British hotels range from international five-star luxury establishments, castles and converted stately homes to budget hotels and guesthouses, and quality can vary widely. Don’t judge the situation in the rest of the UK by the standards and rates prevailing in London, where demand outstrips supply, allowing even the worst hotels to charge exorbitant rates (and where the best such as the Savoy and Claridges charge astronomical prices). If you’re planning to stay in London, always book in advance and spend as much as you can afford if you want a half-decent hotel (which costs over £90 a night). If you don’t need to be in the middle of town, out of town hotels (except those at Heathrow airport, which charge London rates) offer better value for money.
British hotels are among Europe’s most expensive and often offer a poor standard of accommodation. A survey conducted by the Department of National Heritage some years ago found that they were the most expensive and worst value for money in Europe and that around a quarter of all visitors were dissatisfied with their accommodation. Little has changed since then. Inexpensive hotels (e.g. around £40 a night) are particularly hard to find and budget travellers must usually settle for bed and breakfast (B&B) accommodation, rather than a ‘proper’ hotel.
Hotel Grading System
The tourist board, motoring organisations and well-known guidebooks use varying hotel grading systems. Visit Britain has its own ‘star’ and ‘diamond’ system covering over 16,000 hotels, motels, guesthouses, inns, bed & breakfast houses and farmhouses throughout the UK, but excluding Northern Ireland. (The diamond system relates to B&Bs, inns and farmhouses). The standards required and facilities needed to earn from one to five stars reflect the international hotel rating system. Visit Britain-rated hotels are listed in a searchable database on the Visit Britain internet site. It also publishes a series of Where to Stay guides for England in its other capacity as the English Tourist Board.
Hotels may also be rated according to other classification systems, such as those of Michelin, Les Routiers, the Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club. The AA and the RAC (among others), all charge establishments for the privilege of being included in their listings. Therefore the fact that a hotel isn’t recommended isn’t an indication that it doesn’t meet the quality criteria.
Rates vary depending on the location, season and amenities provided, as well as the quality of accommodation offered, but the following table can be used as a rough guide:
Rating: Price Range
Listed: £35 – 45
1: £45 – 65
2: £65 – 85
3: £85 – 120
4: £120 – 160
5: £160 – 300+
Budget hotels in London can cost from £40 to £65 per person, per night, although the average hotel price is from £80 to £150; outside London the average hotel price is from £60 to £100. The average price of a single room in a four-star hotel in London is £160 to £200. The prices quoted above are per person for two people sharing a double room with bath (prices are usually quoted per room and not per person). Many hotels charge a punitive single room supplement (up to 50 per cent) for a single occupant of a double room. Always check whether the price quoted includes value added tax (VAT) which, at 17.5 per cent, can make quite a difference. Watch out for expensive extras such as telephone charges, breakfast and menu mark-ups. A deposit may be required when booking. Once you’ve confirmed bookings, you’re liable to pay the full bill even if you cancel.
During off-peak periods and at weekends, you can usually haggle over room rates, particularly late at night at large hotels (which frequently have reduced rates, but often won’t tell you unless you ask). Bargains can also be found via the internet (try the Hotel Reservations Network at www.bookhotel.com and sites such as www.lastminute.co.uk for London and other cities). Charges are usually reduced for children sharing their parent’s room and many hotels have family rooms.
Many hotels offer reduced weekend rates (which is two nights – Friday and Saturday), particularly during off-peak periods. Dinner, bed and breakfast are usually included in this arrangement. Some hotels also offer a similar arrangement restricted to the off-season for stays of five nights or longer. Others reduce rates for senior citizens and children. Those catering mainly for foreign students often offer weekly full-board rates and many provide Christmas and New Year festivities programmes with tariffs which include accommodation and all meals. Most hotels with restaurants offer half-board (breakfast and evening meal) or full-board (breakfast, lunch and evening meal) at advantageous rates.
An English cooked breakfast when included in the price, or available for an extra charge, is sometimes served ‘buffet style’ (self-service), and consists of fruit juice, cereal, a hot main course of grilled bacon, eggs, sausages and tomatoes (‘heart attack on a plate’), toast and marmalade or jam, and coffee or tea.
Most top class hotels provide air-conditioned rooms with tea and coffee making facilities; room service; radio and colour television (TV), maybe with an in-house video film service and satellite TV; en suite bathroom or shower; telephone (often direct dial); mini-bar; hair dryer; and a trouser press. Some provide no-smoking rooms and rooms for the disabled. Many offer a choice of restaurants and bars; secretarial, business and conference facilities; a health and leisure centre with swimming pool, a gymnasium, solarium, sauna, Jacuzzi; sports facilities; theatre booking agencies; hairdressing salons and a range of shops.
Because of the high price of British accommodation, foreign chains of budget hotels have arrived and have been expanding over the past decade. They follow a two-star format and provide reasonable accommodation cheaply. Most prominent is Travelodge (08701-911 600, www.travelodge.co.uk) in whose hostelries two adults and two children can stay for a flat rate of around £45 a night including VAT (possibly less with special offers). This includes en suite bathroom, TV, radio and tea-making facilities. Breakfast can be ordered and eaten in your room for an additional £4.45 and there’s also usually a restaurant (although nothing too grand) in the building or nearby. Rooms with facilities for the disabled are also available. You may bring your dog for £5 extra.
Travelodge’s 280 hostelries aren’t only located near motorways and A roads, but increasingly also in city centres and near tourist attractions. A searchable database of Travelodges is on the website along with a button to click if you would like to be sent a printed list. Travelodges are open seven days a week from 7am to 10pm and accept Switch, Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Diner’s Club cards. You can cancel a booking by telephone before 4pm on the arranged day of arrival.
Most people should be able to find something to suit their budget and tastes, but when an international convention or a business fair is taking place, or you’re in a popular locale, you should book well in advance, particularly for a top hotel.
All hotels, motels, inns and guesthouses with four bedrooms or more (including self-catering accommodation) must display a notice showing their minimum and maximum overnight charges. Prices shown must include any service charge and may include VAT, although it must be indicated whether or not these are included (if VAT isn’t included, it must be shown separately). If meals are provided with accommodation, it must be made clear and, where prices aren’t standard for all rooms, then the price range can be shown.
Apart from the wealth of information encompassing all standards of accommodation provided on its website, Visit Britain also publishes the Where to Stay series of guides which includes Hotels & Guesthouses and Farmhouses, Bed & Breakfast, Inns & Hostels. These only cover England.
General hotel guides include The Good Hotel Guide (Ebury Press), the AA Hotel Guide, the Which? Guide to Good Hotels, the RAC’s Hotel Guide, the AA Britain and Ireland Hotel Guide and Recommended Hotels in Great Britain.
Many kinds of accommodation are also rated by regional tourist boards according to their accessibility for wheelchair users and others who have difficulty walking. Information and advice about accommodation for physically disabled people is available from Visit Britain and the Holiday Care Service, The Hawkind Suite, Enham Place, Andover, SP11 6JS (08451-249 971, www.holidaycare.org.uk). The latter is a registered charity.
This article is an extract from Living and working in Britain. Click here to get a copy now.