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If you're looking to cut costs on vacation, opting to cook in your hotel room versus going out to eat might seem like a logical move. But to cook inside a hotel room, you’re going to need a kitchen. And as it turns out, hotel rooms with kitchens usually cost more than similar hotels without them.
A NerdWallet analysis of nearly 100 hotel rooms around the U.S. found that hotel rooms with full kitchens are 19% more expensive on average (that’s about $28 more per night) than rooms from the same hotel company in the same area that are of equivalent quality without kitchens.
NerdWallet defined hotels with kitchens as those having at least a stovetop, microwave and refrigerator, plus cooking tools either in the room or available at no additional cost upon request. Hotels that only had, say, a kitchenette (like a microwave, sink and small fridge) were not considered as having kitchens. The analysis looked at hotels from the 10 largest U.S. cities by population on the same check-in day. And 80% of the time, rooms with kitchens were more expensive than their similar kitchenless counterparts.
Findings of our hotel room kitchen cost analysis
We compared Hilton, Hyatt, IHG and Marriott brands in the analysis. Here’s how much more expensive they were in dollars.
Brand with kitchen
Brand without kitchen
Average cost increase of hotels with kitchen vs. hotels without
Homewood Suites by Hilton.
Hilton Garden Inn.
Hyatt House (suites).
Holiday Inn Express.
Fairfield Inn and Suites.
Of course, kitchen versus no kitchen isn’t the only distinguishing factor. For example, Hyatt Houses, in addition to offering kitchens in its suite-style rooms, typically also offer laundry facilities and outdoor grills, which you generally won’t find at Hyatt Places.
One could certainly argue that the $11 average nightly increase between Hyatt House versus Hyatt Place has to do with those amenities instead.
Likewise, Homewood Suites typically entail a separate living room in every room, and sometimes the locations offer a complimentary evening happy hour. Those amenities could also play into its average $41 price per night increase versus Hilton Garden Inn.
But in almost every scenario, the property with the kitchen still came out pricier than a similar, nearby property from the same company sans kitchen. If you’re booking a hotel room specifically with a kitchen, expect to pay more.
Why hotel room kitchens might not save you money
A January 2022 survey from OnePoll of 2,000 Americans, which was commissioned by Hilton, found that 73% of travelers cite unexpected food costs as a major pain point when on the road.
And it’s true; food eats up a significant portion of most vacation budgets.
Food accounted for 20% of travel expenditures in 2019, according to an analysis from the Bureau of Labor Statistics based on Consumer Expenditure data. In 2020, food accounted for an even-heftier 23% of travel expenditures (presumably because transportation expenses, like airfares, significantly dropped that year).
But hospitality consultant Colleen Carswell warns that hotel kitchens often turn out to be a bit of a misleading benefit for most travelers.
“They often result in more stress than they're worth when you don't have all the kitchen amenities you thought you would,” she says. “From not enough forks to missing can openers to having to cook everything in a single pasta pot, hotel kitchens can quickly become a drain rather than the enhanced experience you were hoping for.”
In turn, she says that leads to travelers dining out at a restaurant anyway.
She added that because so few hotels offer in-room kitchens (she estimates about 26% of hotels offer kitchens), your choices of hotels to book are limited, potentially forcing you to stay in a less-desirable location or to sacrifice other amenities.
Better ways to save money on food while traveling
For travelers who are comfortable cooking on the road, or those who have dietary restraints, using the hotel kitchen might not only save money but can be a crucial benefit.
But for travelers looking to save money, there are other avenues that don’t involve dining out.
Prioritize free breakfast instead
Free, hot breakfasts can help you avoid a restaurant bill while also eliminating the need to buy groceries. Plus, you won’t worry about cooking and cleaning, especially when you should be relaxing on vacation.
Plan meals that require minimal preparation
For meals later in the day, you can still skip expensive restaurants without needing a full kitchen. Carswell, who curates meal plans that require only a microwave, mini-fridge and a daily food budget of $10 per person, turns to meals that can easily be prepared in a hotel room. She recommends salads, sandwiches made with sliced cheese and lunch meats, or nachos made with shredded cheese and canned veggies and beans.
Hold elite status
Some hotels offer dining credits or lounge access when you hold elite status. For example, Hilton offers a daily food and beverage credit to Hilton Honors members with Gold or Diamond elite status at most properties. The amount varies by location and brand but can be as much as $50 per room. Members with Diamond Elite status, which is automatically granted to cardholders of the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card, also get access to executive lounges. Not all Hilton properties have an executive lounge, and quality varies even among those that do, but most offer drinks and snacks throughout the day, plus cocktail hours in the evening.
Similarly, those with Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status can get free breakfast at Marriott hotels.
Spring for an airport lounge membership
Like hotel lounges, food quality varies, but the best lounges offer enough food for a whole meal. Some airlines sell annual memberships to their lounges, which can be worth it for frequent flyers (e.g. United Airlines sells United Club membership for $650). But you might not even have to pay for it. Many United credit cards offer United Club access as a benefit. Plus, the cards' annual fees are typically less than the standalone membership cost.
And many travel credit cards offer Priority Pass membership as a benefit, which gets you into more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide. One of the best networks of airport lounges, the American Express Centurion Lounges, serve full buffets designed by local chefs, and can be accessed by cardholders with the The Platinum Card® from American Express. Terms apply.
Sure, some travelers make excellent hotel kitchen chefs, and — with careful planning — can save money by exchanging dining out for a grocery run. But be realistic with yourself about whether you'll actually be motivated to cook and clean in a hotel kitchen that's likely inferior to your own at home. After all, you probably went on vacation with the purpose of relaxing, not doing more chores.
All information about the Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card has been collected independently by NerdWallet. The Hilton Honors American Express Aspire Card is no longer available through NerdWallet.
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