Here’s Something Travel Providers Don’t Seem to Understand: Coffee Fuels Business Travel

I’ve written before about the monumental importance of hotel coffee.

  • A business hotel needs to be able to provide coffee 24 hours a day.
  • There are lots of ways to do this: in-room machines, club lounge, lobby, and even room service.
  • The coffee needs to be drinkable, and that includes making it possible to get the real milk or creamer of your choice.

That’s just basics. Hotels without in-room coffee, and a lobby option, and that do not offer 24 hour room service are a complete and total #fail. Claiming to be an upscale or full service property, and aiming at business travelers, they’re completely missing the point.

I’ve been to too many properties where there’s no coffee before 6 a.m. That’s great, until:

  • You’re coming in from another time zone, and getting up at 4.
  • You have an early flight.
  • You need to get up early to work on a presentation.

Morning coffee can set the tone for the whole day, and entire stay.

    The coffee bar at the Hilton New York JFK.. more than once I’ve shown up half an hour after opening to find no one working, this time I got lucky!

Hotels succeed by helping their guests succeed. Fail at this simple task and you’ll lose the loyalty of your business travelers. They’ll wonder why the property with great facilities and a competitive room rate in a good location isn’t getting the level of midweek repeat business they expect and it may come down to something simple like this that they’re ignoring.

But hotels aren’t the only ones failing here.

Have you ever actually tried to drink the coffee on a US domestic airline? American’s new Airbus A321T flying between New York JFK and Los Angeles and San Francisco has a cappuccino machine in first class. I have only flown business class on this plane, though, so I’ve not had a decent cup of coffee on a US airline’s plane.

Cathay Pacific makes a decent cappuccino but the airline won’t serve hot drinks when the seat belt sign is on. A little turbulence on approach to Hong Kong after a long overnight flight and having no access to coffee is another form of coffee fail.

Both before and after the flight, though, airlines can do better. Lounge coffee.

I like the coffee at American’s arrivals lounge at Heathrow. Coffee in an arrivals lounge is an imperative.

So if lounge coffee for those super early morning departures. I don’t mind the coffee at all in the US Airways lounge at LaGuardia.

I may sound like I’m focusing on minutiae, and that I’m difficult to please, but self-serve push botton machines with something other than the cheapest beans or pods is fine. Watery, weak brew coffee is not. Burned coffee is not. No coffee is not.

Points, Miles, and Martinits notes that the Delta Sky Club in Seattle has a new Starbucks machine. That’s a bigger deal than most realize, he reports on it from a club arrival at 5 a.m. Those flights are rough. A club membership is supposed to make travel smoother and easier. Airline clubs need to pay attention to coffee and do it right.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I agree. To make my air travel a little easier, I do pack a couple of the Starbucks VIA instant packets in my bag for emergencies – most airlines can provide hot enough water.

  2. Agreed! I have written negative reviews based solely on the lack of coffee in the lobby or in the room. Front desk staff know where to get their caffeine in the area, but we likely do not and are understandably reluctant to go exploring the neighborhood around the hotel in the late night or early morning hours.

    BTW I had the chance to try to coffee machine at the SEA-TAC Delta Sky Club last Sunday, it was very good and made a variety of coffee drinks – I had a latte with 2 extra shots, it was definitely the best airline lounge coffee I have ever had.

  3. I hate to say it Gary, but you are addicted to coffee. Coffee addiction is a vicious cycle of being tired, drinking coffee, and having trouble sleeping, causing you to be tired in the morning, thus needing more coffee. Oh, and you have to pay money in the process for the privilege of being addicted. Believe it or not, If you never drank coffee in the first place, you would have the energy to do whatever you need, unless you are some sort of coffee fueled cyborg.

  4. Starbucks VIA packets as emergency backup if I have to be “sober” on arrival, otherwise a shot of Bailey’s will resolve the issues with any coffee at altitude, even Delta’s.

    FYI, Bailey’s was added back to the “free” menu at SkyClubs.

  5. My gripe is the powdered “creamer” hotel rooms.

    Just returned from a month in South Africa/Botswana/Namibia and EVERY hotel room was equipped with a hot kettle, teas, high-grade instant coffee, and individual sealed packs of Parmalat whole milk. The real thing!

    Why can’t US hotels stock those? Real milk can make a poor cup of coffee tolerable. And a good cup of coffee an excellent cup of coffee.

  6. There’s an easy answer to the bad coffee on planes and in lounges. Coffee with Baileys Irish Cream. 😉

  7. Without giving out the name of the Chicago area hotel, I faced another coffee problem while dining recently. There were a few hundred at two meals and two buffets. My guess is that metal coffee urns were filled in the kitchen before the serve. By the time the servers came around during desert, the coffee was nearly room temperature.

  8. I so agree, and will be loyal to hotels with great coffee. Domestically the only decent coffee is on horizon who brews Starbucks and pours it out of vacuum sealed stainless steel thermoses. Of course the hard choice there is after 10 do you stick with the coffee or the great free craft beer,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  9. Totally agreed. Can we talk about the horrifying new “coffee” machines at many AA Admirals Clubs? They look fancy, but just reconstitute instant coffee powder with hot water (and sometimes milk powder, depending on the option). The coffee powder doesn’t even dissolve properly, and even if you stir it, the flavor is almost indescribably terrible.

  10. I was recently on an Air Berlin flight in Business Class for about 8 hours and the espresso they served was very good (and so were all the chocolates and snacks) which they served throughout the flight. The experience was excellent particularly as more than half the business class section was empty.

    I used AA miles and was surprised that right up to the day of departure you could not find any extra award seats in Business on that flight (using AA miles) and yet we flew with 12 empty seats in that section. Seems like a waste to me.

  11. About hotel coffee:

    Why are so many hotels now installing those ghastly Keurig machines in the rooms? Now it’s even harder to use my own coffee in the room – not impossible but just a hassle.

  12. It isn’t the coffee. It’s the caffeine. The other day my husband and I stayed in a property on Bourbon Street in New Orleans. There was a single serving of coffee for the in room coffee maker. The other serving was decaf! That is just rude…

    However, since the travel industry is a poorly paid one and the people working in it aren’t always motivated, I think it’s a good idea to pack along No-Doz or your brand of caffeine pills of choice.

  13. Landing in Miami and having the Cuban Coffee stand open after a red eye on AA from San Diego is a welcome sight. Cafe Cubano and an accented server make’s you feel you’re not in Kansas anymore…

  14. If you are serious enough about coffee you will make room for a portable kit. I travel with a burr hand grinder, a small ziplock bag of my beans of choice, a very small hot water pot and a Handpresso espresso maker. Milk for frothing is a luxury but obtainable at most hotels. Have a nice zip up bag for it and worst case the entire thing can go in my backpack freeing up carry on space.

    So yeah, not a bother with poor hotel coffee options.

  15. @RDP: +1. I always find it funny that this is the one chemical addiction that evokes pride and celebration rather than shame. Imagine if the complaint was the lack of easy access to wine at all hours of the day. We’d all be directing Gary to a 12 step program. To each his own. (I find the taste of all coffee disgusting, but I have my own quirks, so I can’t judge)

  16. I’m with Jim A. A little Baileys can make a crappy of coffee drinkable. I always order a Baileys with my coffee during flight.

  17. I’ve had good coffees on US Airlines, IF I bring a packet of Sugar in the Raw with me, works wonders.

  18. Never had a cup of coffee in my life. Am always amused at how much time and money people spend on this addiction.

    Now coffee-flavored ice cream…. sign me up.

  19. I hate coffee so this is not a problem for me.

    But my major bugbear is the inability of Americans to make tea properly. No amount of telling them that tea has to be made with BOILING water, makes one iota of difference.

    I have not been in the US for some years now (no desire to deal with TSA), but in the past I just gave up in despair. Everywhere I went the tea was just lukewarm crap. Add to that the fact that Americans seem to have some aversion to real milk from cows. That artificial chemical creamer muck you have makes me violently ill, as does the UHT stuff in impossible to open plastic tubs.

    Sadly Australia has also gone down this coffee addiction road, with coffee shops every 10 feet in the streets now. I fail to understand how people can afford to spend most of their salary on coffee.

  20. RDP, I don’t think you understand coffee drinkers. I drink a double espresso with cream and sweetner every morning. I don’t drink coffee any other time. My morning coffee is a lovely part of my day; I sleep fine, I’m not addicted, I don’t drink the coffee to wake up. At a hotel, I bring my own coffee kit so I can have my coffee just the way I like it.

  21. I too couldn’t agree with you more about the importance of coffee and fresh milk – not that horrible powdered stuff. And in our case we’re leisure travelers, not business ones, and it’s still a high priority. And before some of your snide commenters write us off too as having a coffee addiction, I should say that we virtually always drink freshly ground (water processed fair trade) decaf, but will happily drink any good coffee up to the middle of the afternoon. So many hotels around the world fail on this score and it’s always such a disappointment.

  22. Kind of sad that so many hotel (and almost all airlines) fail at this very simple task. It is one reason I am always happy to see a Starbucks (or similar) in a hotel lobby or airport terminal.

  23. I couldn’t agree more. The worst, IMHO, is when a luxury hotel doesn’t provide coffee, and wants to charge for single servings in the room. Budget hotels do a much better job on the coffee front! Love the blog!

  24. I have to agree with you, Gary. There is no excuse given the amazing variety of coffee available, and much of it quite good. We have a small grocery chain here in Hooterville. And every location has a Starbucks, as do the local colleges. I know they are contract services that Starbucks does, with the employees from the local business/college. But it is standardized, good, and always consistent from location to location. I cannot imagine in any way that Starbucks can’t provide a similar contract service for Hilton or Starwood or Marriott or UA or AA. And while I love local roasters and gourmet coffee, I’m always happy to have Starbucks when on the road. It’s consistent and good. And as for inflight, I can well imagine that Starbucks can (or has already!) create an inflight solution for excellent coffee. That would be sweet, a little Starbucks mermaid on the side of the plane by the door!! Wifi and Starbucks!!

  25. Traveling is hard enough. The least they could do is make sure we have a nice, hot cup of coffee (of tea for those across the pond.) It’s amazing how all of those little things can add up so quickly to make for a nice, enjoyable time. Forget the fact that we have to pay so much for the airfare and hotel (unless you get your tickets from ) we continue to pay for more and more every day.

  26. I’ve thought of bringing a small bottle of vinegar and descaling the in room “Keurig” myself. One might also bring their own water boiler & coffee press.
    I will say that the machines at the Redondo Beach Hotel were clean (or new, more likely) as of 3/22. This is the exception & therefore remarkable. They used single serve “trays” of Starbucks Verona. I’m not usually a fan of ⭐️ $ but this was great coffee!!!

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