Ranking Hotel Elite Program Breakfast Benefits

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:

  1. Hyatt Gold Passport
  2. Hilton HHonors
  3. Starwood Preferred Guest
  4. Marriott Rewards
  5. Club Carlson
  6. 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?

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. […] Why does this category matter? As the adage goes, “breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” Not surpisingly, that holds true when people are travelling as well. Numerous polls have been conducted over the years and time and time again, hotel guests rank free breakfast offers as their most valued. But providing a complimentary breakfast alone isn’t going to cut it. Ultimately, it’s a quality breakfast that gets noticed. […]

Comments

  1. Hi Gary,

    You always seem to mention Resorts and Courtyards but leave out Ritz Carltons, BVLGARIs, AC Hotels and Editions in the Marriott chain as also not providing any breakfast. As a Ritz Plat that largely stays in Ritz/Edition properties, I sorely feel the lack of upgrade/breakfast/late check-out love.

    It is easier almost to consider the brands within Marriott that provide breakfast than the ones that don’t. Brand wise, more don’t than do.

    I don’t actually understand the business model, most corporate guests have it negotiated in the contract anyway, as do most package tourists visiting resorts.

  2. Echoing the previous commenter. The AC brand is a bit weird to me, but they are everywhere now. They signed up a ton of hotels in California. I realize these are new properties but it’s almost a devaluation of my Marriott Gold status.

  3. I assume you were only reviewing the larger programs, but I think ShangriLa has one of the best breakfast benefits. For Jade (mid) and Diamond (top) members breakfast is included for the member and accompanying guest in the room. This breakfast is all-in – ie the full Buffet, which often includes, Asian breakfasts, sushi, curries, and just about anything else. One of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had at any hotel.

  4. I find the breakfast experience the most frustrating and annoying part of staying at luxury hotels. Some how an $80/night motel can manage to get me a bagel and some scrambled eggs without having to pay $40 or even $50 for a buffet I mostly want no part of. Even when it’s on my employer’s dime, I feel like I’m being mugged.

    At least it’s not a problem at Hiltons, where Gold status/free breakfast is trivial to get. But having to strive for top tier status elsewhere is ludicrous.

  5. I’ve never been denied breakfast at hotel restaurant as Gold in Hilton and Marriott in Asia. But it happened at multiple Hyatts and the lounge food was vastly inferior to the restaurant. Therefore I consider Hyatt breakfast benefit in Asia to be one notch below the aforementioned competitors, as a matter of practicality. It’s possible this isnt the norm and I was unlucky.

  6. Breakfast as a benefit for elite membership has never been a big draw for me. A few reasons why:

    1) Many times I want to grab breakfast on-the-go and just have something light (a muffin, for example).

    2) In my past job, there were often days when I needed to be on-site at a customer before 7 AM, sometimes even at 6 AM, and often places didn’t have breakfast even available that early, so even if I had the benefit it wouldn’t have been useful.

    3) When traveling for business, I can expense meals, so getting it “free” as an Elite member doesn’t really matter.

    Also, there are the hotels like Marriott where the Gold/Platinum members get breakfast in the Executive Lounge, but it’s usually a pretty basic (and not that good a quality) selection… the type of breakfast that will fix your hunger in the morning, but isn’t memorable and you could get better for $8 at Denny’s or IHOP.

    If I have the time to eat a full breakfast, the benefit is nice to have, but having been Marriott Gold/Platinum for the last 5 years it never really influenced me to stay there vs. someplace else.

  7. “(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.)”

    As a Diamond at both Conrad Tokyo and Hilton Tokyo Odaiba, I had the option of eating breakfast BOTH in the lounge and in the restaurant.

  8. Nice post. Doesn’t address lack of benefits on award nights which can be different.
    I could never figure out why Marriott is so stingy with breakfast at Courtyards? It’s not like they are high level hotels.
    I’m Diamond at Hilton, Gold with Club Carlson, Platinum and nearly Spire with IHG and minor status at a few others. I find the best breakfast value at the lower end hotels like HIX, Fairfield, Drury, etc. not fancy but does the trick.
    I also can’t figure out why hotels are moving breakfast open hours later and later. Many don’t start until 6:30 or 7:00 but many road warriors need to be out the door by 7:00.

  9. Gary,

    How do hyatts and Starwood treat children (under what age) staying in their parents room for top tier elites?

    For Hyatt the four free breakfasts have to be for REGISTERED guests? Not all that useful if hotels restrict registration (even with a surcharge ) to two or three guests?

  10. Overall not a bad run-down, with a caveat: it is strictly valid only in the US of A, meaning that it is a pretty good run-down but highly limited to destinations with the US or North America.

    For instance, as @Tokyo Hyatt Fan already pointed out, every Hilton in Asia offers their elites the option to either have the limited breakfast in the executive (club) lounge or to have it in a property’s restaurant, if there is one. In fact, even in Europe, it remains true that HH Diamonds have the option to have their breakfast either in the executive lounge, which is usually limited, or in the property’s restaurant, where breakfat can be YUGE and FREE, depending on what the property offers for a purchase. Hilton Berlin, Hilton Budapest “Danube” or “Castle”, and Hilton Frankfurt are European Hilton properties where I stayed in recent years and got the option to have full hot breakfast in the restaurant or continental breakfast in the club lounge. I will be staying at Hilton Old Town Prague in early April and we’ll see whether this holds true.

    As for the weird T&C rule that top HHonors elites do not get free breakfast at Waldorf Astorias, I suspect that it inserted to please stingy properties in the US, where most WAs are located (12 of 22?). However, WAs in other locations (e.g., Asia) ignore that rule because it would make them less competitive when every other hotel — large, small or obscure — offers free breakfast. Therefore, it would be more accurate to state that whether or not a program offers free breakfast varies by location, with the US being the pits.

    To lock oneself into interpreting the T&C “by the book” makes no sense for a program like HHonors, which, unlike Hyatt who owns the majority of their hotels, is highly franchised and gives individual properties a great deal of latitude in interpreting the HHonors T&C. That could be good or bad, but I’ve seen only the positive side of that flexibility. I stayed at Waldorf Astoria Beijing, Dec 21-24, 2015, ON POINTS and at check-in, I got a welcome packet that listed my benefits and one of these was free (full) breakfast for two.Also, I have stayed twice at Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund, where I also got free (full) breakfast. At both WAs (the only two in Asia), and as is common in Asia, every (full) breakfast is nothing short of a royal feast.

    In short, if your main destinations are in the US, @Gary’s run-down of the breakfast perk by loyalty program is pretty accurate. Otherwise be prepared to be pleasantly surprised if traveling outside of the US. One last point is that while it is true that there is little difference between Marriott Golds and Plats, only someone who is clueless would make the statement that “the most coveted hotel elite perk is upgrades, especially to suites” and in the same breath claim that there is no “material difference” between HH Golds and Diamonds, when suite upgrades are NOT a stated HH Golds, while it is for Diamonds. Also while HH Golds are pray to be upgraded to the executive lounge so that would have club lounge access, both benefits (exec floor upgrades and exec lounge access) are guaranteed HH Diamonds’ perks.

  11. Please make it possible for one to edit one’s comments on this site! This is the 21st century! Posting from a mobile device is now ubiquitous, but mistake-prone. Therefore, the capability to edit one’s comments for clarity should be made available here, like most “high-end” sites/blogs have!

  12. Gary: Nice post.

    However, since you mentioned Hyatt Bethesda as an exception, it would behoove you to mention the 10+ Marriott family properties in the United States that are also exempt from providing breakfast but instead offer 1000 points:

    Boston Marriott Copley Place
    New Orleans Marriott
    Renaissance Time Square
    Boston Marriott Long Wharf
    New York Marriott East Side
    San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina
    Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile
    JW Marriott Washington DC
    New York Marriott Marquis
    The Lexington New York City, Autograph Collection
    Philadelphia Marriott Downtown
    JW Marriott Essex House, New York City
    JW Marriott New Orleans
    Renaissance New York Hotel 57
    New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge

  13. Hey DCS, let me just say that I’ve “seen the light” with regards to suite upgrades. Since becoming HHonors Diamond, with the exception of the stingy Hilton Tokyo Odaiba that still thinks that it’s a Nikko Hotel, I have gotten upgraded to a suite at every Hilton I’ve stayed at…even an award stay at Conrad Tokyo over the New Year holiday period!

  14. Was gonna basically write a shorter version of what DCS said which is that once you get outside of the US, Hhonors is really quite fantastic, ESPECIALLY at the mid-tier. Hhonors Golds in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East get access to some truly fantastic buffets while Hyatt mid-tier elites are getting nothing. Hyatt might offer the best-of-the-best benefit out there in the form of the room-service properties, but averaging across the portfolio and elite tiers, I’d say that outside of the US, Hhonors wins hands-down.

  15. “The most coveted hotel elite perk is upgrades, especially to suites. ”

    Strongly disagree. I value breakfast as a benefit much much much more than upgrades. In fact it is just about the primary reason I stay in Hilton family properties. That and their rates are generally far more reasonable than comparable Marriotts.

    A hotel room is a hotel room. A suite is just empty space.

  16. @Gary continues to push this demonstrably laughable line: “Hyatt’s top tier benefit is best overall.”

    Name just one that’s “best.” The 4 purportedly “confirmed” DSUs that just got gutted by being valid only up to their expiration while not being issued until the end of a program year, rather upon qualification? LOL. Also, there are so few of them they’d be used up by the end of Q1 every year with my pattern of travel — that is in addition to not being of any use on pure award stays and requiring that one pay Hyatt’s daily rates that are among the highest of US chains.

    HGP is a joke as a loyalty program; it’s on a race to the bottom, with benefits being pulled faster than their chronically broken IT can keep up, leading to more issues….

    @Tokyo Hyatt Fan: Very glad to hear of your suite upgrade successes as a HH Diamond. Welcome to the club and keep it up!

  17. Gary,

    I’d like to make the case for Starwood’s breakfast benefit being the best.
    My line of reasoning is that Hyatt Diamond’s get lounge breakfast in most Grand and Regencies and sometimes they offer restaurant but this isn’t very consistent.

    SPG on the other hand, offers the same lounge breakfast as elites of other programs get when there is a lounge *without* having to pay with the welcome amenity points however they give you the option of a full breakfast when you opt for breakfast as the amenity. (This is not how it is stated in the T&C but how it usually works outside of USA at least)

    So in many places where you would be stuck with a lounge breakfast with Hyatt or Hilton or Marriott, you can opt for full breakfast with SPG by foregoing 500 points or 250 points.

    At higher brands without lounges (whether a W, St Regis or Luxury Collection) I’ve never seen anyone offered a continental breakfast when opting for breakfast.

  18. I’ve been IHG Royal Ambassador for about 20 years. I am always upgraded to a suite with full breakfast. Many of the InterConti properties also provide dinner and drinks, as well as free mini-bar. If there’s an InterConti hotel where I’m going, that where I’m staying.

    Hilton Diamond status isn’t worth the effort. Gold is all you need to get breakfast and the sometime offered upgrade. This is especially true at Garden Inn properties.

  19. @Gary sez “@DCS we’re talking about the breakfast benefit here, so use of Diamond Suite Upgrades by their expiration date is a non-sequitur.”

    That diversionary tactic won’t wash because you’re the one who made the claim: “Hyatt’s top tier benefit is best overall” — a claim you’ve repeated again and again, even as the program is being gutted. As indicated above, the breakfast benefit is no biggie to me because of my mostly international travel pattern. So, even if you were referring only to this particular benefit, it would have been best to specify that your claim would be valid strictly within the US/North America…

  20. @blacksheep sez, fittingly: “Hilton Diamond status isn’t worth the effort. Gold is all you need to get breakfast and the sometime offered upgrade. This is especially true at Garden Inn properties.”

    With such a whopper despite the first-hand info that BONA FIDE HH Diamonds have provided here, no wonder you’re a black sheep! 😉

  21. @Gary: Many Asian Hyatt hotels (e.g. Grand Hyatt Tokyo, Hyatt Regency Tokyo, Hyatt Regency Guam. etc.) extend club lounge access to those staying in a suite. So applying a DSU to a reservation after the expiration of Diamond tier status is (soon to be “was”) a back door way of extending the elite free breakfast benefit.

  22. @DCS in this post and in the comments above I was referring to breakfast. I didn’t want to take the discussion off-topic. Although Hyatt’s top tier benefits are legions beyond the scraps offered by Hilton HHonors 😉

  23. Another data point on Hilton, I got free breakfast at WA Jerusalem and Dubai on the palm, and both stays are on points during the holiday.

  24. Great post! Breakfast for me is always the most important elite benefit – especially when traveling with family

  25. Breakfast as a benefit comes down to who would pay for that breakfast. I know many people who’s employer pays for breakfast and in Hilton’s case, they take the extra points. Most when doing personal travel want the breakfast. My spouse and I both have Hilton Gold, one card receives breakfast, the other the points. Even though this is easily changed on-line, we just rather alternate who gets the points for the stays. My stays are always personal and I do all the aggressive points gathering. So for us getting breakfast, for personal travel is most important.

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