Free better mean fantastic

Breakfast at Marriott's Fairfield Inn brand is complimentary to guests, like here at the Fairfield Inn & Suites Germantown Gaithersburg.

Last month, on a trip to Texas, I stayed at a branded, upscale, select-service hotel. It was a hotel brand you all know and the kind of hotel where you absolutely know what you are going to get—or hope to get. We are talking a clean room, a comfortable bed, a hot shower with strong water pressure (many hotels swing and miss on this, but I’ll save that for another column) and, added bonus, complimentary breakfast! 

Free stuff gets me aflutter. Always has. (I can’t be alone here.) Many times, however, free stuff is free for a reason: it’s not so good. But, boy, when what’s free is good to fantastic, well, then you have something. 

Along with free Wi-Fi, the free hotel breakfast has become one of the standards by which all select-service hotels are compared. And with today’s discerning traveler, who does his or her research before booking a stay, your breakfast game better be tight or you risk obsolescence. 

Here’s the thing about free breakfast: It can’t just be a pot of coffee and a Danish. The term “continental breakfast,” though high sounding, as we all know is code for “afterthought.”

At the hotel I stayed at, there were three types of coffee, eggs, bacon, fresh fruit, hot oatmeal, biscuits & gravy—I repeat: biscuits & gravy. That is sure to get your heart aflutter! I’ve stayed at luxury hotels where the all-in breakfast bill has been as much as I paid per night, with breakfast, at this hotel—just north of $100. When on a three-day trip, for instance, and factoring in a morning meal each day at a cost of, say, $15, and instead you are getting it for free—now that’s real savings and value. Did I mention I was traveling solo? Imagine, now, a family of four on vacation and free breakfast becomes not only a nice perk but oftentimes a necessary component to make the economics of the trip work. 

It also makes me wonder why a traveler would elect to stay at a hotel that doesn’t offer a free breakfast, if, in fact, that hotel is comparable in price and amenities to another hotel—even of the same brand family. 

Consider Marriott brands (pre-Starwood buy, for this example). While many offer free breakfast for certain rewards members, only four brands—Fairfield, Residence Inn, SpringHill Suites and TownePlace Suites—offer free breakfast for everyone, regardless if you are a Marriott Rewards member or not. In comparing the Courtyard Long Island City/New York Manhattan View to the Fairfield Inn & Suites New York Queens/Queensboro Bridge, two hotels that are separated by a block and opened roughly around the same time, a room at the former, midweek, is running recently around $244. At the Fairfield, a room on that same midweek day runs $202. So, for a comparable room, at more than $40 less per night, you also get a free daily breakfast, which includes waffles! Isn’t this a true hotel hack?

I am not denigrating the virtues of Courtyard, I’m merely saying you may get more bang for your buck at another comparable hotel within the same brand family—if it offers a complimentary breakfast. This same scenario lies within such companies as Hilton, IHG, Hyatt, etc. 

Free Wi-Fi has become a norm at most hotels nowadays. Is breakfast—in some form or fashion—next? Now, that’s food for thought.