As part of my 3 Cards, 3 Continents trip, I needed to book a hotel stay near London Heathrow airport for the night before jetting off to the second continent on my trip.
I’d originally planned to buy some hotel points cheaply to book a nearby stay, but when it came time to do that my options had become more expensive (more about that in a moment). Thankfully I remembered another option which hadn’t shown up in my searches up to that point – Premier Inn.
Premier Inn is a hotel chain that has more than 800 properties across the UK. As per their website, all their rooms feature the following:
- A luxury kingsize Hypnos bed
- A lightweight yet toasty duvet
- A choice of firm and soft pillows
- A power shower (and bath in most rooms)
- A hairdryer
- Freeview TV
- Free Wi-Fi 24/7
- Tea and coffee making facilities
- Cocooning blackout curtains
They’re somewhat similar to brands like Holiday Inn Express, Hampton Inn, etc., so they’re a great option when you want somewhere to stay that’s clean, comfortable and good value. One difference between Premier Inn and those other brands is that breakfast isn’t complimentary, but all (or nearly all) Premier Inn locations have a restaurant on-site where you can order breakfast for a reasonable price. Those restaurants are also often available for dinner, something you won’t find at Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn. Another great feature is that kids eat for free when dining with a parent.
My Hotel Booking Travails
My original plan for booking my one night hotel stay near Heathrow was to simply book a paid night somewhere. In the past I’ve found plenty of options for $50-$75 near Heathrow, but when checking rates for the night I needed the prices were more like $100+.
That might have been doable within what remained of my budget, but it had the potential to put pressure on my budget depending on how much transportation to and from hotels during my trip would cost. Not knowing how much taxi costs would ultimately come to, I decided to see what my options would be when booking with points.
Although one of the cards I picked during the card draft was the Chase Ink Business Unlimited, I didn’t have a corresponding premium card which meant the Ultimate Rewards points I earned weren’t transferable. That meant Hyatt was out in terms of transferring points, but buying points for a category 1 stay was an emergency backup plan.
Seeing as I’d picked the Amex Platinum for its 150k offer, I had some Membership Rewards points I could transfer which meant Hilton, Marriott and Choice were all potential options, even though those don’t normally represent good value. Choice doesn’t seem to have any hotels near Heathrow, so that was immediately out.
There wasn’t a transfer bonus to Hilton at the time, so the transfer ratio was 1,000:2,000. When searching Hilton’s website the cheapest points options nearby were 30,000 points for the night which would’ve required that I transfer 15,000 Membership Rewards. That was worse than paying ~$100, so that option was out too.
My only other transferable option was Marriott. Unfortunately that was a bust too because the cheapest award pricing was 16,000 points per night. If Membership Rewards transferred to Marriott on a 1:2 basis like they do with Hilton then that could’ve been worthwhile. However, they transfer on a 1:1 basis and so redeeming 16,000 Membership Rewards wasn’t worth it.
Alternate Option – Buy IHG Points
So transferable points were out. That didn’t necessarily mean I was stuck paying $100+ for a hotel though because I had another option up my sleeve.
When searching for my hotel options IHG One Rewards was selling points for 0.5cpp. I checked their website for Heathrow hotels and the Holiday Inn Express London – Heathrow T5 showed up as 15,000 points for the night.
While that might seem like I could’ve bought points for $75, it wasn’t quite that straightforward. In order to get the 0.5cpp pricing you had to buy at least 26,000 points. The price for 15,000 points was 0.575cpp which meant a cost of $86.25. That wasn’t unreasonable, but there was a potentially better option.
Daily Getaways had announced their deals for 2022 and it kicked off with a sale on IHG points. It was possible to buy multiple packages at different price points, so I could’ve bought 2x 5,000 points packages for $25 each and 2x 2,500 points packages for $12 each. That would’ve gotten me the 15,000 points I needed for $74, so I decided to wait for that Daily Getaways deal in order to save $12.25.
Unfortunately waiting for this sale didn’t pay off. July 18 came and I was ready to buy the points at 1pm ET. Just before that though I decided to check that IHG was indeed still charging 15,000 points for that night.
In the few days since I’d last checked, the price had jumped from 15,000 points to 21,000 points for the night I needed.
Buying enough points to cover that would’ve cost $112, so at that point I might just as well book a paid hotel stay somewhere and earn some points.
Premier Inn To The Rescue
It was at this point that I remembered there was an option I’d been missing when searching for accommodation – Premier Inn
Premier Inn doesn’t show up on OTAs (Online Travel Agencies) like Hotels.com, so I’d forgotten that it was an option when needing to book stays in the UK. That was silly of me because it had already come to our rescue when planning travel this summer.
My wife and I spent a month in Europe recently, getting back to the US just a few days before heading back out on this 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge. For a week of that trip we had a couple of friends join us with their two kids. My wife and I don’t have children, so finding a room for four people in Europe has never been a challenge we’ve had to navigate.
We did three nights with our friends and their children in London, four nights in Paris and then one more night in London before they flew back. For Paris we booked two separate rooms for their family with IHG points; my wife and I both have the IHG Premier and IHG Select credit cards, so booking a four night stay meant we were able to take advantage of the 4th night free benefit as well as the 10% points rebate. The net cost of buying points for that stay was $66.38 per room per night, far cheaper than any kind of paid options in Paris during the summer.
For the last night of their visit in London, we used Hilton free night certificates we’d earned to book three rooms for the six of us at the Waldorf Hilton to treat ourselves and them.
That left us with the first three nights of their visit. When searching for hotels for their family of four, most OTAs were returning results based on them needing to book two rooms. The seemingly only affordable exceptions were a couple of Z Hotels properties that showed up. Some of their properties had family rooms that slept four, so we almost booked a stay there.
As a last ditch effort I checked out Google Hotels. Although it’s an OTA, they seem to be treated differently by some hotel chains. For example, Choice tends to have the following wording when running bonus point promotions:
Stays directly booked through Book by Google are also eligible, if the member adds their Choice Privileges number to the reservation prior to check-in.
When searching for two adults and two children in London, Google Hotels displayed some Premier Inn options. I’d completely forgotten about Premier Inn at the time, so I was excited to see we had more options and even more excited when checking their website.
There were several Premier Inns in central London which were surprisingly reasonably priced considering we were booking a stay during prime summer season. A room at the Premier Inn London County Hall for two adults and two children only cost £127 (~$167 at the time) per night which was an absolute bargain. The property is in a Grade II listed former county hall building on the River Thames, just a few steps from the London Eye and across the river from the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Abbey, etc., so you can’t beat its location for walkability. It’s also only a few minutes from Waterloo station if you want to take a day trip somewhere by train.
The entrance of the hotel is on the other side of the building, but take a few steps and this is your view:
We ended up having a great stay there. The rooms were clean and comfortable and our friends’ family room was larger than we were expecting.
Premier Inn can therefore be a particularly useful option for a family of three or four people when you’re happy to book a reasonably priced paid rate rather than redeem points for two rooms. Speaking of which, as far as I’m aware Premier Inn doesn’t have a loyalty program where you can earn points. That won’t be a big issue for most people reading this though seeing as you’re not likely to need to stay at Premier Inns very often unless you take business trips to the UK frequently and it happens to be your best accommodation option.
Premier Inn To The Rescue Again
After seeing my hopes dashed when it came to buying IHG points for the Heathrow hotel for 3 Cards, 3 Continents, I was glad when I realized that Premier Inn was another possibility. With most hotels charging $100+ for the night I needed, I was pleased to see some cheaper options available.
Seeing as I was flying with British Airways, my flight from Aberdeen to Heathrow landed at Terminal 5, with my flight the next day also departing from Terminal 5. The Premier Inn near Terminal 5 cost £87 (~$105). Not a terrible price, but not amazing either.
There were some much cheaper hotel options though. One of those was the Premier Inn London Heathrow Airport Terminal 4 which cost £57.50 ($69.20 at the time) for the night. That was easily accessible from Terminal 4 or by taking a Hotel Hoppa Bus from Terminal 5. I therefore went ahead and booked that because even when paying for the Hoppa Bus in each direction it would be cheaper than booking their property closer to Terminal 5.
Something to be aware of when booking with Premier Inn is that although the search results show the cheapest available price, they seem to default to the most expensive option when booking a room. Premier Inn has three different rate types – Flex, Semi-Flex and Standard – although for longer stays you might be offered an Advance rate too. As would be expected, it’s the Standard rate that’s the cheapest and it should be noted that it’s non-refundable, although you can change your check-in date for free provided you do that before 1pm on your day of arrival. However, it defaults to displaying the more expensive Flex rate when clicking through to view rates.
Some Premier Inn properties only have Standard rooms available, while others have Premier Plus rooms available too which have faster Wi-Fi, a mini fridge, a Nespresso machine and more. The Premier Inn I booked had Premier Plus rooms available, but for a quick overnight stay it wasn’t worth it to me to pay an extra £14 (~$16.75).
During the booking process you can choose to prepay for meals. There are a couple of breakfast options – a full English breakfast which also includes cereals, fruit, croissants, etc., along with a slightly cheaper Continental breakfast option. You can also prepay for their Meal Deal package which includes a two course meal and drink each night of your stay, along with breakfast the next morning. You can buy breakfast and/or dinner at the hotel too, so there’s no need to add it on during the booking process.
Our food expenditure for the 3 Cards, 3 Continents challenge comes out of a separate budget to our travel budget, so to make it easier to track my spending I only booked the room, figuring I could pay for breakfast at the hotel if I wanted to eat there rather than at a lounge before my flight this morning.
Speaking of which, it’s time to share where I’m at now. Having hit Scotland the last couple of days to check Europe off the list as my first continent on the challenge, I headed off to Egypt today which makes Africa my second continent. More about how I booked that and where I’m staying soon!