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I finally try out Thistle Heathrow and the driverless pods to Terminal 5! (Part 1)

I left this article for the weekend because it is, fundamentally, a bit silly and indulgent and possibly a symptom of someone having a middle age crisis ….!

I’ve ticked off a lot of the key goals in the frequent traveller field.  Etihad First Class Apartment?  Check.  Lufthansa First Class and the Frankfurt First Class Terminal?  Check.  The Qatar Airways First Class Lounge in Doha?  Check.  Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse at Heathrow T3?  Check.

One thing still escaped me though …. I’d never taken the driverless pods at Heathrow Terminal 5.  It knawed away at me every time I took a taxi to the airport and drove past them.

On Tuesday, I got my chance!

The biggest downside of staying at one of the hotels at Heathrow which is NOT directly connected to the terminals is the slow and painful process of getting to or from the airport.  The local Heathrow buses are free (this article explains which ones to take) but you need to get to the relevant bus stop and know where to get off.  This is tricky enough before you start to consider carrying your luggage.

The Hotel Hoppa bus service picks up directly from outside the terminals and drops you directly at the hotels.  However, the journey can be slow because each bus stops at a number of different hotels on its route.  It also costs a rip-off £5 per person each way.

If you stay at the Thistle Hotel at Heathrow, there is a third option.

The Thistle is situated next to the Heathrow car park from where the driverless pods take you to and from Terminal 5.

The Thistle has done a deal with Heathrow Airport to allow its customers to use the pods.  This being Heathrow, it is not a free service – you are charged £5 per person, each way, all of which is apparently paid to the airport.

My trip

I needed to stay at Heathrow on Tuesday night and decided to give the pods – and therefore the Thistle Heathrow hotel – a try.

It is well known that this is, to put it mildly, not the most modern hotel at Heathrow.  That was reflected in the £85 price, booked the day before.

Getting to Thistle Heathrow from the airport via the pods

I took a taxi to the hotel.  However, if you are coming from Terminal 5, you simply following the signs for Pod parking on Level 2 of the car park and select Station B.  When you arrive, 5 minutes later, there is a short walkway to your right which leads you to a gate.  You can buzz reception from here to have the gate opened for you, in return for having £5 added to your bill.

My room

This is not meant to be a full review of the Thistle Heathrow hotel.  I arrived at 10pm and left at 7am.  However, I will show you a few pictures.

I had heard bad things about this place.  Frankly, without the Pod access, there is no reason – at all – to stay here.

And yet …. it tries.  The staff were very friendly.  They have moved with the times and installed a ‘grab and go’ fridge in the lobby so you can get a half-decent snack:

The rest of the hotel is untouched from the 1980s.  I got a very weird feeling walking through it.  It was a throwback to when I first started staying in UK hotels when I was 19 or 20 on university work placements.  Anyone else remember when Thistle ran the Avon Gorge Hotel – soon to relaunch as a Hotel du Vin – overlooking Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol?

The room … well, it was OK.  Whilst the room was small, the bed was big, comfy and clean:

The bathroom had clearly been redone in the last five years or so and, whilst not huge, was perfectly fine for a hotel of this calibre:

The weird thing was the desk.  It was, very possibly, the original desk.  I have never, ever, had a hotel room with a desk so old.  It was at least 30 years old.  The photo below does not do justice to the chips, odd stains and general sense of junk that it gave off:

It is weird.  For £100 they could have replaced it with something decent.  A few thousand pounds has been spent on the bathroom but the desk is ancient.  Wi-fi was at least free, but slow as I found when trying to upload these images.

Here is a blast from the past for those of you aged 45 or above:

Do you see the MCT logo on the bedside control panel?  That stands for ‘Mount Charlotte Thistle’ which is what the group was called back for a while in the 1980s.  I hadn’t seen that logo for literally 25 years.

There isn’t much more to say.  The rooftop (although this is only a 2-story building, with no lift) restaurant apparently has a great viewing terrace over the runway.  The bar looked like your average 3-star hotel bar.  I didn’t use either – I ate at home and decided to have breakfast in the Plaza Premium T5 lounge.

In conclusion, you can clearly do better.  For the £85 I paid, it was fine.  For comparison, the Hilton Garden Inn at Hatton Cross was £130 and the single bed rooms at the Holiday Inn Arial were £120.  Arriving at 10pm and leaving at 7am, the Thistle Heathrow did the job and being able to get the pod to Terminal 5 was a real time saver.

Getting back to the airport via the pods

In Part 2 of this review – click here – I will talk about how the pods work and about how easy it is to get there from the Thistle.  I even made a little video (see what I mean about middle age crisis?) ….

You can find out more about the Pod service on the Thistle Heathrow website here.

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I finally try out Thistle Heathrow and the driverless pods to Terminal 5! (Part 2)
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  1. The pod pics are presumably stock photos as they’re from angles you’d not be able to take yourself. Have they been updated with current Heathrow branding yet? Last time I used them was just before T2 opened and they hadn’t been updated then, but I’d have thought they’d have got round to it by now. All the photos I’ve seen of the pods always show the old brand (with the BAA logo)

    • Part 2 answers that one. Now branded Heathrow Pod Parking with the new style branding! It used to be called Heathrow Business Parking (T5), I’ve had a look and now they use the business parking brand to refer to a car park that has a bus transfer in.

    • It was chucking it down on Wed AM so I went with stock pictures.

  2. I booked a stay and park deal here specifically to use the Pods. I can only agree with Rob’s comments about the hotel and the staff. However, parking was a real problem. we arrived at aroound 11:00pm and it took about 10 minutes to find a parking space. There were only four spaces left in the entire car park. People had parked half on kerbs and on the road where there were double yellow lines.Clearly the park and stay offer is one of their more popular deals, but there is not enough space to meet the demand.

  3. For those who don’t want to pay £5 for the privilege of using the pod, note that the 7 (blue) and 423 (red) buses stop outside the hotel’s front door and are free of charge to T5. The 7 in the other direction goes to CTA for T2 and T3 (also free).

    • And if you want to try out the pods for fun, you can use them from T5 to the car parks and back 🙂

      • Michael Jennings says:

        Yes, I went to Heathrow once just to do that. I will admit it here because this place is full of other people like that.

    • The_real_a says:

      And if you are a geek and want to do this remember that parking is free for 2 hours in all heathrow long stay carparks

  4. “I even made a little video (see what I mean about middle age crisis?) ….”

    Making a Snapchat Story would be a sign of crisis. A video, not so much 🙂

  5. BrianN says:

    The breakfast at this hotel is actually pretty good. I’ve had worse at more expensive places.

  6. Martin says:

    Those prices make the Sofitel at T5 seem like good value at 150 or so

  7. Andrew says:

    When I used the Thistle my room was £75. I had dinner in Central London, so when I arrived at 10.30 by rain didn’t want to wait for buses so paid £5 to get to the hotel. It was dated but so what all I needed was a clean, quiet comfortble room to ensure sleep and thats what I got. I left early and was soon in the First Lounge for breakast. My stay had 5 mins travelling time that I wouldnt had had at the T5 Sofitel, but I saved a shed load of cash. I certainly wouldnt prefer to pay 130 and still have a bus ride there and back!

  8. Michelle says:

    Another one unimpressed by the parking overcrowding. Room was fine for the money, breakfast was good and I thought the pod was fun.
    Reluctant to use the Thistle as a stay/park/fly again due to the parking situation, but would use the pods again.

  9. The opening of the hotel was filmed by British Pathe:

    Other hotel openings filmed by them include the HI Arial ( ) and Park Inn ( )

  10. And Holiday Inn near Heathrow is called Ariel rather than Aerial….

  11. Sapiens says:

    Currently at the Thistle rooftop restaurant next to the runway!! Have a 2 hours spare at LHT T5 so came here.

    Slightly shabby hotel but GREAT view over the runway. £15 buffet breakfast.

    It’s opposite the new T5 lounge that opened last year.

  12. Carl S says:

    My wife and I stayed in the Thistle last December for a short trip to Berlin for the Christmas Markets. We have tried various Heathrow Hotels and find the Hoppa transfer tedious and if you catch the cycle wrong can take up to an hour to get back to your hotel . The Thistle is basic but clean and bed was comfortable. We had breakfast included in the rate and the breakfast was on a par or better than HI express. The pod transfer was simple and REALLY quick and convenient. Parking seemed limited, spaces quite tight. The are several little car parks and a half empty one we spotted out of our bedroom window, just needed to a little further around the one way towards the exit. Would definitely do it again, especially when we have an early flight out of T5. Booked through ‘Holidayextras’ £109 for room, breakfast, parking, pod

  13. Ruth4325 says:

    I did notice a few Thistle ‘customers’ hanging about the gateway waiting to be let in to the code so didn’t want to pay £5 clearly…

  14. @alastairtravel says:

    Worth noting that the Pods go for maintenance sometimes – mostly weekends.

    There is zero information about this from Thistle – you have to search it out on the Heathrow website.

    Booked in there in October as had an early morning flight and cost of hotel with parking no more than parking alone. Found out on arrival pods out of action and had to get an Uber due to the early hour – was about £14 even in an Uber as the one way system goes a long way round (buses can shortcut). A prebooked taxi was about £25!

    • £14 is a bargain. Cost me £20 in an Uber from the Crowne Plaza at 6am one day last August and that is nearer.

  15. Parking can be huge problem at Thistle if you arrive at busy period or wrong time of the day. Also, even if you arrive when there’s a lot of parking spaces, make sure you park in the one you won’t be blocked. Some people think it’s ok to park outside of marked parking spaces and block others. School holiday time is is the worst.

    Rooms are cheap so you get what you pay for. It works for overnight stay and that’s it.

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