Budget hotels can fit the bill if you want a cheap bed for the night before an early flight, work meeting or seeing friends
Premier Inn, Travelodge, ibis budget and easyHotel all offer no-frills style accommodation. But if you want rock-bottom room rates, you may have to downsize, which can mean staying in a room without windows.
So, what can you get for your money when it comes to creature comforts on a budget?
It promises a ‘Good Night Guarantee’, which means you can get your money back if you don’t enjoy a good night’s sleep. But as you might expect, there are a few exclusions, so you won’t be entitled to a free night if you’re disturbed by thunderstorms or power cuts.
Prices start from £35, according to the website, but room rates vary according to when and where you’re staying. Rooms in Aberdeen and Yeovil, seaside towns like Whitley Bay or cathedral cities such as Worcester, for example, are available for £29 midweek and weekends, and on ‘flex’ rate (so you can pay for the room in full on booking or on arrival).
The best value rooms go more quickly, so it can be tricky to find rooms for the advertised £35 rate, especially in city centre locations, therefore early booking is advisable.
When checking recently I found a room in Wigan for £36 for a midweek overnight stay, and one for £34.50 at Dover Central, but that meant booking for a midweek stay in October.
Staying in the city centre is usually more expensive than the town outskirts – so with Premier Inn’s ‘hub’ locations, in Edinburgh and London, you can opt for a room a size smaller, which can save you money compared with standard room rates.
Standard rooms come with a king-size Hypnos bed, free wi-fi, tea-and-coffee-making facilities and Freeview TV. At hub outlets, you’ll only get a double bed, though a 40-inch smart TV and wi-fi are included. Hub rooms are usually half the size of standard rooms, but what you sacrifice in size, you can save in price. The Kings Cross hub, for example, costs £47 for a room midweek in May but its standard Premier Inn, also in Kings Cross, costs more than double the price at £100 for the same night.
Smaller still is its new Zip hotel, opening in Cardiff in March, with more in the pipeline. These pod-style rooms start from £19 – but while you’ll get a bed, there’s no guarantee you’ll get a window. Rooms are allocated randomly on booking and if there’s no window, you’ll have a lightbox. When it comes to crash-pad potential, expect twin singles that can be pushed together to make a double.
“I just want to be able to turn up and get free parking and a decent night’s sleep when I’m working the next day”
Nick Davies, 50, is owner and director of the Warwickshire School of Hypnotherapy. He regularly uses Premier Inns across the country from York to Kent.
“I’m self-employed so value for money is very important to me along with a good night’s sleep. With a Premier Inn, I know what I’m going to get. I like the familiarity, I know how the room’s laid out and I find the beds more comfy than at Travelodge. I usually book out-of-town locations rather than city centre ones, because they’re cheaper – I once paid more than £100 to stay in the centre of York.”
Some hotels operate ‘dynamic pricing’ – the price can go up even in a few hours
Rooms start at £29, depending on location. In addition to standard rooms there are also PLUS, and SuperRooms, which are typically £10 to £15 more per night than the standard option.
At the booking stage, you can choose between a cheaper ‘saver’ rate or the more expensive ‘flex’ rate, which typically costs around £25 more than the Saver rate and offers free cancellation up to noon on the day of arrival.
A king-size bed, en-suite shower, TV and tea-and-coffee-making facilities are all standard. But while Premier Inn offers smaller rooms with its hub and Zip locations, Travelodge has gone the other way, claiming to offer more for your money.
Its PLUS hotels – in London, Edinburgh, York, Gatwick and Brighton – include blackout curtains, LED lighting and bedside charging points. Top of the range is the SuperRoom with a coffee machine, adjustable 3jet shower, 32-inch Freeview TV, hairdryer, iron and ironing board. While the Plus and SuperRoom versions aren’t the cheapest, in some cases forking out less than £20 for the upgraded room can be worth it.
Breakfast costs extra with all bookings and starts from £8.75 for an unlimited buffet breakfast.
ibis offers its ‘blue’ budget range of hotels in locations including London, Manchester and Edinburgh, with rooms starting at £29. With the budget end of the ibis chain you get a room with a double bed, flat-screen TV and free wi-fi. Unlike the traditional red branded ibis outlets, with ibis budget breakfast isn’t included, although for £5.80 you can enjoy a continental buffet breakfast.
I checked out both London and Manchester for a midweek budget stay in May and the cheapest price I could find in central London was £82 at ibis budget London Whitechapel. By comparison, the same midweek stay in May in Manchester comes in at a very pocket-friendly £23 for the budget option at Salford Quays, which saves more than £20 on the £44 rate you would pay for a room at its standard ibis budget in Manchester city centre.
ibis also offers a cheaper Advance Saver rate across ibis, ibis Styles and ibis budget, if you book at least 15 days in advance; or a more expensive ’flexible’ rate.
The option to cancel your booking can boost the price
There are 11 ‘owned’ easyHotels in the UK, including London, Croydon, Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester, and a further 25 ‘franchised’ hotels in locations including Luton, Edinburgh, Reading and Belfast. Prices start at £15.59 a night, according to the website, and you can choose from twin, double, triple or a family room that sleeps four.
All rooms have air-conditioning but not all have windows. However, you do get the chance to book a room with a window at the booking stage, but this will cost an extra £5.
Expect the basics here – there is no free wi-fi, tea or coffee making, or bar or restaurant, although there may be vending machines on-site and some hotels offer a breakfast box for around £5.
You can check in from 3pm and check out by10am. Earlier and later options may be available at an extra cost.
How can you find the best overnight deal?
This is a tricky one because room rates vary according to location and date, even within the same chain.
Additionally, some hotels, including the Premier Inn and easyHotel chains, operate a ‘dynamic pricing’ system. This means prices are flexible and based on demand so if lots of people are booking the date you want, the price can go up, even within just a few hours.
I discovered this to my cost when trying to book a room at the Gatwick Airport Premier Inn before an early flight. The date I wanted produced a ‘saver’ rate of £45, and after checking my flight times and airport parking, I went back to book – to find the rate had jumped up nearly 25% in 24 hours, to £55.50. After booking, I found the rate had dropped slightly to £53.50.
“I’m not looking for luxury if I’m only going to be in a room for a few hours before a 4.30am start”
Retail area manager Barry Compton, 52, opts for an ibis budget or Premier Inn if he’s got an early flight for work or when going on holiday.
“If I fly from Luton I stay at the ibis budget as it’s just minutes from departures, and for Gatwick or Heathrow I use a Premier Inn. They’re easy to book, you know what you’re going to get, and it saves hunting around for a decent hotel or checking how easy it is to get from the hotel to the airport in the early hours.”
For nights out, Barry usually looks for budget options. He booked a room at the local Travelodge after a friend’s wedding in Norwich. “It was cheap and clean and I was only in the room for about eight hours anyway,” he says.
If you are driving, check parking options before booking – some locations have free parking. However, none of the Premier Inn hub locations have car parks, and with some city centre locations, you’ll have to fork out yourself.
Stay at the Norwich Central Travelodge, for example, and you’ll have to pay for parking at the NCP multistorey carpark next door, although you can claim back half of the overnight rate by showing your ticket at reception.
The option to cancel your booking can boost the price.
Travelodge has a flexible, but more expensive, rate that allows you to cancel up to noon on the day of arrival; ibis budget also offers a cheaper Advance Saver rate or a more expensive Flexible rate.
Premier Inn has both a Saver and a Flex rate, where the flexible option typically costs around £20 more, but means you can pay on arrival and change or cancel your booking up to 1pm on the day of arrival.
This is an important point if you don’t have a car and want to avoid dragging your suitcase to meetings after checkout.
With Travelodge, luggage facilities are ultimately at the hotel’s discretion and subject to the space available, so is not guaranteed. With other chains, such as easyHotel, a luggage storage option is only available at some locations, and there is typically a £5 additional charge.
Sue Hayward is a personal finance journalist who writes for publications including The Guardian and LoveMoney.com