Booking a hotel room with a kitchen can’t save money after all
If you’re looking to cut down on vacation expenses, choosing to cook in your hotel room instead of going out to eat might seem like a logical decision. But to cook in a hotel room, you will need a kitchen. And it turns out that hotel rooms with kitchens generally cost more than similar hotels without kitchens.
A NerdWallet analysis of nearly 100 hotel rooms in the United States found that hotel rooms with full kitchens are on average 19% more expensive (or about $28 more per night) than rooms from the same company hotel in the same area which are of equivalent quality without kitchens.
NerdWallet defined hotels with a kitchen as those that have at least a stove, microwave, and refrigerator, as well as cooking utensils in the room or available at no extra charge upon request. Hotels that only had, say, a kitchenette (such as a microwave, sink, and small refrigerator) were not considered to have a kitchen. The analysis looked at hotels in the 10 largest US cities by population on the same day of check-in. And 80% of the time, rooms with kitchens were more expensive than their similar non-kitchen counterparts.
Results 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.
Increase in the average cost of hotels with kitchen compared to hotels without
Homewood Suites by Hilton.
Fairfield Inn and Suites.
Of course, cooking versus no cooking isn’t the only distinguishing factor. For example, Hyatt Houses, in addition to offering kitchens in its suite-style rooms, typically also offers laundry facilities and outdoor barbecue grills, which you typically won’t find at Hyatt Places.
One could certainly say that the average $11 per night increase between Hyatt House and Hyatt Place is more related to these amenities.
Likewise, Homewood suites typically feature a separate living room in each bedroom, and sometimes locations offer a free evening happy hour. Those amenities could also play into its average price of $41 per night compared to the Hilton Garden Inn.
But in almost every scenario, the property with the kitchen is always more expensive than a similar property near the same business without the kitchen. If you book a hotel room specifically with a kitchen, expect to pay more.
Why Hotel Room Kitchens Might Not Save You Money
A January 2022 OnePoll survey of 2,000 Americans, commissioned by Hilton, found that 73% of travelers cite unexpected food costs as a major issue while on the road.
And that’s true; food takes up a significant portion of most vacation budgets.
Food accounted for 20% of travel spending in 2019, according to a Bureau of Labor Statistics analysis based on consumer spending data. In 2020, food still accounted for 23% of travel spending (presumably because transportation costs, like plane tickets, dropped significantly that year).
But hospitality consultant Colleen Carswell warns that hotel kitchens often prove to be a deceptive perk for most travellers.
“They often cause more stress than they’re worth when you don’t have all the kitchen equipment you thought you had,” she says. “From a lack of forks to missing can openers to having to cook everything in one pot of pasta, hotel kitchens can quickly become a drain rather than the enhanced experience you were hoping for.”
In turn, she says, that drives travelers to dine out anyway.
She added that because so few hotels offer in-room kitchens (she estimates that about 26% of hotels offer kitchens), your choices of hotels to book are limited, which may require 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 with dietary restrictions, using the hotel kitchen can 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.
Choose the free breakfast instead
Free hot breakfasts can help you avoid a restaurant bill while eliminating the need to buy groceries. Plus, you won’t have to 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 always avoid expensive restaurants without needing a full kitchen. Carswell, which curates meal plans that only require a microwave, mini-fridge and a daily food budget of $10 per person, is turning to meals that can easily be prepared in a hotel room. She recommends salads, sandwiches made with sliced cheese and cold cuts, or nachos made with shredded cheese and canned vegetables and beans.
Hold elite status
Some hotels offer dining credits or lounge access when you have 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 high as $50 per room. Members with Diamond Elite status also have access to the Executive Lounges. Not all Hilton properties have an Executive Lounge, and the quality varies even among those that do, but most offer drinks and snacks throughout the day, as well as evening cocktails.
Likewise, those with Marriott Bonvoy Platinum Elite status can get free breakfast at Marriott hotels.
Spring for an airport lounge subscription
As with hotel lounges, food quality varies, but the best lounges offer enough food for a full meal. Some airlines sell annual subscriptions to their lounges, which may be worth it for frequent flyers. But you might not even have to pay for it. For example, some United credit cards offer access to the United Club as a benefit. Additionally, annual card fees are generally lower than the cost of stand-alone membership.
And many travel credit cards offer Priority Pass membership as a perk, which grants you access to more than 1,300 airport lounges worldwide. A network of airport lounges, the American Express Centurion Lounges, serve full buffets designed by local chefs.
Of course, some travelers make excellent hotel chefs and, with careful planning, can save money by swapping a restaurant meal for groceries. 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 yours at home. After all, you probably went on vacation to relax, not to do more chores.