemon poppyseed.
The Park Hyatt Chennai’s room service breakfast option was impressive — awesome Indian and Western options.
While perhaps room service as a breakfast benefit is the most indulgent, I definitely prefer hotels which offer restaurant breakfast rather than club lounge breakfast — at least where the hotel’s restaurant is a destination unto itself (rather than a functional place to feed guests only). Traveling alone for work I appreciate room service, or a club lounge where I can grab and go — and work while I get ready. But a top notch restaurant breakfast is hard to beat.
Not all club lounge spreads are equal either, of course! I think my favorite club lounge overall, once you add in service and views, belongs to the Grand Hyatt Hong Kong. Sadly most club lounges remind me of the spartan offerings and overcrowding of which the Hyatt Regency Maui is just an extreme example. Dodging and weaving people all ready to feed at the trough of free food, no matter the quality.
Ranking Hotel Programs By Breakfast Benefit
Like upgrades, not every program is the same. So in this post I’ll outline the differences between the major hotel programs in the breakfast benefits they provide.
My breakfast benefit ranking of these programs:
- Hyatt Gold Passport
- Hilton HHonors
- Starwood Preferred Guest
- Marriott Rewards
- Club Carlson
- Priority Club
Most hotel programs offer club lounge access to their top tier elites, and lounges will generally provide a continental breakfast (although some will have hot options as well). At hotels where there is no lounge available, the median benefit is to provide a continental breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant.
But some programs offer breakfast below the top tier, some don’t offer it at all, and one even guarantees a full breakfast — for your friends, family, extended family, and people you’ve met on the street (well, not really, but for four people if they’re registered to the room rather than the standard two).
Here I’m interested in the published benefits of the hotel’s elite program – not what some hotels may do as exceptions that go above and beyond. Many hotels will offer full breakfast and not just continental, even though they aren’t required to do so. But you can’t expect it or count on it and certainly can’t at all hotels. That speaks well of an individual hotel property when they choose to do it — but not of the hotel elite program itself.
And I’m not focusing on limited service brands like Hampton Inn, Fairfield Inn, or Hyatt Place which may offer breakfast to all guests or none at all as a brand standard because of lack of facilities.
Hilton HHonors: the Most Generous Program for mid-Tier Elites
Hilton HHonors provides breakfast to Diamond members at Conrad, Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn and DoubleTree properties. Breakfast is continental and for up to one additional guest besides the Diamond member. At Hilton Garden Inn properties it’s in lieu of points as a check-in amenity. No breakfast is offered promised at Waldorf=Astoria hotels. And if you are with a partner and kids you’re only entitled to continental breakfast for two.
The promised breakfast benefit is exactly the same for Golds other than that Golds have to give up their check-in points at full service Hiltons if they want breakfast. When there’s no executive lounge access available to a Gold member, the hotel must provide restaurant continental breakfast. (Diamonds are guaranteed lounge access, so if there is a lounge that’s where a Diamond gets their breakfast benefit — in a weird way, those who value breakfast but not evening cocktails may value the Gold benefit more.)
While Hilton’s breakfast offering is in some ways fairly standard, what’s unique is that it’s the easiest to obtain since it’s offered at the Gold level — and Gold is earned after 20 stays or 40 nights (compare to 25 stays or 50 nights at least for others) or just simply for having the right credit card.
IHG Rewards Club: No Breakfast Benefits, But Then There Aren’t Many Other Program Benefits Either
Even new Spire Elite benefits do not include any sort of breakfast. I’ve been to Holiday Inn properties that’ll provide a single breakfast voucher for use once during a stay, but they aren’t required to do so. Many Crowne Plaza properties outside the United States have been known to upgrade Platinums to club level rooms with lounge access (and thus breakfast), but this is above and beyond the requirements as well.
Interestingly, while IHG Rewards Club is the points program for the Intercontinental chain that is part of Intercontinental Hotels Group, it is not the elite program for that chain. That’s the Ambassador program. And top tier elites — Royal Ambassadors — do wind up with some pretty nice upgrades on paid stays. However club lounge is not a formal benefit of that program (except when upgraded to a room that includes the benefit) and breakfast isn’t either.
Still, many Intercontinental hotels with lounges will upgrade Royal Ambassadors to such rooms. And many of them are further generous in allowing those with club access to take their breakfasts in the hotel restaurant. That’s especially common in Asia.
Intercontinental Kuala Lumpur club lounge breakfast
But as a formal matter, neither IHG Rewards Club nor Intercontinental Royal Ambassador offer any explicit breakfast benefit of any kind.
Starwood Preferred Guest: Platinums Have to Buy their Continental Breakfast With Points
Starwood has long offered club lounge access at Westins and Sheratons — and Le Meridien properties once they acquired that chain — to their Platinum members. But when no club lounge was available, and at their other chains, the program didn’t offer a formal breakfast benefit until a year ago.
What they rolled out though was a choice to take continental breakfast — Platinum members staying at a property without a club lounge give up their 500 point check-in amenity if they wish to avail themselves of a morning meal.
It’s certainly true that someone staying for business might want to expense breakfast, take a reimbursement from their employer and earn the points. I feel bad for their employer, but it’s the employer’s fault for hiring that person.
And it fits the Starwood narrative of wanting to offer choices to members to customize their experiences.
It also saves the program money. They don’t provide the points (a cost) and use the savings towards funding the breakfast benefit.
Some hotels of course to provide a full breakfast even though they aren’t required to. And those that don’t are encouraged to offer members the opportunity to buy up to a full breakfast, though they aren’t required to do that either.
I do like that – unlike Hilton, which excludes Waldorf=Astoria properties and unlike Marriott which excludes resorts and Courtyards – Starwood’s breakfast benefit is available on every stay.
As with all programs, so hotels go above and beyond with breakfast and that’s most common in Asia. Take for instance the St. Regis Bali. There’s a caviar service that you can order, and of course you can order it as many times as you wish.
You can have seared foie gras with your eggs.
And they offer lobster two ways:
Not to mention sashimi:
.. as well as oysters and wagyu beef tenderloin.
Marriott Rewards: Golds and Platinums Go Hungry on at Resorts and Courtyard properties
Marriott Rewards offers breakfast to both their Gold and Platinum members, but since Gold requires 50 nights to achieve it’s worth noting that’s as many room nights as Hyatt and Starwood provide top tier status at. So that providing breakfast at mid-tier isn’t nearly as generous as Hilton doing the same. The Platinum and Gold breakfast benefits are identical.
This club lounge was at the Renaissance Newark — but could have been almost any Marriott during the week
Marriott Boca Raton buffet breakfast
Marriott’s breakfast benefit does not apply at resorts. Go on vacation, where you tend to have more time to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, and you’re expected to pay for it.
Lounge Access/Free Breakfast
Free daily continental breakfast, light snacks and beverages for members and one guest in the Executive Lounge at JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance® and Marriott Hotels® (resorts excluded).
In the U.S. and Canada, select hotels will provide 750 or 1,000 points in lieu of breakfast in the event the lounge is closed.
At JW Marriott®, Autograph Collection®, Renaissance Hotels® and Marriott Hotels® (Resorts, Courtyard Hotels, EDITION® Hotels and AC Hotels are excluded).
Hyatt Gold Passport: Full Restaurant Breakfast for Up to Four People, and Sometimes Bonus Points for Your Trouble, Too
Hyatt Gold Passport offers their Diamond members club lounge access for breakfast. If there’s no club lounge breakfast available they provide full — not continental restaurant breakfast for up to 4 registered guests in the room. (If there is a club lounge that happens to be closed they also compensate with 2500 bonus points as well.)
The keys here are full breakfast not continental, for up to four people and not just two (although all names but be registered to the room, and some hotels do charge extra for additional guests on a reservation).
The Park Hyatt Vendome is Paris allows you to take the full buffet in the restaurant — 50 euros per person — or a similar value credit from room service.
Hyatt Olive 8 in Seattle provides restaurant breakfast
Andaz 5th Avenue does a nice restaurant breakfast but you can also take a room service credit instead
Full breakfast is even defined,
daily complimentary full breakfast inclusive of one entrée (or standard breakfast buffet), juice and coffee (tax, gratuity and service charges included) for each registered guest in the room, maximum four (4) people.
There is, however, one full service hotel that gets an exception and is allowed to offer only continental breakfast.
For stays at Hyatt Regency Bethesda, daily continental breakfast (tax and gratuity included) will be provided to the member and each guest registered in the room, maximum four (4) people.
Some of my favorite breakfasts have come through room service, which isn’t something the program offers but rather is a hotel going above and beyond.
Club Carlson: Showers You With Points, But Reluctant to Buy Most Members Breakfast in the Morning
Club Carlson offers free in-restaurant continental breakfast at the 75 night/30 stay Concierge status level — that’s the most nights required to be guaranteed breakfast with any hotel chain I’m aware of.
Bottom-line: Hilton has the easiest breakfast benefit to obtain, since they offer it at the Gold level and they give that away to credit card holders. While Hyatt has the most generous breakfast benefit — the only one offering a full (not just continental) restaurant breakfast, and for up to four people not just two. If you get to Hyatt Diamond you’ll eat well, but if you can’t you can probably scrounge Hilton Gold so at least you can eat something.
How has breakfast been for you? Have you had hotels that really go above and beyond the stated benefit? Is breakfast important in your hotel loyalty program decision?