Get Free Breakfast or Club Floor Access with the Right Credit Card (2021)

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Members of the Hilton Honors program with Gold or higher status get free breakfast at every hotel in the Hilton family. Normally, you need 20 stays at Hilton to qualify for Gold status. However, anyone can get Gold status simply by getting the right credit card.

If you stay at Hilton’s more than a few times per year, get one of the credit cards that gives you automatic Hilton Gold (or Diamond) status. You’ll get free breakfast with every stay and a pretty good chance of a minor room upgrade.

Unfortunately, there is no similar shortcut for the other major hotel loyalty programs. The free breakfast benefit for the Marriott and Hyatt families of hotels requires higher levels of elite status than you can receive just by getting a credit card. At the IHG family of hotels, free breakfast isn't a benefit at even their highest status level.

For most people, signing up for credit cards, just to receive travel benefits, good reward earning rates, or lucrative signup bonuses, isn't an irresponsible thing to do. It won't kill your credit rating—it just might improve it. But, if you have a problem with credit, or you aren't organized enough to avoid unwanted credit card fees, you'll need to stick to our other strategies for discounted travel. For more information, see our Credit Cards 101 guide.


Getting free breakfast access at Hilton

Hilton Gold status entitles you to free continental breakfast (for two) at every brand in the Hilton program or a free snack at any brand that already provides free breakfast to everyone. The only exception is the Hilton Grand Vacation Clubs.

For example, you can take advantage of this benefit at every Hilton, Doubletree, Hilton Garden Inn, Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, Curio collection, Tapestry Collection, and Tru hotel.

  • While you are only entitled to continental breakfast, many hotels will give you a full hot breakfast or breakfast buffet instead, and many other hotels will allow you to upgrade to a full breakfast for a small extra charge. For example, a hotel may provide access to a hot menu item for an $8 additional charge per person and you'll still get free juice and coffee.
  • If you don't want breakfast, you can choose 1,000 bonus points instead. At most hotels brands where everyone gets free breakfast, such as Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, and Hampton, Gold members get their choice of free snacks or small quantities of Hilton points instead.
  • Gold status also comes with some other nice benefits, such as a better chance of upgrades to a slightly nicer room and a 80% bonus on points earned for stays. Along with Silver members, Gold members get their 5th night free on award reservations, 2 bottles of free water, and elite tier rollover nights. Hilton Status Benefits.
  • The Hilton Aspire card comes with Diamond status, instead of Gold. Diamond status gives you guaranteed access to any executive lounge at Conrad, Curio, Hilton, DoubleTree, and Tapestry Collection hotels, an enhanced snack / bonus points benefit, a 100% points bonus (instead of 80%), a potentially better upgrade, and a 48-hour room guarantee.
Temporary(?) Hilton Breakfast Changes

Until the end of 2021, Hilton Gold and Platinum members will receive a food & beverage credit instead of the "free breakfast" benefit at hotels within the United States. Benefits at international locations remain the same. For each room, you'll receive up to two per-person credits each day. Credits amounts are $25 each at Waldorf Astoria, Conrad, and LXR, $12-15 each at most other brands, and $10 each at Hilton Garden Inn.

Credits can be used at any restaurant, bar, or market at the hotel or for room service, will be applied automatically to your hotel bill, and need to be used each day (they won't roll over to the next day on your stay).

Unfortunately, these credits are too low to pay for a full breakfast at the many hotels that historically provided a hot breakfast or buffet to Gold and Diamond elites (or to feed more than 2 people per room at the hotels which choose to comp entire families). In many cases, the credits won't even be enough to purchase the "continental" breakfast that is the official elite benefit, especially at resort hotels, hotels in expensive locations, and hotels that have "continental buffets".

On the positive side, a flexible food and beverage credit provides can be used for a drink and/or snack (or a lunch or dinner discount) if you don't want breakfast or if your breakfast would be reimbursed as a travel expense.

Hilton is touting this as a response to guests who want more flexibility. Hopefully in the future, they will give guests the choice of free breakfast or a flexible credit, so that guests that want the breakfast won't be required to pay the potential difference in cost.

If you are traveling alone, it makes sense to always book your room for two people. There is a good chance you'll wind up receiving two credits per day.

Which credit card to get

There are three different credit cards that provide automatic Hilton gold or diamond status.

Option 1: The simplest path to Gold status is to get the Hilton Surpass or Business Card

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  • Both cards cost $95 per year and come with a valuable signup bonus.
  • Along with Gold status, you get 10 free Priority Pass airport lounge visits per year. The 10 visit passes can be useful if you don't already have a Priority Pass membership from another card (such as the Sapphire Reserve), or you already have a Priority Pass membership, but need a way to occasionally bring in some additional guests. Get Free Airport Lounge Access from a Credit Card.
  • If you spend $15,000 in a calendar year, you'll get a certificate that you can use for a free weekend night at any hotel in the Hilton program You can use the certificate for a free night at very expensive hotels such as Grand Wailea in Hawaii, the Hotel Del Coronado in San Diego, the Conrad in Tokyo, or the Waldorf Astoria in Park City, or at one of thousands of other Hilton family hotels. If you decide to get this card for the free breakfast benefit, spend enough money on your credit cards each year, and are willing to deal with the extra complexity, it is worthwhile to spend enough to earn the certificate. Otherwise, you don't want to use the card for any of your spending. Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates.
  • The two cards are nearly identical, but the business version of the card provides typically less valuable bonus categories and the opportunity to earn a second free night certificate (with a whopping $60,000 in annual spending).
  • If you are collecting signup bonuses, you'll want to postpone one of these card until later. It will take up one of your five Amex credit card slots, slowing down your ability to collect other Amex signup bonuses. In addition, since you are likely to be need to focus most of your spending on meeting signup bonus requirements, it will be hard to spend enough on the card to earn the companion certificate. Get the Platinum card instead. You can get a different Platinum card each year, offsetting the high annual fee with a valuable signup bonus. When you run out of Platinum card versions, you can reconsider getting a Hilton card instead. Dealing with the Amex 5 Credit Card Limit.

Option 2: A more complicated, but potentially more valuable, option is to get the premium Hilton Aspire Card

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It costs $450 per year—$355 more than the Hilton Surpass Card. For that extra $355, you get several valuable extra benefits.

  • An annual $250 credit for Hilton Resorts. You can only use this credit when you stay at a "resort" property, but you can use it to pay for your room and not just for incidental charges.
  • Hilton Diamond status, rather than Gold status. Diamond status gives you access to any Executive lounge, a better chance of getting a good room upgrade, and a 50% bonus on points from stays (rather than a 25% bonus). Hilton Status Benefits.
  • A free night certificate every year, without a spending requirement. This saves about $150 in potential lost rewards, when compared to needing to spend $15,000 per year with the regular or business cards. Even better, you get your first free night certificate when you initially get the card, rather than on your first anniversary. Hilton Free Weekend Night Certificates.
  • A full Priority Pass membership. Instead of just getting 10 visits, you'll get unlimited access to Priority Pass lounges, with the ability to bring in two guests per visit. However, unlike the Priority Pass memberships that come from other credit cards, the memberships that come from Amex credit cards no longer provide access to restaurants and other alternative locations that participate in the Priority Pass program. You'll only get access to the program's more traditional lounges. And there is a significant chance that you will already have a membership from another card, removing the value from this benefit. Get Free Airport Lounge Access from a Credit Card.
  • A $250 annual airline incidentals credit. It only pays for extra fees, like baggage fees and inflight food and beverage purchases, rather than for airplane tickets. And you can only use it on a single airline that you choose at the beginning of the year.
  • Most people find it hard to naturally take full advantage of these Airline Incidental credits. If you choose the airline you fly the most, chances are that you already have ways to avoid many of the applicable charges (via the airline's credit card or elite status). If you choose another airline, you are unlikely to naturally incur $250 in charges. However, there are some tricks to make it easier to take advantage of. Get Full Value from Your Airline Incidental Credits.

If you think you can get good value from the Airline Incidental credit and the Hilton Resort credit, it is worth spending the extra money for the Aspire version. But for most people, we recommend keeping things simpler and sticking with the Surpass Card. And if you are collecting signup bonuses, take advantage of the Amex Platinum card’s benefits for the first three to four years.

Option 3: Amex Platinum Card

If you decide to collect credit card signup bonuses (which we highly recommend), you are likely to be get Hilton Gold status via the Amex Platinum Card.

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Among the many valuable benefits of the Amex Platinum Card is Gold status with Hilton. Unfortunately, the annual fee on the Platinum Card is $695 ($595 for the Business version). Even with all its benefits, we wouldn't normally recommend paying this much per year to hold onto this card.

However, there are several different versions of the Platinum Card. While American Express limits you to one signup bonus per card per lifetime, each version of the Platinum Card has been counted separately. There is a chance this changed as of July 1st, but it isn't clear yet. In any event, you can always get the personal card one year and the business card one year.

The annual fee is worth it for the initial year because you get a very lucrative signup bonus along with the card's regular benefits. Even the lowest signup offer of 60,000 points is valued at $900 and higher offers are often available.

If you sign up for a different card each year, you can maintain continuous access to Hilton Gold status and the other Platinum Card benefits (such as Centurion Lounge access) for a few years, while receiving a signup bonus each year to offset the hefty annual fees. There are currently four versions of the card which are easily accessible. If they don't introduce more variants, that's up to four years of subsidized access to the benefits. Once you've exhausted your options, you can decide whether it is worthwhile for you to continue to hold onto the Platinum Card, whether you want to switch to one of the other options, or whether you aren't getting enough value from the Hilton Gold benefits.

Free Breakfast at Sonesta Hotels

Sonesta Hotels provides another option for getting free breakfast (or lounge access) from a credit card. There are far fewer Sonesta Hotels than there are Hiltons, but Sonesta offers a similar set of nice benefits to its cardholders. The Sonesta Hotels Credit Card is available from Bank of America, costs $75 per year (waived the first year), and comes with a pretty valuable signup bonus. On the other hand, without getting the card, it should be easy to get the same benefits through a status match.

Shortcuts to free breakfast at Marriott and Hyatt

There is no path to getting the free breakfast benefit in the Marriott or Hyatt program just by getting a credit card, but there are some shortcuts.

Marriott

  • Marriott provides free breakfast (and club floor access) with Platinum status, which normally requires 50 nights per year. Platinum status also provides a very good chance of a room upgrade (including to standard suites) and a host of other benefits. Marriott Status Benefits.
  • Getting Marriott credit cards can reduce the stay requirements. You get 15 elite night credits if you have one of Marriott’s personal credit cards and 15 nights if you have one of Marriott’s business credit cards. While you can collect credits from both a personal card and a business card, you can’t get extra credits from multiple personal cards or multiple business cards.
  • If you get both a personal and business card, you’ll only need to spend 20 actual nights to qualify for Platinum status. Marriott Credit Card Guide.

  • If you have high-level status with another hotel program, particularly with Hyatt or Hilton, you may be able to a status match or status challenge with Marriott. It can be worthwhile to check. Remember that you can get Hilton Diamond status just by getting the Hilton Aspire card.
  • The high-end Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant and Ritz Carlton Card also provide an option to earn Platinum status by spending $75,000 during the year. Given the low reward rates for these cards, even if you can generate this amount of spending, this is unlikely to be an attractive option.

Hyatt

  • Hyatt provides free full breakfast (and club floor access) with Globalist status, which normally requires 60 nights per year. Globalist status provides the best set of benefits of the major reward programs, including confirmed suite upgrades. Hyatt Status Benefits.
  • The World of Hyatt Credit Card can reduce the stay requirement. Just getting the card gives you 5 elite night credits. Then for every $5,000 you spend on the card, you’ll receive an additional 2 credits. Hyatt Credit Card Guide.
  • While it is possible to qualify for Globalist status solely through credit card spending, you would need to spend a huge amount of money ($140,000). So this option is primarily interesting to people who would otherwise be a little short of the required number of nights.

  • American Airlines frequent flyers also get a shortcut to Hyatt status. Top tier American Airlines "Concierge Key" elites get automatic Globalist status. Executive Platinum members are typically targeted with a challenge to earn Hyatt Globalist status with an additional 20 stays over a 90-day period.

Is it worthwhile to get a credit card just to get free breakfast or club access?

It is clearly nice to have the option of free breakfast or club access when you are visiting a hotel. This is especially true if you didn’t have to pay very much money to stay at the hotel in the first place. Some of our most rewarding stays have been on points at a few great Category 2 Sheratons in the old SPG program, where only 3000 points got us a nice room, plus free breakfast and drinks at the club.

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But is it worth $100 a year? That depends on how often you expect to stay at hotels where you can use this benefit. If you are going to use it at least a few times a year, getting the card starts making sense.

Keep in mind that when you stay in lower-end brands, you don’t get any extra breakfast benefit, because a breakfast is already included. Also consider that even when you are entitled to free breakfast, you may not have time to take advantage of it or might prefer going to a better breakfast spot outside of the hotel.




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