Hotels that give it all away: 11 fantastic freebies we love

Free wine receptions are becoming increasingly popular; above, the lounge at Hotel Rex, a Joie de Vivre property in San Francisco.
Free wine receptions are becoming increasingly popular; above, the lounge at Hotel Rex, a Joie de Vivre property in San Francisco.

It’s no secret that we at Oyster hate overpriced package deals, so-called resort fees, high Internet costs, and the myriad other ways hotels nickel-and-dime their guests. But now and then, instead of surprising us with extra costs, a hotel will surprise us in the best possible way – by giving us something free. These small touches can make your stay special, elevating a budget property to a true value, or a luxury property to one of the best of the best.

Check out this list of 11 great freebies and the hotels that give them away.

Mini-bar at the Greenwich Hotel in New York.
Mini-bar at the Greenwich Hotel in New York.

1. Mini-bar snacks. Instead of the usual mini-bar price gouging ($14 gummy bars at the Omni Berkshire Place? Come on!), some hotels – notably the Greenwich Hotel in TriBeCa and the Mercer Hotel in SoHo -- give away their mini bar snacks, and non-alcoholic drinks, for free. Click here for a slideshow of other great mini-bars in New York.

2. Happy hours. Nothing butters us up like free booze, and, happily, many hotels offer just that. The Hotel Rex, a Joie de Vivre property, hosts a free wine reception in its cozy reading-room style lobby bar; other boutique hotels, notably those from the Kimpton group, also offer free wine. New York City's Bryant Park Hotel has a great free happy hour from 5 to 6 p.m. in its stunning Cellar Bar, a popular after-work hangout for fashion and media types who work in the area.

3. In-room welcome gifts. We love arriving in our room for the first time and finding a surprise waiting, be it strawberries at the Cadet Hotel in Miami or fruits, flowers and chocolates at the Halekulani on Oahu.

In-room welcome gift at the Halekulani on Oahu.
In-room welcome gift at the Halekulani on Oahu.

4. Lobby snacks. After a long day exploring, it's nice to come back to your hotel to find free refreshments waiting in the lobby. The Laurel Inn in San Francisco has free lemonade and freshly baked cookies in the lobby each afternoon, while the new Andaz Hotel in New York will offer gourmet treats and barista-prepared coffee.

5. Spa access. Most hotels charge guests access to spa day facilities such as steam rooms, saunas, Jacuzzis and pools -- but not all. The Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles, for example, lets guests enjoy the facilities at its superb spa for no extra cost. (Treatments, of course, are extra.)

6. Fitness classes. Free gym access is one thing, but some hotels take it to a whole other level: The Huntington Hotel in San Francisco and The Palms Hotel in Miami offer free yoga classes.

7. Car service. Most luxury hotels keep a house car available to drop guests off around town for free, but the fact that it's somewhat common doesn't make us appreciate it any less. We love it even more when the house car is really, really, fancy -- like The Plaza's Rolls Royce Phantom.

8. Lending libraries. You don't always have room to pack the dozens of books, DVDs and video games you might want to enjoy on your trip. Which is why hotel libraries or lending programs are so handy. The Jefferson in Washington, D.C. and The Library Hotel in New York both have great reading rooms; and the Hotel Commonwealth and Mandarin Oriental in Boston both lend out Playstation consoles, games, and DVDs.

In-room tea service at the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco.
In-room tea service at the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco.

9. Unique indulgences. Some amazing hotel services are uncommon enough to defy categorization, and we couldn't just let these sweet perks go unrecognized. We love special extras like the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco's free in-room tea service and the Taj Boston's free fireplace butler, who will build you a blaze with your choice of wood.

10. Check-in suprises. When the front desk greets you with a lei, a wet washcloth, or a cocktail (like this fruity drink at the Tensing Pen in Jamaica), it gets you in the vacation spirit and starts your trip off on the right foot. Some hotels will even have surprises for your kids or pets.

11. Loaner bicycles. Bicycling is a fun way to explore any city, and it's even more fun when you can do it for free. The W San Francisco and the Good Hotel both loan out bikes to guests.

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