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Today TPG Contributor Nick Ewen continues his series The Weekly Wish, looking at flaws, shortcomings, and room for improvement in the world of travel and loyalty programs. Today’s wish: free breakfast for SPG Platinum elites.
Two years ago, Starwood Preferred Guest announced some significant positive changes to their program. In addition to creating different levels of Platinum, the new program also offered complimentary continental breakfast as a new Platinum amenity. This new benefit brought the program closer in line with others like Hyatt and Hilton, who already offered their top tier elites free breakfast (and had done so for years). However, I believe that there is still opportunity to improve on this benefit without adding any significant expense. Today’s Weekly Wish will focus on just that: Starwood Preferred Guest should offer full breakfast as a Platinum amenity at all of their hotels worldwide.
You may be thinking that free breakfast would be a significant change for hotels, and that they would be hesitant to provide this added benefit. However, in my experience some hotels already offer full breakfast, choosing to go above and beyond the published SPG policy. One example is the Sheraton Suites in Plantation, FL. In the last year, I’ve stayed there on both an award stay and a paid stay, and in both cases, when I selected breakfast as my Platinum amenity at check-in, the front desk agent let me know that they offer their full breakfast buffet in the restaurant.
My experience at the St. Regis Mauritius was similar. My wife and I spent three nights there in June 2013 using points, and they also provided a full buffet for me as a Platinum member. Incidentally, it was probably the nicest breakfast spread I’ve ever seen: an incredible variety of pastries, meats & cheeses, fruits, salad, seafood, an omelet station, a hot menu, juices, smoothies, and even complimentary champagne! The retail price (had we paid) was around $75 per person.
Obviously in a place like Mauritius, SPG options are somewhat limited, so the fact that the St. Regis offered breakfast wasn’t necessarily a determining factor in where we stayed. However, in South Florida there are plenty of other hotel options, so having a full breakfast in the morning might incentivize me to return to their hotel over, say, the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Airport. Adding full breakfast as a published amenity would remove this distinction and level the playing field for all Sheraton properties in a given area.
This would also bring the SPG program closer to the other big hotel brands in terms of their breakfast offerings. Here’s what Hilton, Hyatt, and Marriott currently provide to their elite members:
Hilton: Hilton HHonors provides breakfast for both Gold and Diamond members at their full-service properties (Conrad, Hilton, Doubletree, and Hilton Garden Inn; only Waldorf Astoria properties are excluded). This may be provided in the Executive Lounge or in the hotel restaurant, depending on the property. Diamond members also earn 1,000 additional bonus points for Conrad, Hilton, and Doubletree stays, while Gold members must choose between breakfast or points. It’s interesting that the official T&C of the program lists the benefit as “complimentary continental breakfast for you and up to one additional guest” in the same room. However, I ‘ve found that almost every Hilton property I’ve stayed at offers full breakfast rather than just continental.
Hyatt: Hyatt Gold Passport actually offers the most generous breakfast benefit for top tier elites; Diamond members receive complimentary breakfast for them and up to three additional guests in the same room, which is great when traveling with families. Just like Hilton, this may be offered in a hotel’s club lounge, but if that’s unavailable, you’ll get full breakfast in the hotel’s restaurant. Many hotels even offer room service as an option, as I experienced over New Year’s at the Park Hyatt Istanbul. This is also in addition to a welcome gift (either bonus points or a food & beverage amenity).
Marriott: Like Hilton HHonors, Marriott Rewards offers complimentary breakfast to both Gold and Platinum elite members. This too can come either in the lounge or in a property’s restaurant if there’s no lounge option. Unfortunately, this excludes resort properties, and the benefit only applies to the member and one additional registered guest, but it’s nice to have the benefit for both mid-tier and top-tier elites. Like Hyatt, Marriott also provides a welcome gift for Platinum members (generally bonus points or a food & beverage credit, depending on the property.
Basically, any way you slice it, the SPG breakfast benefit comes up short, even when you just look at the highest level of elite status. Hilton HHonors Diamond members get bonus points and breakfast. Hyatt Diamond members get full breakfast for up to four plus a welcome gift, and Marriott Platinum elites also get breakfast and a welcome amenity. Platinum SPG members, meanwhile, must choose breakfast in lieu of other amenities.
Finally, upgrading the benefit from continental to full breakfast may not cost the SPG program much (or anything at all), based on my experience at some properties. Just last month, my wife and I stayed at the W Montreal, and I selected breakfast in the OTTO Ristorante as my Platinum gift. They actually had a decent continental buffet, with hard-boiled eggs, pastries, cereal, fruit, yogurt, and coffee/tea/juice. However, the price of the buffet was CAD$19; every other hot dish on the menu (there was no hot buffet) was less expensive. Since there was no other option, we got the buffet each day. Not only did it start to get old by the end of our five-night stay; it also cost SPG $19 a day, whereas giving us a choice would’ve lowered the amount charged to the program.
The chance of this benefit being implemented so close to last year’s changes is very slim. However, one way to remove the sting for SPG would be to add free breakfast as an additional benefit only for those Platinum members who stay 50+ nights a year. That would not only reward those who spend more time in Starwood hotels, but also incentivize “regular” Platinum members to push for that additional threshold. Don’t get me wrong; I’d love to see free breakfast offered as an amenity for ALL Platinum members, and since this is the Weekly Wish, that’s how I’ll leave it.
How much does free breakfast influence where you stay? Would full breakfast as a Platinum amenity lead you to stay at SPG hotels more? Please share your thoughts in the comments below!