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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)

  • Lee says:

    Their basic rooms are dreadful.

    Got food poisoning, which probably come from them as nothing else eaten.

    They now have security manning the pod gates so don’t try and cheat.

    Use the free bus from the front, works a treat. Every 20 minutes. Number 423.

    A hotel to avoid, big time.

  • Graham Walsh says:

    I used to use the pods a fair bit. Nothing worse than someone else getting into the same pod as you.

    However the pricing for parking there has gone through the roof so I just do meet and greet now.

    • gnarlyoldgoatdude says:

      Nothing worse? I’ve had the pods break down on me twice.
      Once, mid-trip, it returned to the station as a safety measure (I obviously would have preferred the airport). On another time my station shut itself down just as we put in a request. Not a serious problem, but it was hard enough travelling with a toddler without having to trek through the rain to another station.

  • Alex Sm says:

    Why do you always send and publish the second parts of 2-part articles before the first?? Very inconvenient…

    • Scott says:

      Often wondered this – I get my articles through a feed reader, and part 2 always comes before part 1 – mildly annoying!

      • Rob says:

        It is so, on the home page, they stack in order.

        • Alex Sm says:

          The order is usually reverse, this is how content organised normally – and this is what people intuitively expect from any website – newer content on top, older one further down. There is no valid reason to do otherwise as it is confusing

    • Rob says:

      So Part 1 is first on the home page! And most UK readers are in bed at 5am anyway.

      • Alex Sm says:

        Your readers are frequent travellers and they could be anywhere – from the US West Coast to the Middle East and Asia, so this shouldn’t be that UK-focused in the first place.
        And second – most importantly – there is an established web content logic when the older content goes below the newer one in news feeds, blogs, emails, whatnot. Why would you choose to go against this logic?

        • Nick says:

          A note in support of Rob’s decision here – I read the stuff on the (mobile) website not through email and it would confuse me no end if part 2 were above part 1! Rob will have the figures for sure but I suspect more users read online than on email.

          • Rob says:

            The most successful articles do better online but for run of the mill stuff it is equal. The emails have a 55% open rate on average so that is about 6,000 opens per article. Popular articles on the site get over 10,000 but that is only a couple per week.

        • Rob says:

          We don’t follow established logic, we follow old school newspaper logic which is why we publish first thing in the morning to read on your commute!

        • Leo says:

          I think you will find most of us are indeed UK based most comments seem t come from Scotland!). It’s entirely appropriate that this site is UK focussed and long may it remain so.

        • Alex Sm says:

          Even if you follow old school newspaper logic – part 1 should appear in yesterday’s newspaper and in a stack it will be placed under the today’s one with part 2. Newer content ALWAYS goes on top.

  • Chris Wollen says:

    – Quite a nice lollop for a Saturday read; the mid-life crisis perhaps needs the soundtrack from the 70’s song ‘I’ve never been to me (!) and very ‘Thistle hotel’ 1970 s Jet set,… !

  • 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.

    • Rob says:

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

  • MG says:

    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.

  • Nick says:

    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).

    • Nick says:

      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

  • Lux says:

    “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 🙂