IN SEARCH OF VALUE: Six European Hotel Chains Promise Cheap Sleep
If you’re watching your budget as you plan a trip to Europe this fall, you’re likely fretting about the high cost of lodging. At a time when the dollar has gained a little strength (but is still being clobbered by a euro worth $1.48 and a pound sterling at $1.86), finding an affordable hotel is tough. That’s also true in perennially expensive non-euro countries, such as Norway and Sweden.
But one of the best ways to make a trip to Europe work for your budget is to check out one of Europe’s price-conscious hotels, which tend to be part of chains, sometimes very small ones. If the term "chain" makes you think of Best Western or Marriott, think again. In Europe those properties tend to be far pricier than they are in the U.S. The chains I’ve unearthed have names like Thon and Ibis, which sound more like Nordic gods than hotel groups. But who cares what they sound like when they offer rooms at $200 a night or less? And yes, in a Europe where undistinguished three-star properties in major cities run more than $300 nightly and four-star hotels are north of $450, anything decent for $150 to $200 a night is synonymous with big value.
But buyer beware. These budget hotels are designed for sleeping, not luxuriating. Furnishings tend toward the basic, with an aesthetic that’s closer to Ikea than Ritz-Carlton (witness the Premier Inn room in the above photo). Many are aimed at budget travelers or penny-pinching business travelers. Many of these hotels are centrally located, often near train or subway stations, and European travelers use these properties all the time. Which is another way of saying that the hotels sell out, so book as far ahead as you can. The rooms are normally quite small, which means they’re good for a couple of nights. If you intend to stay in one place for a week, you might be better off finding an apartment or spending a bit more for a larger room. But given that chains can be inconsistent from location to location, it pays to check out individual properties on a site such as TripAdvisor.
Unlike larger properties that offer tiered rates, packages and discounts, most of these hotels establish their rates, publish them on the Web and don’t vary from them much at all. So don’t expect further discounting. The good news is that there’s a lot less of the kind of price fluctuation common in American hotels. Note, too, that breakfast is usually extra, but you might do better, both financially and from a quality standpoint, by eating at a nearby cafe.
IBIS An economy brand of Accor, the French hotel company, Ibis has 664 hotels in Europe, primarily in France and Germany. Many have rooms for around 100 euros per night, or $148. At the Ibis Gare du Nord La Fayette in Paris (which is close to the Gare du Nord station, terminus for the Eurostar train) rates can be as low as 89 Euros or $132 per night. These are no-frills places, and again, with so many properties, the quality can vary, so do a little research before booking. Paris is known for very small hotel rooms, but some of the Ibis properties take this to new extremes. If you tend to pack a lot, be forewarned: There may not be adequate room for you and your multiple suitcases. Yet another reason to consider carrry on.
INTERCITY HOTEL This chain has dozens of properties in Germany and Austria (in cities like Munich, Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg and Vienna) and a sprinkling in Switzerland, Italy and The Netherlands. They’re the midpriced siblings of the pricey Steigenberger hotel group and tend to be well-located, often near train stations. The InterCity Hotel Dusseldorf, for example, is aimed at business travelers and located next to that city’s main train station. Its look is ersatz Scandinavian, with simple furnishings. Rates in September begin at $140 (94.90 euros) for a standard room and a queen-size bed.
PREMIER INN With more than 500 locations around Britain, Premier offers either a king- or queen-size bed in every guest room. The chain recently upgraded its look and comfort level by contracting with Hypnos, the British bedmaker to the Queen, for new mattresses and a variety of pillows. The chain extends a promise to refund the cost of a room if you don’t get a sound night’s sleep. Still, do your homework on a site such as TripAdvisor, because quality can vary. Premier Inn London Hammersmith in West London costs 81 pounds, about $150, and is a few minutes’ walk from a tube stop. The hotel delivers a reasonable price, a clean room and a decent location, but don’t expect any frills. Another good bet is Premier Inn London Hampstead, located in one of London’s toniest neighborhoods (though it’s not in the center city). At 83 pounds ($154), it’s a great value. In other parts of the country, the chain can also save you money, although the locations are often in corporate settings rather than downtown. That’s the case with the Premier Inn Oxford, which is three miles from the city center. But at 64 pounds, or about $120, it’s hard to argue with the location.
THON HOTELS This Norwegian chain has 54 properties, known for their simple style, small rooms and even smaller baths. The best value lies in the Budget category (the chain’s City and Conference hotels are pricier). In September, The Thon Hotel Brussels City Centre has doubles from $200 (135 euros). If you’re traveling in the chain’s expensive homeland, these are good places to rest your head. The Thon Hotel Astoria in Oslo costs an amazing $166 (895 kroner) a night.
CAB INN The six Cab Inns have small, simple rooms, with modern and utilitarian furnishings, not unlike those found on a cruise ship, hence the punning name. Danish humor aside, the Cab Inn City, which is near Tivoli Gardens in the center of Copenhagen, is available for $131 (665 kroner). That’s the fixed rate for two people charged across the board by the chain. Three of the hotels are in Copenhagen; the rest are scattered around Denmark.
EASYHOTELS Owned by the founder of easyJet and easyCruise, these are budget hotels for a very short stay. You can expect an exceptionally small room with a flat-screen television, a private bath with shower and one towel per person. Daily housekeeping services and extra towels are available for a fee. There are no restaurants or bars on the premises. At the easyHotel London Victoria, a five-minute walk from Victoria Station, the rooms are big enough for two with luggage, but just barely, and many of them have no windows. Yes, you read that correctly. For a September stay, a "Small Room" with a window is $70 while a standard room with no window costs $80.
A FEW "BARGAINS" NOT WORTH THE PRICE
Not every chain deserves your devalued dollar. Take JJW Hotels & Resorts, which covers the price spectrum in France from budget to luxury. The cheapest offerings are the Stars Hotels, but the 20 properties are very inconsistent in quality and cleanliness. A similar lack of consistency dogs their midpriced Median properties in cities such as Paris and Evian and Geneva, Switzerland. Then there’s New-Hotel, which has 13 properties in France and one in Brussels. Ignore the name — there’s nothing new about them. They’re located in older buildings that seem to need lots of upkeep.If you stick to the better chains, not only will you be able to sleep comfortably, but you’ll be able to afford Europe at a time when watching what you spend has become an absolute necessity for most of us.