False Economies

I like a bargain. I mean – who doesn’t? And I don’t like spending more money than I need to on whatever I think of as non-essentials.

When it comes to travel, I draw a distinction between luxury holiday travel (like the Australian trip), where you know it is going to hurt the cash balance but be bloomin good fun and worth it, and utility travel, where you have to spend the night somewhere, for work purposes or to visit people, but you only really need a decent bed and a shower. 

In the latter case, my main concerns are the Three S’s –  Security -( neighbourhood, stout door with decent lock); Sounds – (not having walls made of Kleenex, being in a night club or next to a dual carriageway); and Spend (the cheaper the better).

So, when travelling for non lux purposes (as I have this week to do a spot of pressure washing and fence painting in Kent), I often use a website that specialises in cheap hotel room deals.  The theory is that hotels cannot fill all their rooms, so rather than leave them empty and not earning, they allocate excess rooms to this website and sell off room nights dirt cheap.  For obvious reasons, they do not  want to advertise that these rooms are available at knock down rates, so the hotels are anonymous.

When booking, the punter only knows the rough location, hotel facilities and price. If you book, you only find out where you are staying once you sign on the electronic line and hand over your credit card details.

We have used this site for a number of years now, and it is quite exciting not knowing where you will be spending the night until the last minute. It is like Forrest Gump’s box of chocolates – “you never know what you’re gonna get”.   The savings can be very dramatic.  We have stayed very cheaply in decent hotels as far apart as Ipswich and Orlando.  But there can be downsides. 

Once, when booking a stay up in Edinburgh for a whole gang of family members, I made a shrewd guess that a very fine hotel, where Lorna and I had once stayed paying full rate, was using this site and I booked several rooms for the tribe. The savings on standard   rate were great and it was, indeed the very same hotel.  You can imagine, I was feeling pretty smug when I guessed the identity before booking. Smug, that is, until we saw the rooms allocated to us.

Only then did it occur to me that there was a reason why these rooms might remain hard to shift. It may be because they are in the rafters, with pigeons as near neighbours, on the floor not reached by the lift, with rattling windows that do not shut properly and with plumbing that is as reliable as broadband in the Sahara. And forget about fancy toiletries!

Proper guests, get the nice rooms. Cheap hicks like me do not. That is the way it can go sometimes. 

Still, the savings make it worthwhile and I still use the site.  I used it to book a room near the ferry terminal for my journey home to Guernsey. 

I have to say my expectations in this case were not great. The price paid was ridicuolusly cheap, and the hotel was not part of a chain or otherwise known to me, but I was only going to be there a few hours.

Anyway, things did not start well when I could not even find the hotel. Turns out, it changed its name to something slightly more upmarket.  It was a pity that the paintwork or fittings had not changed in several decades. When I found it, I was immediately concerned I would be parking right next to a rowdy pub. The police were there as I arrived, which is not generally a good sign. Having foreign number plates in the UK attracts attention, and the  thought of leaving my car outside, alongside a public road, unattended at chucking  out time filled me with dread. 

I was still relatively unperturbed, having located and parked under cctv cameras, but then I saw my room…….. I have only seen rooms like this before on TV, on programmes like America’s  hardest Prisons. Even the room size was a standard 6 by 8 feet with a narrow single bed and a view of scaffolding covering a derelict building. My ground floor room was at the foot of a stairwell, subject to constant noise from guests clumping up and down.   

I am afraid to say I could not stay there. The misery factor was too great. I checked out and headed off down the coast to a recognisable chain hotel. It cost me more, but my car was safe, and I had a decent night’s kip and a lesson learnt – you get what you pay for. 

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