My favorite Home Alone movie was always the one where Kevin ended up living at the Plaza Hotel, in New York, mostly because he ended up living at the Plaza Hotel, in New York. What a dream, to have an entire staff waiting on you day and night, no responsibilities, and—best of all—you’ve got someone else’s credit card on file to pay for the whole racket.
Back in the old days, living in hotels by choice was legitimately a thing. Celebrities did it, writers did it, and to this day, for me anyway, there’s this romance, this appeal to hotel living I’ve never quite been able to get past, even after years of traveling the United States spending upwards of 100 nights a year at Courtyards by Marriott, and Hampton Inns by Hilton. The Plaza, hardly, just like so many of the cities—Shreveport, Tallahassee, El Paso—have hardly been Central Park-adjacent Manhattan. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Far closer to my imagined ideal is London, perhaps the last place I ever expected to end up living in a hotel. Turns out, even after years of traveling there on assignment, I didn’t really know all that much about the way hotels work in the United Kingdom, or across the English Channel for that matter. On the medium-to-low end of things, they’re just not that expensive. Glamorous, usually not at all. Entirely agreeable? With surprising frequency. The recent, relatively swift growth of one particular hotel chain has all but revolutionized budget travel within the UK, and since 2016, I’ve been taking advantage of this development like you wouldn’t believe.
Launched from humble beginnings back in the late 1980’s to compete with the British version of Travelodge (far nicer than our Travelodges, typically), Premier Inn has 800 hotels and counting, all throughout the British Isles, totaling upwards of 70,000 rooms, which is quite a lot of rooms for a relatively small part of the world. These days, Premier Inn and Travelodge seem to be locked in a sort of dare, with both brands slowly improving their product. For long stays, I’m totally team Premier Inn, for reasons that I’ll get into later, but I’ll tell you straight up, right now—after countless stays during U.K. visits that have lasted nearly three months at a time, I’ve yet to leave a Premier Inn feeling like I didn’t get what I paid for, and then some.
We can start with the prices—a casual search for seven nights in early August, a peak travel period for Americans, drives the point home. Paying $575 gets you seven nights, including taxes and wireless internet, in London’s very central Smithfield Market area; for about $100 less, you can get the same seven nights at a brand new property right next to the multimodal station in Wimbledon, an easy ride from the heart of everything. Curious about other parts of the U.K, which you ought to be? How about $492 for seven nights at the heart of cheerful Bristol, one of the country’s most likable cities, which offers you easy access to Bath, where hotels will cost almost double over the summer.
Head up to England’s perennially underrated north, and the deals are even better. Stay at another brand new Premier Inn property, this time in happening Leeds, for only $430; the train station is just a few minutes away on foot and offers excellent links to popular, pricier York, fashionable Harrogate, the bucolic Calder Valley (watch Happy Valley on Netflix before you go), and other memorable cities like Sheffield, Manchester, and the architectural treasure trove that is Bradford. You can stay for about $300 a week in Bradford's very fine Premier Inn, if you're really looking for a "deep cut" kind of experience.
Should you be okay with traveling off-peak, say in the fall, or spring (you can’t knock a good English spring, even if it gets a bit muddy) you can often knock hundreds more off, which is how I ended up booking four weeks at a hotel in London, walking distance to a Zone 2 tube station, for roughly $1,200, including all taxes, and internet. Take it from someone who’s spending the summer on the road in the United States—finding a hotel you’d want to spend one night in, let alone 30 of them, for that kind of money, is all but impossible. Want in on the deals? Here are a few pointers to get you right to the good stuff.
How to Find a Cheap Hotel Room in England
1. Watch for new hotel openings like a hawk
They seem to be happening faster and faster these days, and if you’re willing to be a guinea pig, which is how I got the deal I did this year, introductory rates can be astoundingly low. That particular property, the Premier Inn Wimbledon Broadway, already open for nearly six months, has piled up an impressive number of resoundingly positive reviews in a short period of time. Best of all, I could have saved even more, if I’d had the nerve to book the non-refundable advance rate, right when I first found it—$38 per night, including tax and internet, in a decent part of London, right next to a tube station. For a few more bucks, I got total flexibility, until I knew I could absolutely commit to those dates, then I went back and locked in the still-very-low Saver rate. Good stuff.
2. Remember, all rooms are not created equal
The older properties certainly do scream simplicity, but I’ve had some of my best stays at places that have yet to be renovated—the brand is quickly moving towards one type of very modern room product, which I would rank easily somewhere between the newest Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn properties in the United States. Overall, rooms can be smaller than some Americans will be used to in places like London, but a representative of the company stated that the average rooms size, allowing for slight differences from location to location, is about 229 square feet, which isn’t all that different from, say, your average double room at a Fairfield Inn by Marriott. Beds are made in the UK by Hypnos, which supplies the Royal Family (they’ve had a Royal Warrant since 1929), every room has tea and coffee making facilities, all have desks, the newer ones feature terrific and well-connected workstations. Bathrooms typically feature powerful, very hot showers, and nearly all new properties have air conditioning. In some parts of the country, you still don’t need it, save for perhaps a few days during the summer.
Soundproofing is no better or worse than any hotel in the category, and I’d definitely rank it higher than what you’ll find at a lot of American hotels that cost far more. Fire doors up and down the corridors help keep things quiet, as does the Quiet Zone policy, in place at every hotel, and the Good Night Guarantee, which promises you your money back if you don’t sleep well. In all the times I’ve stayed, I’ve never once been disturbed by excessive noise, and I’ve spent a lot of quiet Saturday evenings—typically the U.K.’s big night out, with all that entails—in Premier Inns.
3. Don't skip breakfast
Properties can differ slightly on execution, but the vast majority of them offer the same massive breakfast spread. Your British friends might sneer at, say, the quality of the sausages, but for anyone used to American hotel breakfasts—which are never truly free either—a Premier Inn breakfast is like a revelation. For about $12 per adult, with accompanying children under 16 eating free, it’s an all-you-can-eat bonanza—you could sit there eating poached eggs, decent bacon, British breakfast sausages (gourmet or no, far better than what we’re typically served at home), and beans on toast for hours every morning with nobody batting an eyelid, all with unlimited cappuccinos and espressos and pretty much everything else a person could cram down their gullet before 10 o’clock in the morning. I’ve found, when I end up going down for breakfast, that I’m not really hungry until dinner time. If you’re terribly lazy, most of the hotels serve sit-down evening meals as well, and they even sell a meal deal, chain-wide, for about $30, which includes breakfast, plus a three-course dinner and a drink. If you needed to spend more than a few bucks for a sandwich or salad at lunch to round out the day’s food budget, I’d definitely be impressed.
4. Know that sometimes there are drawbacks
There are a few of them, actually, but no dealbreakers, at least not so far. My least favorite thing is not unique to Premier Inn. It’s becoming far too common on the budget hotel front these days. New hotels usually feature windows that do not open. Guests have control over the airflow, but for claustrophobes, this can be a no-go. Many of the properties have in the past made the window situation quite clear on their booking pages, but I’ve noticed it’s not consistent. If you’re concerned, definitely ask ahead.
There’s also no such thing as asking for a microwave or a mini-fridge, as you might in the United States. For longer stays, having to go out in search of every dinner can be a drag. Part of my job is to go out and try restaurants, but I’m hungry when I’m off the clock as well, and very much in the mind of saving a buck at the same time. I always try to make sure I’m booking a hotel that’s a short walk to a least one department store food hall or supermarket—if you know the U.K., you know they’re masters of prepared food; nothing like dropping $7 or so at Marks & Spencer, and walking out with a hearty meal for two—half a roast chicken, delicious new potato salad, fantastic pickled beets, whatever you’re into, no judgments. Try eating that well for that little at Whole Foods.