Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Hotel "free" breakfast buffet, and why it doesn't matter to me.

As someone who really enjoys traveling, I used to be a frequent reader of travel blogs.   I've gone away from reading them in detail now because, in many cases, their posts are either credit card blegs or another set of images from inside a plane/hotel/airport lounge.  Occasionally they offer up a nugget that gets me thinking however (as is the case here) so I keep them in my RSS feeds just in case.  That said, a better source of information are the two major travel boards, FlyerTalk and MilePoint

What caught my attention last week was Gary Leff's blog post on 'free' hotel breakfasts and why this is an important amenity for him and others. I guess, if you spend most of your hard earned vacation hours taking pictures of plane interiors and your hotel room sitting down to a buffet of reconstituted eggs, some bacon, sausage, cold cereal and a variety of breads might seem like a worthwhile perk. Also, if you're traveling for business it is a welcome thing.  And I will admit, on my trips to Singapore and Puerto Rico recently, that the wife and I did partake in the free buffets on one morning due to time restraints, but these were occasions when we had early morning excursions planned and didn't have time to leave for breakfast. It didn't hurt that the Intercontinental Hotel in Singapore had the best coffee in the immediate area.  In Puerto Rico we had a ZipLine tour pick-up at 9 AM so we decided to grab a quick bite before the driver arrived since we wouldn't be able to eat until the afternoon.

In both of the above cases, however, we probably would have paid for the breakfast without batting an eye.  In most cases, we wake up and try to find something that's not a knock-off of the classic American buffet.  I can cook an omelet at home, or two eggs over easy, I don't want to waste my vacation eating food that's very similar to what I can find at home.

In Paris, you can walk into pretty much any bistro and get an espresso with a croissant and a baguette (yes, a French breakfast is bread with bread) for just around 3 Euros.  In Madrid you can get cured meats and Manchego cheese for around 5 Euros, and in London it's possible, just, to find a proper fry-up without breaking the bank.  In Dublin we and some friends found a farmer's market which was offering roast pork, potatoes and purple cabbage for 5 Euros and there was a coffee shop nearby.

For some people, dining in on the breakfast buffet or using room service is an amenity they covet, for the wife and I however it's something that we rarely take advantage of.  Your mileage may vary, of course, but I think that most people, if they gave the matter some thought, would be better off venturing out and finding something local to eat before hitting the tourist hot-spots where they will spend the rest of the day queueing.

Often, these 'free' breakfasts aren't free at all.  A simple search on Hotels.com often shows two different rates available for sale.  For example, one room choice might be $129/night and not include breakfast, while the other option runs $149/night and has the 'free' breakfast included.  Even if you're an elite and receiving this as a 'free' amenity, the usage of the perk is priced into the room rate for all.  In essence, your cold scrambled eggs and bacon are adding to the bill for the rest of us.

I understand that people value items differently and, for some, feeling that you're getting a free meal from your hotel of choice is key to your loyalty with them.  I would suggest that it might be better to forgo this perk and venture out into the world and see what's available elsewhere.  I'm not suggesting that the miles/points/credit card bloggers are wrong, just that they're missing something unique in their continuing quest for getting the best value out of their credit card churns.

In the end, and almost every blogger says this, traveling is supposed to be about having fun and experiencing new things.  I feel that you can experience more new and have more fun leaving the Americanized hotel buffet restaurant and dipping a spoon into a bowl of soup in Singapore's Chinatown.  That's what I did, for 2.45 SPD.  That's about $1.50 American.

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