As the dreaded credit crunch drives holiday budgets down to the bone, weekends in expensive hotels are hard to justify.
The good news is that such is the high number of low cost hotel chains currently offering accommodation across the UK, you can stay for a whole night in a hotel for what a couple of drinks at a five-star establishment might cost.
Even better, competition for business is strong with the likes of Travelodge, Premier Inn and young pretenders Etap and easyHotel all looking to outdo each other in a bid to secure your booking.
However, with rooms going for as little as £19 can the quality stand up? Is breakfast worth getting up for? And are there hidden extras that will leave you wishing you’d booked a more transparent offer?
TravelMail’s Tim Clark and Sarah Gordon packed their toothbrushes and set out on a mission to find out how five of Britain’s biggest budget hotel chains compare, and what exactly you can get for your hard-earned cash.
Premier Inn, County Hall, London
The Premier Inn is making waves in the budget hotel world with its upmarket design and décor. It is soon to launch the first 100 per cent eco-friendly budget hotel in the UK – in Tamworth – and is giving some of the more expensive chains a run for their money.
When we arrived, the computer system had broken down and a queue of guests was amassing in the reception. Nevertheless the staff kept calm and managed to sort out a room key for our reservation within five minutes.
The location where we stayed was nothing short of perfect. With the London Eye just outside, you couldn’t be closer to the centre of London and hearing Big Ben chime in a new day was fun.
The room itself was very spacious with its own wardrobe, tea and coffee facilities and a huge TV with remote control and lots of channels. On the downside, Wi-Fi was available but it was expensive.
StrengthsThe best budget breakfast we ate, and a very comfortable bed.
Does seem to out-price itself from its own market. Even though prices start at £50, rooms available at that price seemed to be limited.
Last-minute booking price: £119
Average room rate: £75 Best deal advertised: £50
Breakfast: £ 7.95
Ibis, Wembley, London
We arrived at the Ibis late after failing to find it on their map and asking for directions. It was a fair walk from the nearest London underground station and Wembley isn’t the most attractive of the capital’s boroughs.
Once inside though the reception was as bright and cheerful as the staff who seemed as happy as the Blues Brothers statues above the entrance. Ground floor had a small, 24-hour bar which, typically for Wembley, showed the football.
The Ibis was a comfortable stay. The complimentary bowl of fruit was an excellent touch and the room was more akin to a proper hotel – though with a budget slant.
Good sized room with a sleek design, spacious bathroom with room for two and a lock. Good view and the 24-hour bar which served food was a bonus…
Early bird breakfast from 4am – 10am is great for red-eyed travellers.
The unintelligable map left us asking for directions and transport late at night was a problem. The Ibis is great for football matches but not for a West End show.
The website says it is packed with special offers but we couldn’t find anything for the UK.
Last-minute booking price: £62 Average room rate: £55
Best deal advertised: £37 (for Ibis, Stevenage)
Travelodge, Euston, London
The stalwart of budget hotels, Travelodge regularly makes the headlines for both its quirky customers (one couple stayed for 22 years) and its excellent marketing campaigns.
The Travelodge Euston was in the centre of town and close to transport hubs.
But the room seemed to be designed for a contortionist. The TV was angled sideways on to the bed which meant we had to physically move the bed to see it.
The bathroom came without a lock and the shower barely passed lukewarm water (and soaked the rest of the bathroom).
The breakfast room was an uninspiring, windowless cellar but it was open until midnight and served free juice as well as tea and coffee (our room had complimentary drinks but no kettle to boil water with). The staff were friendly.
Breakfast was a continental mish-mash of toast and cereal even though the website advertised a full english.
Travelodge’s greatest strength is its bargain offers. Book 21 days in advance and you can get some rooms for £19, seven days in advance and those rooms are still only £29.
Travelodge has an excellent reputation for budget comfort and the location on the corner of Euston was quite good – though not all Travelodges are as easy to get to.
To a certain extent Travelodge makes you feel like travel isn’t to be enjoyed but to be endured.
There was no lock on the bathroom, the breakfast room was in the basement with no windows and the shower was limited to 38 degrees.
Last-minute booking price: £87
Average room rate: £52
Best deal advertised: £19 (booked 21 days in advance)
easyHotel, Earl’s Court, London
It was probably only a matter of time before the cheap flight revolution made the logical step into the hotel industry. With easyHotel, Stelios is creating a whole new niche of his own within the budget travel chains. With the pay-for-what-you-get system you really do get the very basics of a room to see you through the night.
easyHotel cannot be beaten on price, with a last-minute booking rate of only £39 (and some as cheap as £25) it is by far the cheapest option for the budget traveller who doesn’t plan ahead.
It is also clean and the bed is reasonably comfortable. Also, the easyHotel get-what-you-pay-for approach leaves you with no illusions to what you might get.
Paying for things like access to the TV hardly makes for a nice holiday feeling. Don’t expect fine dining… food comes from a vending machine.
Last-minute booking price: £39
Average room rate: £30
Best deal advertised: £25
Breakfast: Not available
Etap Hotel, New Street, Birmingham
The Etap is the only other hotel chain which can compete with the easyHotel on price, and it offers the traveller a few more comforts.
The minimalist pod-like bedrooms are painted entirely white with only a small window. Each room sleeps three with a double bed, a single bunk above it and there is a desk, hanging space and a TV. And it was only a short taxi ride from anywhere in the city centre.
Well-placed as a budget option with access to city centre, it was also comfortable and well equipped.
If you need any extras then reception hires out hairdryers, sells miniature bottles of shampoo and conditioner for £1 and provides a 24-hour snack service. Soup, Pot Noodles, sandwiches and snacks are available and staff will also heat pizza around the clock.
Not many really. It was good value, if a little functional, with a good city centre location.
Last-minute booking price: £38
Average room rate: £35
Best deal advertised: £32