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Which? looks at the UK’s best and worst hotel chains

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I was sent a copy of Which? Travel magazine this month because I’m quoted in it.  I very rarely see it otherwise since it is a subscription-only title.

The November issue includes the annual Which? Travel reader survey into the best and worst UK hotel chains.  The results are not hugely surprising but they still make interesting reading.

The methodology, based on reader votes, is complex so I’ll just focus on the overall ranking.

The winner was Premier Inn with 79%.  This is fine by me – I have written before on HFP about how impressive I find Premier Inn on the odd occasions when I need to use them.

Hilton Garden Inn comes second but with only eight UK properties doesn’t really mean much.  Third was Fuller’s Hotels with 75% – a chain I have never used.

Non-UK based readers may be surprised to see Crowne Plaza in 5th place, but the quality of their UK hotels is far higher than you would find in the USA.

Other brands I like – Renaissance, DoubleTree, Hampton and Radisson Blu Edwardian – also do well.

Premier Inn Which? Travel

But what about the bottom of the list?

Of the 32 large chains covered, there is no prize for guessing who comes bottom.  Not only does this chain come last, but it comes last by a whopping margin of 22% from its nearest competitor.

Yes, step forward Britannia Hotels.  Despite having 60 hotels they can’t manage an overall score of more than 35%.  The 2nd worst chain (Old English Inns) manages 57%.

The biggest surprise in the bottom 12 is Hilton, although there are some exceptionally ropey regional properties out there.  Mercure was also a surprise near the bottom although I am biased because the one I see most often is the exceptional Sheffield hotel.  It is less of a surprise to see easyHotel, Park Inn, Thistle and Travelodge down there.

PS.  If you can get hold of a copy, there is also an interesting story about shrinking hotel rooms.  The Which? Travel team visits a London hotel with a 5 sq m room (of which the bedroom is 3 sq m – the single bed touches the wall on both sides) and apparently some easyHotel UK rooms are 6 sq m.  Z Hotel in Soho has 8 sq m rooms which are, impressively, 50% more expensive per square metre than booking a suite at The Ritz ….

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Comments

  1. Genghis says:

    No surprise re Premier Inn. A mostly standard product so you know what you’re going to get. Comfortable beds. Usually decent value (I generally pay £30-40 a night in the north east).

    • Top two were a bit of a surprise to me, I had stayed at one of each and on that basis I avoided both since. PI was in Coventry IIRC and HGI in Aberdeen, I found both solid but uninspiring. Staying at HGI Glasgow for a meeting later this month so will Dee if that changes my views.

      • Genghis says:

        Agreed on PI being uninspiring. But that’s better than being dirty, noisy pipework, uncomfortable beds etc. I think (bizarrely) my expectations of UK hotels are lower than elsewhere.

        I stayed at HGI Glasgow by the river around five years ago for a week long work stay. Thought the room was solid at the time, but breakfast poor.

        • Breakfast was also poor at the Aberdeen HGI, just a few plate buffet with the basics. I found that disappointing as I booked it believing I would be getting a cooked to order breakfast as I’m not a fan of buffets. I am not sure if HGI Glasgow was a new build or if it was a reflag of the City Inn, oddly that hotel had a very poor reputation for breakfast but a high one for other dining.

        • Erico1875 says:

          If staying in Aberdeen I recommend The SKENE SUITES

        • Yes, thought about staying there to take advantage of first booking bonus via rocket miles but there have been reports that getting the bonus from rocket miles is hit and miss. Usually I stay Hilton group for points and EQ.

        • Have no idea what its like now, but when I was a student in Aberdeen, my parents liked staying at the previously independant “The Patio” hotel.

          I see its now a Doubletree – its on the beach Boulevard, so, a short walk up into the town with the Queens Links for places for eating just over the road.

          Maybe a plan the next time you are in Aberdeen and wish to stay with Hilton ?

      • Have stayed in HGI Glasgow several times – solid value, if rooms a bit small. Try to get a “left at the top of the stairs” room as they seem slightly bigger. Don’t know why!

  2. Barnaby100 says:

    There are a couple of very dodgy Hilton’s in the midlands (not East Midlands that is ok and the staff are good). Leicester and Northampton are awful.

    • Just proves how people have differing impressions. Wasn’t overly impressed with East Midlands but liked Northampton.

      • Barnaby100 says:

        The rooms are not great but the staff are very helpful. Diamond so usually get put in a better room maybe?

        Very sleazy experience at one of the others, can’t recall which one (which has the statues? ). Wouldn’t go back.

    • Sheffield is so dated it’s actually quite hilarious

    • Trickster says:

      I disagree. Did a three day trip taking in Northampton Hilton, St George’s Park Hilton (a favourite), and Nottingham Doubletree.

      While some of fixtures at Northampton are a bit dated, the room was fine, and the breakfast was the best of the three.

      St. George’s Park never lets us down in terms of suite upgrade and facilities, but breakfast was below par and some renovation of the restaurant is now needed.

      Nottingham was a good find, and well treated as a gold member with drinks vouchers and gifts from a trolley at check in.

      • Barnaby100 says:

        The doubletree Nottingham is another sleazy hotel that I won’t stay in as a woman.

        • Barnaby100 says:

          Although the sleaziest was one near Sheffield when Jim Davidson was performing at a men’s event at the hotel. I left.

  3. Erico1875 says:

    To be fair. Brittania do not pretend to be anything other than budget.
    Often the Edinburgh one is sub £70 on a Saturday when even out of the way travelodges are +£100 and your Hiiltons etc £200+.
    It is in what was 30 odd years ago the quite impressive 4 star Ladbrokes Dragonara. Unfortunately I don’t think anything has been done in those 30 years so it is pretty worn blooming

    • Travelodge “refurbished” the Dragonara- adding rooms into the upstairs entrance area and the former function spaces (some of these extra rooms have not got proper windows).

  4. Sandgrounder says:

    Anyone not familiar with Britannia, plenty of material is available on Google and YouTube, searching ‘watchdog Eileen Downey’ will throw up a few entertaining duels between the one-time reality star now sitting on the board and Ann Robinson.

  5. From my experiences across the country, PI is a very reliable product and, in the main, great value – you know what you are going to get: clean rooms, very comfortable beds and a steady dining/breakfast offer. The only downside is that they do not offer loyalty/frequent stay points, unlike other hotel chains.

  6. Shoestring says:

    More here including ranking table https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/hotels/articles/revealed-worst-best-hotel-chains-in-britain/

    Criteria:
    Average price paid for a one-night stay (including all room types)
    Cleanliness (including bedrooms, bathrooms and communal areas)
    Quality of the bedrooms (including furniture, air conditioning, heating, facilities)
    Bathrooms (including fixtures and fittings, lighting, towels, toiletries, shower or bath)
    Bed comfort (including quality of mattress, pillow and duvet)
    How well the description of the hotel matched the actual experience

  7. “Mercure was also a surprise near the bottom”
    I think Accor puts everything that cannot be a novotel, a ibis or a sofitel into a mercure brand.
    It is ok for new built ones or refurbished ones, but new hotels coming into the brand can be sometimes weird.
    I believe in the uk most of the mercure came from other chains.

    “interesting story about shrinking hotel rooms”
    I remenber one of the room at the Radisson Edwardian behind oxford street being also about 8 sq m. More of the exception instead of a real standard at this hotel.
    But it was stylish. And I only paid £80 the night when I was there.
    It was a decade ago.
    Not bad for central London.
    It is maybe like economy seats on airlines: shrinking space!

    • 1nfrequent says:

      I agree with you about Mercure. There are also some horribly dated properties in the Mercure chain and a lack of consistency in terms of what you can expect from them. I’ve also found it difficult to get status recognition in some UK Mercures – just getting a drinks voucher can involve some back and forth, which all adds to the aggravation.

      1F

      • Michael Jennings says:

        “Mercure can be sometimes weird”. Yes, I find them very inconsistent. (I”m talking about Europe wide experiences more than the UK, though). I’ve stayed in very nice ones, and also much less nice ones. As someone else said, they seem to be the brand that Accor use for conversions that don’t fit into one of the other categories.

        The voters in this survey have tended to reward consistency, I think. Chains where you know exactly what you are going to get and then get it are rewarded. I suspect bad experiences – where people have thought they were going to get something and didn’t – have been punished harshly. That’s fair enough, I think. One of the purposes of hotel chains is to give people something comfortable and familiar when they are away from home and the things around them are perhaps less comfortable and familiar.

    • Only stayed in one Mercure and that was in Koblenz. It was absolutely fantastic. We had a dual aspect room with a wonderful view overlooking the Rhine.

  8. Completely disagree re Mercure being a surprise.

    There are quite a few that could give Britannia a run for their money. Up here in Scotland the properties in Ayr, Glasgow City and Aberdeen Caledonian are absolute hell holes. Edinburgh Princes St is fine if you get a castle view room, the rest are a throw back to the days of when it was a Jarvis Hotel (20yrs ago). Even in England Kensington, Hyde Park and Brighton are ratty poor.

    Like every chain there are some pretty decent ones. Edinburgh Haymarket, Bankside/London Bridge are pretty good and Ardoe House up in Aberdeen is very good as is Sheffield. Unfortunately the poor ones are in the majority.

    • Thanks. I admit my Mercure UK experience is Sheffield biased, where it is one of top two in the city centre.

    • Totally agree, the Mercure near Leeds Bradford airport is only marginally better than the Britannia. The latter of which is by far the worst hotel I have ever stayed in. It says something when the Travelodge is better than the pair of them.

    • RussellH says:

      A lot of Mercures used to be Jarvis / Ramada Jarvis:- Manchester Picadilly, Bolton (which was a new build and not unpleasant) near the football ground, Glasgow George Square, Sutton Coldfield, west of Ashford, Kent…
      And I agree that you never really know just what you are going to find.
      The one that is part of the Opera House complex in Bregenz turned out to be quite decent.

    • Has Edinburgh Princes st not just been refurb’ed?

  9. When booking for 2 adults and 2 boys that seems to rule everyone out apart from Premier Inn and Travelodge ! Most other hotels seem to show photos of a sofa bed and indicate 2 boys will share a sofa bad. At least I know that I’m the premier inn they get a bed each

    • MrHandBaggageOnly says:

      Exactly. It is for this reason alone that Hilton and Accor have lost out on several stays (including one a couple of weeks ago) over the years. If I give the kids a choice (having ensured they are aware of the points and bonuses at Hilton etc.), they’ll still choose Premier Inn every time. I don’t mind though, because it means a better night’s sleep for us as well as there are no arguments! Plus, which other chain has the bonus offering of bubble and squeak at breakfast?!

      • Wally1976 says:

        …and 2 children’s breakfasts are free when you pay for an adult’s at both PI and Travelodge.

  10. Andrew Stock says:

    Britannia Hotels, the government uses them to house immigrants!

    Need I say any more.

    • Not always.

      I was chatting to an immigrant at a College function last night, he’s staying in the Randolph in Oxford (at his college’s expense) whilst he sorts out a place to rent.

  11. I’m spending next week at a Premier Inn in Glasgow which I’ve always found to be very good. Whilst I agree that Mercure quality can vary, in Aberdeen we use the Mercure Caledonian which is very comfortable. It’s centrally placed, just off Union Street, but it seems beyond their ability to provide a decent breakfast despite the price they charge for it so eat elsewhere.

  12. Shoestring says:

    Malmaison scored pretty much equal on points with PI a year ago, where is it this year?

    They run very keen offers if you book well ahead.

    • Yes, where is Malmaison, Rob? It’s one of the best chains in the UK

      • Malmaison is not on the main list because it has too few hotels (it is weird – Hilton Garden Inn only has 8 and is on the main list, because the list is based on hotels owned by the broader group). It scores 70% which, if transferred to the main list, would put it 10th. 70% is the same as Radisson Blu and HI Express.

        Whilst they were very well regarded in their prime, I hear less about them these days and there are few openings – I don’t know if the chain has stopped investing or not, or whether the existing hotels are going down the tube. Malmaison and Hotel du Vin are now owned by a Singaporean long stay apartments group.

  13. I still can’t figure out why Britannia buys large hotels in generally good (or at least convenient) locations and just lets them rot. Seems like a no-brainer to spend at least a little on refurb.

    • Their hotel in Coventry is a prime example of this. One of only two or three hotels inside the ring road, it’s an ugly concrete monstrosity on the outside, and worse on the inside.

  14. Echo the sentiments about Hilton, with Diamond status it beats PI hands down, and I’m guessing that regular travellers mostly go back to Hiltons that they like rather than the random selection that Which? will have taken.
    PI is good – but in London it’s expensive – you don’t get rooms for £35 LOL.

    I also treat Which? with a pinch of salt – they rely on sensational stories to get their readers, it’s not necessarily a representative sample. Be interesting to see how Which? come out on a review of review sites 🙂

    • Genghis says:

      I’m not so sure. I’ve stayed at some dive Hiltons in the UK even as Diamond and they’re still dives. Just a bigger dive of a room. I’ve still got an offer of a free weekend stay at Hilton Leeds which I’ve still not taken them up on as it’s a rubbish hotel; great kippers at breakfast though.

      • Andrew L says:

        The Doubletree in Cheltenham is a horrible hotel.

        • We stayed there once and were upgraded to a suite… it was nice enough for a cheap stay using points. Would be happy to stay again if we get the same room for a similar price

      • Fair enough. I do tend to go back to properties I like, Hilton Wembley for example is very good with a great lounge, and often ridiculously cheap and easy to access on Met line. Likewise DT Tower of London, but agree, there is more variation than with PI.

    • RussellH says:

      Overall I have not been a fan of Which? either.

      I suspect that they are fine when it comes to hardware – washing machines, ovens, vaccuum cleaners and so on where the methodology is clear and non-controversial.
      But for something like hotels, which is always going to be much more subjective and, potentially, dependent on the mood of the staff at the time you visit, coming up with rankings that Which? is so keen on that are meaningful is much more difficult.
      As others have pointed out Premier Inn is very boringly consistent (although even there things inevitably go wrond sometimes) while other chains, particularly Holiday Inn and Hilton can vary enormously.

  15. An interesting read. I just checked out the full report on Which as there was no mention of Holiday Inn Express in the article. Having stayed in quite a few of the different chains over the last few years I’d generally agree with the ratings for those that I’ve experienced. However, I’m a little surprised at the rating for HIX in terms of ‘value for money’ – I’ve never paid anywhere near £80 for one of their rooms and breakfast is included in the room rate (as opposed to Premier Inn). Also, whenever I’ve looked for hotels I’ve nearly always found that PI are more expensive than HIX hotels in the same area!

    • Andrew L says:

      From my experience, Holiday Inn Express isn’t a patch on Premier Inn & although they offer a free breakfast, I wouldn’t wish those cheap nasty sausages & powdered scrambled egg on my worst enemy!!

      • I avoid their sausages (and let’s face it, most chains of a similar quality have pretty poor quality bangers) but their breakfast offering overall seems to have improved recently with a better range of options available. A couple of Premier Inns I stayed at boasted breakfast ‘cooked to order’ and you order from a menu, but what’s turned up on the table has quite clearly been pre-cooked food slapped on a plate from a hot storage unit in the kitchen instead of a buffet area. Premier beds are more comfortable but HIX bathrooms I’ve found to be better specified.

  16. As a Hilton Gold what breakfast would 2 adults and 2 children get at the Hilton Gatwick ?

  17. Stayed in a Britannia hotel in Bournemouth – the room ceiling fell in overnight, so I was moved to another where the heating was stuck on… during a heatwave. Made Fawlty Towers look aspirational

  18. 5 sqm? Ohhhh we used to DREAM of livin’ in a corridor! Woulda’ been a palace to us. We used to live in an old water tank on a rubbish tip. We got woken up every morning by having a load of rotting fish dumped all over us!

    How the other half live.

  19. Used the Premier Inn when in Plymouth in July. The place was a building site, and the aircon was switched off (a fact that the website and booking process failed to state). It was unbearably hot in the room, and I couldn’t sleep. I complained to the receptionist, who ignored my complaint. I also used their web-based complaints portal AND responded to their feedback email. After three weeks of no response, I posted a negative Tripadvisor report. This was the only time they responded (on Tripadvisor). A response which was mostly nonsense and lies.

    • Did you try doorstepping their head-office?

      I admit to being terrible when it comes to complaints. A telecoms company failed to sort out a fault on my elderly parent’s line for 2 weeks despited repeated daily calls. All it took was for me to “shadow” someone through the pass doors at their head office and find my way to the executive floor and knock on doors. Within one hour an engineer was on site at their house.

      Likewise with another complaint, didn’t take much effort to work out where the CEO lived and how they travelled to work. Cornered them on the train one morning, and had a very one-sided conversation about the quality of their customer service. Funnily enough, their customer service team was suddenly very interested in resolving the problem.

  20. There are some really nice Crowne Plazas in the US as well: had a great stay (on points) at the Denver City Centre one where we got upgraded to a junior suite!

    Closer to home, the one at Birmingham Airport/NEC is excellent, and could teach other IHG properties a thing or two about how to treat elites (got free breakfast, car parking, and upgrade to a junior suite).

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