Travel Strategies That Can Help You Eat for Free

Hotel breakfast
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While it’s easy to budget for airfare and hotel stays because you can research prices before you leave the house, food is a travel wild card that can absolutely wreck your vacation budget if left unchecked. If you’re someone who thinks of dining out as part of the travel experience especially, it’s far too easy to add hundreds of dollars per day in extra expense just in food alone.

But, if your goal is traveling frugally, you’ll want to think through your dining strategy before you embark on any trip.

Ask yourself which meals you plan to enjoy in a restaurant each day, then conduct thorough research to see how much meals will cost where you’re traveling including an entrée, drink, tax, and tip.

To stretch your travel budget even further, you can also consider pursuing strategies that can help you score free breakfast, snacks, and more:

1: Book Travel That Includes Breakfast or Half Board in the Nightly Rate

In your quest for free food, it’s important to know that many hotels and small boutique hotels offer free breakfast as part of your nightly room rate. These breakfasts may be simple continental meals with cereal, breads, and fruit, but they may also be an expansive buffet with enough sustenance to last you through lunch. Either way, the best way to find out what “free breakfast” means at any given hotel is to call and ask or look through TripAdvisor for reviews and pictures.

Also, some hotels around the world offer what is known as “half board.” This typically means breakfast and dinner is included in your nightly rate, but not your lunch.

To save as much as you can on dining, look for affordable lodging options that include at least one meal per day.

 2: Earn Elite Hotel Status to Get Free Breakfast, Drinks, and More

Another strategy you can use to score food is earning special status with a hotel loyalty brand that offers breakfast and/or lounge access.

Let’s say you travel often and pool all of your hotel stays with the Hilton brand until you earn Hilton Diamond status, for example. This status would afford you continental or lounge breakfast in most of their higher end properties. You would also get executive lounge access including daily snacks, drinks, and evening hors d’oeuvres where available.

Most hotel loyalty programs let you earn status with enough paid stays, so make sure to check with your favorite brand.

3: Sign Up for Hotel Credit Cards That Provide a Fast Track to Status

While you can achieve elite hotel status through paid hotel stays, there’s a workaround that can help you score this perk the easy way. By signing up for certain co-branded hotel credit cards, you can automatically reach certain status levels with some hotel brands.

Take the Hilton Diamond status we mentioned above, for example. While you can earn this status by spending 60 nights in a Hilton property per year, you can also get it automatically by signing up for the new Hilton Aspire credit card. In addition to Hilton Diamond status, this card also offers 100K bonus points after you meet a minimum spending requirement, an annual free night, a $250 annual resort credit, a $250 annual airline credit, and Priority Pass Select airport lounge membership, among other benefits.

4: Book All-Inclusive Resorts

Last but not least, don’t forget that some hotels and resorts include all of your food and drink (including alcohol) in a single nightly rate. While you can pay more to stay at these hotels, many all-inclusive resorts offer rates that are comparable with traditional hotels—especially in the Caribbean and Mexico.

When you can eat and drink unlimited amounts without having to pay extra, it’s fairly easy to budget for your trip. At the bulk of all-inclusive resorts, the most you’ll need to pay for after arrival is transportation to and from the airport and tips for staff.

Finally, it’s even possible to book all-inclusive resorts with certain co-branded hotel credit cards. The Hyatt Credit Card, for example, makes it easy to earn points good for stays at all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara properties in Mexico and Jamaica.

A night’s stay at the Hyatt Ziva Los Cabos starts at just 20,000 points per night for double occupancy and other all-inclusive properties in the Hyatt portfolio cap out at 25,000 points per night.