The Incredible Disappearing Hotel Breakfast—and Other Amenities Travelers Miss

The Wall Street Journal – Eighteen months into the pandemic, travelers say they keep encountering misleading and false promises on hotel websites. They complain of finding the elite-level lounges, free breakfast or happy-hour receptions with snacks unavailable—sometimes even when hotels claim they’ve been restored.

Some road warriors say they routinely call ahead now to find out what the hotel has cut. Guests often see compensation for service cuts only after complaining.

The biggest difference between business-class rooms and regular rooms at Radisson Hotels is breakfast. It’s included with a business-class booking but not when paying regular rates. Except many U.S. Radissons still haven’t reopened restaurants, so every guest gets a grab-and-go breakfast.

“Business class is for when the restaurant is open and you get a cooked breakfast, not for right now,” says a front-desk clerk at the Radisson Schaumburg, Ill., near Chicago.

Somebody ought to tell Radisson’s website and reservations department. The chain was still selling business-class rooms at higher prices as of Tuesday afternoon. A one-night stay this week costs $5 more. But book five mid-November nights at the Schaumburg hotel and a regular king-bed room costs $94 a night, while a business-class king is $219 for the same dates. For that money, you’re basically getting some bonus points and drink vouchers.

Radisson didn’t respond to requests for comment.

It isn’t always clear whether service reductions are due to Covid-19 safety precautions or cost-cutting. Some hotels are offering hot buffets on weekends, when they’re full, but no hot breakfast on weekdays, when occupancy is lower because of weak business travel.

Roger Hooson, a recently retired urban planner from the San Francisco Bay Area, called the Hyatt Regency St. Louis. They told him the restaurant had reopened and he’d get free breakfast, since he’s at a top tier of Hyatt’s loyalty program. He arrived earlier this month and was told yes, the restaurant had indeed reopened, but not on the days of his visit.

“It’s a shifting target,” he says. A spokesman for Hyatt says hotels try to find alternatives for eligible World of Hyatt members when complimentary breakfast isn’t available.

Hotel chains have almost universally posted notices on their websites that some amenities may not be available at some properties because of the pandemic. But drill down to offerings at specific hotels, and often nothing has been updated.

“We are now past the point where the pandemic is a temporary excuse,” says Jay Sorensen, a consultant to travel companies on branding and loyalty. “In today’s environment, it should be so simple to effectively convey what is happening or not happening on a property-by-property basis, and they are not.”

Mr. Sorensen thinks many hotels are damaging the credibility of their websites and apps as sources of accurate information about properties—and how people view their brands, too. If your brand is free hot breakfasts and you’re not consistently providing them, you’ve got a problem.

Mr. Sorensen found himself recently at a Staybridge Suites hotel near Minneapolis. The brand, a unit of IHG, is known for a hot breakfast buffet and an evening happy hour with hors d’oeuvres that can provide a light dinner for guests. The Social, as it’s called, is still touted on Staybridge’s website, and still listed as an amenity at the Staybridge Suites Minneapolis-Bloomington. Except it isn’t offered.

In a statement, IHG said it continues to work with hotel owners to adjust services while following Covid-19 restrictions, and marquee programs do continue to be restored. “The vast majority of our hotels are independently owned and operated, and we work with them to ensure any offers or amenities presented to guests booking via our channels are accurate,” IHG said. “If a guest ever finds that they do not receive the experience and services as advertised, they should contact us and we will work with the hotel to make it right.”

Some Staybridge managers have responded to complaints on Tripadvisor saying that full breakfast buffets and evening receptions have been put on hold and will return. But they haven’t posted that on their own booking site.

Traveler Laura S. was one of many Tripadvisor users to call out the lack of breakfast at the Staybridge Suites Florence-Cincinnati South: “There was no hot BFST at all, no eggs, bacon, sausage, nothing!!!!”

On IHG’s website, the page for that hotel showing pictures, rates, directions and amenities says, “Enjoy a complimentary hot breakfast buffet every morning of your stay and an evening social Monday-Wednesday with light entree/appetizer beer and wine in our Great Room.” The top of the page carries “Important Announcement. You may experience modified amenities and services as each hotel fully reopens.” An IHG spokeswoman says the company is trying to restore hot breakfast where possible.

Hotel losses during the pandemic have been extreme. Properties have suffered from labor shortages that have made it difficult to supply services such as daily housekeeping or loyalty-group lounges. The American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates the industry lost $49 billion in business-travel revenue in 2020 compared with 2019. It’s also on pace to finish with $10 billion less in business-travel revenue this year compared with 2020.

Frequent travelers worry many of these standard amenities are likely gone for good.

Karl Chang of Richmond, Va., who retired during the pandemic but continues to travel frequently, says he avoids full-service Marriotts because his titanium status no longer gets him any amenities such as free breakfast or loyalty-member lounges. Grab-and-go offerings often amount to high-calorie breakfast bars and other processed foods.

Instead, he now gravitates to limited-service hotels that still have a free breakfast for everyone, albeit with reduced offerings.

Some hotels will compensate guests for reduced amenities by offering bonus points or even gift cards toward future stays.

“It’s something you have to ask for,” Mr. Chang says. “Hotels may not be volunteering these extra benefits.”