Free Hotel Breakfasts Are Getting Bigger and Better

Love it or hate it, free hotel breakfast is undergoing a transformation (and it’s mostly for the better).
Sally French
By Sally French 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

Many or all of the products featured here are from our partners who compensate us. This influences which products we write about and where and how the product appears on a page. However, this does not influence our evaluations. Our opinions are our own. Here is a list of our partners and here's how we make money.


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

She’s 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 nosh on throughout the day. 

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

“I’ve eaten at hotel breakfasts around the world, but the breakfasts in Orlando hotels 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, wouldn't you?”

Mickey waffles are sold on menus throughout restaurants at Disney parks worldwide. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Saving money, time and energy

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

Free breakfast can be a money-saver, especially for families or larger groups. A $100 room that includes food for four can feel practically free if you’d otherwise pay $25 per person at brunch.

And then there’s the time savings and convenience. Gone is the anxiety of researching the perfect cafe, only to meet a waitlist after a pricey cab ride there. No debating which restaurant to patronize or which entree to order, as you can try it all at the buffett. And you won’t starve while waiting for your jet-lagged companions to wake up, as you can munch on your own schedule.

When free breakfast isn't all it's cracked up to be

But at some hotels, free breakfast can be mediocre. At others, it’s downright gross.

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

“As you can imagine, that incident turned me off for good,” she says.

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

More flexibility

More hotels are doing away with breakfast buffets that have been sitting out too long. Instead, they’re giving travelers credits toward made-to-order food.

That’s the case for Hilton elite status members. Hilton now offers a food and beverage credit at some properties to its most loyal customers. Hilton says it has received positive feedback from customers who appreciate greater flexibility, choice and control of their food choices. Carb-free folks can swap a pastry for protein, and intermittent fasters can eat on their schedule.

“Plus, the quality is typically elevated,” says Annie Jones, who owns luxury travel agency Telos Travel. “It also usually means multiple options such as sit-down or grab-and-go.”

Marriott rolled out a DIY-breakfast bowl offering in 2021 at four brands within its portfolio: Residence Inn by Marriott, SpringHill Suites by Marriott, Fairfield by Marriott, and TownePlace Suites by Marriott. Photo courtesy of Marriott.

More options for people with dietary restrictions

A 2023 Hilton trend survey cited increasing demand for healthier and animal-free options, such as alternative milks.

At the end of 2021, some Marriott brands that already offered free breakfast catered to trends like keto and gluten-free diets with new offerings such as a spinach-and-cheese crustless quiche. 

It also started embracing customization, which makes it easier for people with certain diet restrictions. For example, some properties offer build-your-own breakfast bowls consisting of a base (yogurt, oatmeal or cereal) plus toppings, including granola, pumpkin seeds or coconut.

More on-trend and creative dishes

Some hotels are also edging away from the mundane breakfast sausages and soggy eggs, instead seeking to entice travelers with food that touches on dining trends or might make its way onto Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Hilton.

In fall 2022, Hampton by Hilton spiced up its iconic waffles with a limited–time pumpkin waffle, which it followed up with a Valentine's-inspired red velvet waffle batter for February 2023. 

Breakfast options at Homewood Suites, including the taco bar. (Photo courtesy of Hilton)

And in May 2024, another Hilton brand, Homewood Suites, launched a make your own taco bar across its U.S. hotels. The taco bar offers something for everyone, including corn and flour tortillas, jalapenos, crema, salsa, pickled onions, plus a wide range of proteins, including smoked pulled pork, chicken carnitas and chorizo.

Discounts on dining

Dining at Cinderella’s Royal Table, which is located inside the Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle, is one of the most coveted experiences in the theme park. Photo courtesy of Disney.

Hotel prices are significantly higher in 2024 than they were pre-pandemic. Travelers seeking savings on lodging may be able to look beyond sticker price and find deals that save on food — even at hotels that don’t generally offer free breakfast.

For example, Disney World is offering a rare deal to Disney Visa Cardmembers where trips booked via an otherwise non-discounted 4-night, 4-day Walt Disney Travel Company package that includes a room at a select Disney Resort hotel and a theme park ticket with a Park Hopper option will receive a free dining plan. Meals on the dining plan can be redeemed and most Disney World resort hotels and in the theme parks too. The offer applies to most (but not all) nights in 2024.

The Disney Dining plan entitles you to an array of meals throughout the day, with a credit for one quick-service and one waiter-service meal per person, per day, plus a snack or drink credit.

And yes, you might use that snack credit to buy a Mickey-shaped waffle.

This article was written by NerdWallet and was originally published by The Associated Press.

How to maximize your rewards

You want a travel credit card that prioritizes what’s important to you. Here are some of the best travel credit cards of 2024:

Get more smart money moves – straight to your inbox
Sign up and we’ll send you Nerdy articles about the money topics that matter most to you along with other ways to help you get more from your money.