Free hotel breakfasts get bigger and better

Kimberly Button normally skips breakfast. But on vacation, the hotel’s breakfast buffet is a highlight.

She is drawn to the oatmeal bar, where she transforms bland grains with an array of toppings – chocolate chips, coconut flakes and berries. Sometimes she grabs fruit to take with her and snack on throughout the day.

At Disney World, the breakfast star is the Mickey-shaped waffles. When dining at the cafe at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (which doesn’t offer a free breakfast), waffles are $15 a pop. But for stays at non-Disney properties like the Fairfield Inn & Suites in Kissimmee, you can indulge in as many Mickey-shaped waffles as you want as part of its free breakfast buffet.

“I’ve eaten at hotels all over the world, but Orlando hotel breakfasts are the busiest I’ve ever seen,” says Button, who runs the Wanderful World of Travel blog. “When you can get a Mickey-shaped waffle for free, right?”


Free breakfast is the most frequently used search filter on the Hilton website, according to the 2023 Hilton Trends Report.

The free breakfast can be a money saver, especially for families or large groups. A $100 room that includes food for four people might seem practically free if you’re otherwise paying $25 per person for brunch.

And then there’s the time saving and convenience. Gone is the anxiety of searching for the perfect coffee, only to encounter a waiting list after an expensive taxi ride there. No debate about which restaurant to go to or which starter to order, because you can try everything at the buffet. And you won’t starve while waiting for your jet-lagged buddies to wake up, because you can snack on your own schedule.


But in some hotels, the free breakfast can be mediocre. To others, it’s downright disgusting.

Vered DeLeeuw, who worked for seven years as a flight attendant and now runs a healthy recipe blog, has experienced many hotel buffets. She eats low carbs, so she skips the pastries. And she’s sworn to avoid bland eggs and greasy sausages. But once she went to get a hard-boiled egg, only to find fuzzy green mold all over the bottom.

“As you can imagine, this incident put me off for good,” she says.

But many big hotel brands are making changes to improve their breakfast appeal.


More and more hotels are getting rid of breakfast buffets that have been left out for too long. Instead, they give travelers credit for meals made to order.

This is the case for members of Hilton Elite status. As of last year, Hilton elites who were previously entitled to free breakfast now receive food and beverage credit at select properties. Hilton says it has received positive feedback from guests who appreciate greater flexibility, choice and control over their food choices. People without carbs can swap a pastry for protein, and intermittent fasters can eat on their schedule.

“Plus, the quality is generally high,” says Annie Jones, owner of luxury travel agency Telos Travel. “It also usually means multiple options such as sit-in or take-out.”


A 2023 Hilton Trends Survey reported growing demand for healthier, animal-free options, such as milk alternatives.

In late 2021, select Marriott brands that already offered free breakfast were responding to trends like keto and gluten-free diets with new offerings like a spinach and cheese crustless quiche.

It has also started to embrace personalization, making it easier for people with certain dietary restrictions. For example, some properties offer build-your-own breakfast bowls consisting of a base (yogurt, oatmeal, or cereal) and toppings, including granola, pumpkin seeds, or coconut. .


Hotel prices are significantly higher in 2023 than they were before the pandemic. Travelers looking for savings on lodging can look beyond the list price and find deals that save on food, even at hotels that don’t typically offer free breakfast.

For example, Walt Disney World is offering a rare offer where guests at Disney-owned hotels for select dates this summer can receive credits ranging from $35 to $150 per room, per night, for up to five nights (depending on dates and the type of room). Travelers receive credits on a physical card that can be used at participating restaurants at Walt Disney World Resort.

$35 could easily cover breakfast for two at a counter service style restaurant. $150 pretty much covers a buffet meal for two at Ohana at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Options there include all-you-can-eat pineapple-coconut bread, Hawaiian-style ham with pineapple compote, and, yes, Mickey-shaped waffles.


This article was provided to The Associated Press by personal finance website NerdWallet. Sally French is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: [email protected]


Travel Inflation Price Tracker: January 2023