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My review of the Thistle Heathrow hotel and the driverless pods to Terminal 5

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This is my review of the Thistle Heathrow hotel at London Heathrow Airport and the driverless pods to Terminal 5.

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!

Heathrow pods

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 ….

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

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Comments (78)

  • Louise says:

    Thanks for the review, quite timely! I have a stay+parking booked for a few weeks time.

  • JamesB says:

    Brings back memories. I stayed here once only, in the late 80s or early 90s. The hotel didn’t have a particularly good reputation even then but compared to the Choice group hotel I had stayed previously it felt positively luxurious. Oddly, I’ve stayed at many Heathrow hotels once only with the exception of Hilton T4 where I have stayed a few times.

    Btw, got a new phone? Your photos are much improved!

    • Rob says:

      Yes, iPhone 8

      • John says:

        Any particular reason you went for the 8 over the X ? (Am just curious. I’d do the same, not to save a few quid, but to retain TouchID!)

        • Rob says:

          I have big hands and long fingers and can use an 8 one-handed (as I could a 6 and 7). Even I can’t use an X one-handed though as the screen is too long.

  • Sue says:

    OT- got an email from hilton yesterday letting me know a ‘world sale’ begins on tuesday with honor members getting up to 25% off rates

    • JamesB says:

      Anybody who is smart will book their next stay before Tuesday, IME Hiltln generally increase their prices during sales. If BFR is unattractive and you cannot commit to a prepaid rate then consider bocking in a 5000 points and money rate now and check back when sale starts to see if you got lucky.

    • Matt says:

      I did just get £50 of £250 Hilton spend offer on my Plat Amex.
      BUT you need to check the list of hotels, its definitely missing several of the cheaper hotels in London. I was hoping for 3-4 nights booking in advance (end of April|), flexible on location etc. not possible unless its Wembley or Heathrow. So I suspect they have bumped price already, or its because thats “spring” and priced higher.

    • paul says:

      Well that explains the 25% hike in rates at some hotels in the USA I am looking at later in the year. In under 24 hours up from $116 to $157 over a range a days and dates.

      If it looks to good to be true it almost certainly is.

  • mark2 says:

    If you ring Holiday Extras you can book an modernised room for £12 odd extra. Surprisingly this is not advertised or available online. The room is still small of course.

  • BA-flyer says:

    If the Hotel Hoppa is a rip-off at £5 per person, the pods are an outrage, given they travel a fraction of the distance. Is there no way to walk out the vehicle exit, and use the main hotel entrance?

    • TGLoyalty says:

      It’s time vs money though. £5 to stop at numerous hotels on the way vs go directly to the terminal.

      • Yuff says:

        I did the hoppa from T5 Hilton Tuesday and back Friday and it was direct both times.
        T5 Hilton is extremely handy, I find, for T5 🙂
        Shame my last 2 stays I haven’t made the happy hour lounge times 🙁
        Did wonder about asking for a drink voucher but thought that was a bit cheeky

        • TGLoyalty says:

          I tried a couple weeks ago and the hoppa never turned up at Heathrow so ended up getting the normal bus just as direct but far less frequent

      • Lady London says:

        And the pods are sweet. That’s the point.

    • Genghis says:

      Not without walking via Longford I don’t believe (which I did in my youth)

    • John says:

      Bus 423 goes to the front entrance for free.

    • Rob says:

      Don’t agree with your logic there! The reason the pod is a bargain is that it is quick. If it took 15 minutes for £5 no-one would bother.

  • Greenpen says:

    I think you are being a bit harsh reviewing the hotel. It is old and even for the fit not having a lift is difficult if you have luggage. But it is very good value and if the weather is fine eating a meal on their terrace is a nice experience. The food is rather trad-brit but good value and nicely presented. I’ve only stayed once but would happily do so again if the price was right.

  • Jon says:

    Sofitel all the way for me at T5 if I have an early flight. Nobody drives my car, the hotel is a short walk from departures and the food in the restaurant is as good as any Michelin-starred restaurant. Parking deals are a bit hit-and-miss, but there’s usually something when booking well in advance. Typically those offers don’t include breakfast, but you can be in the airport lounge 10 minutes from walking away from hotel reception.

    • Jamie says:

      Did you not consider another room? What a total waste of time backtracking from the Thistle to Hilton Garden Inn. I wish I was as time rich as you are!

    • James says:

      I would love to stay at the sofitel if i had an early flight, trouble is in school holidays the prices go way up. I checked the sofitel for the last time i stayed at the Thistle, i paid £140 at the thistle for myself, 2 kids and a weeks car parking – or £350 at the Sofitel. My kids love the pods, its a good adventure to start the holiday!

  • Tom says:

    The Qatar Airways First Class Lounge? I think you mean Al Safwa instead, otherwise you might as well add T5 Galleries Club North to the list! :p

    I also think you are being overly generous to the Thistle (then again you appear to have received a nicer room than I did). Only hotel I’ve ever walked out of – checked in before a back-to-back flight to Dublin, came back a few hours later to the horrible, unclean, smoky room and decided “no thanks” so booked the always reliable Hilton Garden Inn on the Hilton App on the way back down to reception!

    • Jamie says:

      Did you not consider another room? What a total waste of time backtracking from the Thistle to Hilton Garden Inn. I wish I was as time rich as you are!

      • Tom says:

        It probably took me about 20 minutes to get a pod back to T5 then the Tube to Hatton Cross. Amusing that you couldn’t possibly find the time to do that but you have time to post in the comments here. What a bizarrely unnecessarily confrontational post.