Complimentary Cocktail, Park Hyatt New York

Complimentary Cocktail, Park Hyatt New York

Free Drinks. At some point in your life, you’ll be offered some, at a party, corporate event, social setting, hotel, or otherwise. If you are not paying for them, and different options are available, how do you decide what to get? Set aside for a moment the social pressure (if your friends are drinking beer at a bar, you’re more likely to get one, or a more formal wine/spirit in a business setting, etc.).

When you’re staying at a hotel, and are offered a free drink certificate, how do you make a decision on which drink?


Why do hotels offer free drinks to guests?

As mentioned here in my Art of the Ask postlogrolling is finding what is valuable to the one party yet is relatively cheap for the other party. Free drinks are an excellent example of this. During my time as a bartender, I learned that alcohol has tremendous markups, representing only about 15-25% of the sale price. It is easy for hotels to provide free drinks to cultivate loyalty and return business, all at a low cost.


What are the typical options?

Some drink options for the certificate are below, typically capped at a certain dollar amount (anywhere from $10-$15 or so). This is to prevent people from ordering the really good stuff.

  • Beer – lower in price (usually <$10), no variance in flavor or preparation (comparing the same beer from one place to another)
  • Wine – middle in price (usually <$10 or around $10), little to no variance in flavor or preparation (again, comparing the same wine)
  • Spirit – higher in price, (~$10 or more), again, little variance
  • Cocktail – usually highest in price (~$12 and up), with the most variance, as different places will have different specialties


Why is there a choice?

If you’re anything like me, thinking rationally and in self-interest, there is always a choice. I’m going to want to maximize my value to get the highest priced drink possible, if it’s free. A higher value item secured for free, is more “valuable” psychologically, than a lower value item, since it’s a “bigger” discount. It certainly brings me more utility to know that my expensive drink is free, relative to a cheaper drink. Or, you can default to a personal preference (sometimes you just want that comfortable beer, or glass of wine.)

The choice is between value and preference. Sometimes that choice is easy, if the value and preference align. How do you reconcile the two if the choice is difficult? Some disregard the value entirely, focus on preference – if it’s free, get what you enjoy! However, my (most likely irrational) rebuttal to that is the utility I gain from a high value freebie.


Any other thoughts? How can I make it easier?

Compare your alternative. For example, if you’re Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) Gold or Platinum, typically you get either a drink ticket at checkin, or points (250-500 at certain hotels). Make sure the value of the selected option is higher than your BATNA, your Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. And yes, status, perks, and free drinks at check in is a negotiation. For example, if you check in as two guests (or even sometimes four guests!), the agent will, more than likely, issue you drink certificates matching the number in your party! Two drinks, for me, are easily more valuable than 500 Starpoints (~$11). Four drinks? Not even a question.



Lastly, learn to ask! The worst they can say is a simple “no”. If you’re loyal to a specific hotel, or have status at the hotel chain, or they just decide to be nice, sometimes you’ll get more – such as both points AND free drinks! My Art of the Ask series (see below) helps navigate those waters when you’re pressing for uncertain rewards and perks. Try it out, and let me know!



Read more about Art of the Ask, below!

The Art of the Ask (Get Freebies Without Being A Jerk)

The Art of the Ask (And What to Get For Free)

The Art of the Ask (How to Say Thank You)


Featured Image taken at Park Hyatt New York.

What do you think of my perspective? Been successful with those freebies? Have any questions? Let me know in the comments, or reach me directly at! Like my posts? See more here, on TravelUpdate! Follow me on Facebook (The Hotelion) or on Twitter and Instagram@TheHotelion