a croissant and a cup of coffee on a plate

In travel, and particularly hotel loyalty, the gesture of buying someone breakfast has been a long standing tradition to honor those who book directly or show an amount of loyalty by earning a level of elite guest status.

It’s a great way to start the day and brekkie ingredients typically don’t cost too much, so it’s a win-win. For smaller brands, it’s often a vital differentiator for those who must go further out of their way to stay loyal.

This week, I’m comically amused at the “free” breakfast at the Viceroy Santa Monica, which for me is subsidized at best, free not at all, and almost seems designed to create the wrong feelings.

This hotel is pretty consistently 90% amazing and 10% hair pulling madness and I’ll publish a review in the coming week. But for now…

a patio with tables and chairs and lights

Viceroy Santa Monica Breakfast Policy

Like many leading hotel groups, Viceroy offers a preferred partner ‘Guild’ rate, which is bookable by top travel agents and provides a slew of direct booking benefits and perks for agents and their clients. A $50 hotel credit, “daily breakfast for two”, late checkout and a welcome amenity are among the rate benefits here.

The quotation marks around daily breakfast for two are important markers. In reality, the breakfast is a $54 credit, which is not communicated in advance. Unlike many hotel preferred programs, there’s no welcome note on arrival explaining how credits, perks and other things work.

This $54 daily breakfast credit may sound meaningful, but it’s the perfect amount to drive people nuts, because it doesn’t factor in tax, or tip. Essentially every menu items is between $21-$23 pre-tax, drip coffee is $6 per person, albeit with refills, also pre tax.

Unlike most leading leading loyalty programs, such as World of Hyatt, where program rules stipulate that free breakfast for elite members and those on certain rates means an entree, juice and coffee or tea, PLUS gratuity and tax, this “free” breakfast doesn’t apply either.

Running through our daily breakfast bill, my partner and I each get a $22 breakfast burrito ($44 so far) and a coffee each ($44+$12=$56 pre tax). Before adding a juice, a side of toast, or side of avocado, we’re already over the $54 daily credit.

And of course, being the USA, this doesn’t include tax or tip, which is expected at at least 18%, and really at 20% or better for the absolutely wonderful service that Zana has been providing every day. I would never stiff a hardworking team member on tip, just because some manager has designed a feeble breakfast scheme.

With tax added, breakfast sits at around $70, and you can then add at least $14 or so for tip, making it circa $84 a day. My “free” breakfast is costing me a minimum of $30 a day for two drip coffees and two basic burritos.

That’d be decent pricing in a coffee shop for sure, but this is supposed to be a “free” breakfast after all! Heck, even Erewhon, the notoriously hip and ultra expensive food market in Venice charges $20 for a burrito!

a croissant and a cup of coffee on a plate

Why This Drives Me Nuts

This “free breakfast” drives me nuts because no one is happy. Hotel owners always complain about programs giving away too much, and I, as a guest, feel like I’m getting a bit of a fleece with the duplicitous claim of “complimentary breakfast” as its listed on the GUILD website and on my booking confirmation.

In no way shape or form is this a complimentary breakfast if it’s costing me $30 per day for a basic meal. I’m not adding crazy extras!

At a Four Seasons you’ve got a $90 daily breakfast credit for similarly priced rooms and you know how it adds up. At a Park Hyatt or the like, a free breakfast means a true free breakfast with service and taxes included. Again, that’s per terms of service.

In A Perfect World…

In a perfect world the breakfast would just be complimentary if it says on the rate that it is in fact, complimentary. Barring that utopia, I’d settle for a breakfast credit that at least ONLY left you on the hook for the tip. Surely when setting a breakfast credit, it should cover the average cost of a main menu item and a coffee WITH tax added.

They could also solve this easily by setting a simple policy that says choose one main menu item each, and a coffee or tea each and we’ll just bring you a bill for the tip. They could also make a credit for $70 and make some effort to clarify this for people, that the $70 is the total, factoring in taxes as well.

To reiterate, this hotel makes absolutely no effort to spell out what this theoretically “complimentary breakfast” does and doesn’t include and I’ve heard people argue with the front desk over charges they weren’t expecting.

I only found out how much I was getting fleeced by getting a folio for the first day, because I extended my stay at the last minute and made a second reservation which I wanted to close out.

If I hadn’t seen the surprising $30+ I was charged for breakfast on the day, I’d be blissfully unaware of how I’ll end up paying more than $400 this week for my “free” breakfast. For a boutique chain fighting a very hard fight in a competitive market with ample high end luxury, mid-scale and highly marketed brands around, this seems to miss the mark.

I wish my free breakfast wasn’t costing me $30 a day…

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. Tip. Less. Come on – it isn’t good for anyone and you really think you should leave 15 bucks on the table for $55 burritos that are $8 each at Chipotle?

  2. I’d skip the coffee, having already made some (or rather, tea), in my room before going to breakfast. I also wouldn’t tip more than 15%, but that’s up to you, especially if you felt you were getting good service.

    Yes, that credit is poorly designed, and should allow a meal including drink; but to me it shows how absurdly priced hotel food is. Hefty mark up, plus tax, plus tip, plus… Was your breakfast actually worth $84?? For what, $15 worth of ingredients, plus service?

    Personally, I’d have maximised the credit value without going over, and then got something else cheaper somewhere else later on.

  3. Many programs are similar. I used the Amex Fine Resorts and Hotels program and many of their resorts, especially in Las Vegas, have a $30-$35 credit for breakfast instead of a “free” one.

    BTW, glad you tip. I hate people that, just because Hyatt Globalist for example, include gratuity they don’t also leave a tip. You have no way of knowing if the server gets it (or how much). It is like a comped meal in a casino (I have status with a couple of casino programs and get comps regularly) – if the meal is comped or you use credits so it doesn’t cost anything you should OVER TIP – I leave 25-30% on “free” meals since I’m still getting a great deal and want to make sure the server is taken care of.

  4. Or, actually leave the gates of your hotel and go and find somewhere local and different for breakfast. I like a nice hotel as much as the next person, but I will always take the food excluded rate. I much prefer going, seeing and experiencing the area surrounding the nice hotel. $22 dollars for a breakfast burrito and $6 for shit american filter coffee – sheesh

  5. This is USA for you…. Here in Europe free breakfast means free breakfast buffet. Tips are for a good service, not a must. And nobody would agree to work for tips only.
    No nonsense!

  6. Tipping has become absurd in the US. All the fast food places now want you to tip. My favorite now are the taxis in Denver, where it gives you the option of 20%, 25%, 30% or none, no longer giving you the option of a custom amount.

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