Bright, basic, budget hotels give European travellers choice

budget hotels Mar 03, 2024
European budget hotel

In an inflationary world, the big question facing travellers is: how much do you really want to pay for accommodation?

The underlying question becomes: what do you want or need in a hotel?

What is now called the limited-service hotel has been around for decades and started in Europe. It’s now thriving there and the options are only growing.

The principle is that guests can trade unwanted or unnecessary services for lower rates.

The limited-service hotel is probably not the ideal venue for a romantic getaway (although there's nothing stopping you).

But the limited-service hotel might represent what you need at the price you want. A few years of inflation in Europe has refocused minds on affordability. In some cases, the line between hotels and hostels is now blurred as operators move to keep costs down.

What you need at the price you want

Let’s break limited-service hotels down to their basics. They are mostly two or three-star offerings. In essence, guests will usually get:

● A bed and private bathroom
● Wi-fi access
● Buffet breakfast or a breakfast option
● Access to complimentary tea and coffee
● A vending machine
● Towels, body wash and shampoo
● A cashless payment option

Guests often get:
● Desk check-in (sometimes check-in is self-managed)
● 24-hour desk service
● A guest kitchen
● Laundry access

Guests won’t likely get:
● Room service
● A restaurant or bar (although there are exceptions)
● Laundry service
● Fitness facilities

Raven Guides calls the genre bright, basic, budget hotels because the name explains itself. Relative standardisation is another characteristic – the traveller knows what they are getting.

One of the critical messages about hotel rates in recent years is the steepling costs of breakfast. In many cases the cost of breakfast has doubled in less than a decade thanks to years of food inflation hitting Europe. Fortunately, the inflation rate has slowed in the past 12 months, but breakfast at a budget hotel is generally optional. A filling breakfast and a beverage could be cheaper at a bakery or another nearby food outlet.

Bright, basic, budget hotels are popular in Europe

The Ibis hotel brand is 50 years old in 2024. Ibis was the prototype of the limited-service, basic hotel chain. There is clear price appeal in the limited-service hotel, especially if the hotel’s location is reasonably central. In Europe, Ibis serves business travellers as well as the tourism market.

But it's clear that some hotel guests like the predictability of the budget chains as much as the price. At some hotel chains there has been a strong emphasis on families. In others there has been a more recent appeal to youth. In some countries, especially Germany, the need to provide accommodation for trade fairs has been a business driver.

The French led the way, but Germany eagerly took up the trend and the limited-service hotel has spread, pushing into the UK and gradually into southern and central Europe. But Scandinavia has seen few budget hotels of this type.

Such hotels have a future, as investment groups have bought into the industry.

The big budget hotel chains in Europe

Ibis hotels remains the leading group with more than 500 European hotels. These often centrally located properties with parking access offer three levels of comfort and service spanning one to three stars: blue (budget), red (standard) and green (Styles), the last of which offers inclusive breakfast. There is an emphasis on families.

The accent is on modular simplicity rather than character. Budget hotels offer single-room rates from about €50 (at strict no-cancellation terms, with breakfast extra). When not included in rates, breakfast comes at a charge, usually €10-12. Young children stay free with parents (apart from the breakfast charge), but no more than two adults (aged 12 or over) may use one room.

The Ibis brand comes under the wider Accor group. There are more than 250 French Ibis hotels, more than 70 in Germany, 70 in UK cities and towns, including 12 in London and six at Heathrow airport, about 20 each in Austria, Belgium and Spain, 17 in the Netherlands and about a dozen in Italy. One hotel is in Copenhagen and two are in Sweden.

The low-budget hotel segment started in the 1980s with Accor’s HotelF1 brand, which still operates more than 150 hotels in France. However the number has fallen steadily in recent years. It's a lower-end one or two-star formula with automatic check-in, but there is still a 24-hour desk, the option of a breakfast buffet package, snack machine, TV and wi-fi. The bathroom and toilet are shared in three out of four room classes.

The B&B Hotels chain is more than 30 years old and on a high-growth path. It has almost 400 French hotels, more than 180 in Germany, almost 70 in Italy, about 60 in Spain and Portugal, 10 in the Low Countries and more than 20 in central Europe. Rates start about €55 for singles, about €66 for doubles, €80 for family rooms. The breakfast charge is about €11 (€5 for children). Not all hotels are central, or in big cities, but parking is generally ample and free. Member discounts are available at a €39 subscription charge.

The bright, basic, budget hotel keeps evolving

It’s possible to talk about a second generation of budget hotels.

Motel One has grown since 2000 to have about 90 hotels in 13 European countries, although two-thirds are in the company’s German homeland. The concept is for affordable central locations and the decor is standard. Minimum desk hours are M-Su 6-24, although most hotels are staffed 24 hours. Wi-fi is free and breakfast starts at €13.50.

Motel One straddles a low to mid-priced bracket. Single-room rates start at €69 (at most hotels and during most periods this is higher) and a second person stays in the room at a supplement up to €20 – not the absolute bottom of the range. Supplements, sometimes substantial, apply during trade fairs and event periods.

The EasyHotel group is now 20 years old. There are 18 hotels in the UK, seven in the Netherlands, four in Switzerland, three each in France and Spain, and one each in Berlin, Brussels, Budapest, Dublin, Lisbon and Sofia. The ensuite rooms include wi-fi, airconditioning and TV. Family rooms are offered.

Central London hotels start at the £50-60 range on advance bookings, but this is on a loyalty program that includes 10% discounts. A £75-80 range is more representative. Room cleaning is minimal and daily cleans are £10 extra. A breakfast offer is not the norm but vending machines have snacks and drinks.

Hub by Premier Inn has been around for about a decade and there are now 15 mostly central hotels in London and three in Edinburgh.

Close but comfortable is the common verdict by guests. The tiny standardised rooms – described as "compact" – for non-refundable advance bookings in London can be found for less than £50 single and about £60 double some nights, but rates rise at weekends. Windows are small and storage space is under the bed. App operation of all in-room services is possible, but there is also a touch screen. A cafe, complimentary tea and coffee in common areas and wi-fi are available. Breakfast costs £5-6. The pod-room format Zip hotel at Cardiff is for even lower budgets, advertising single rooms, some without windows, from £21.

Almost a decade old is the British Safestay group. The model is less standardised, but is built around single, double and three-bed rooms with ensuite, and the appeal is to youth, meaning there are small dorm room options in most properties. Wi-fi, a breakfast and coffee lounge, and a 24-hour desk are features. There are now about 17 hotels – two each in London and Barcelona and one each in Athens, Berlin, Bratislava, Brussels, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Lisbon, Madrid, Pisa, Prague, Vienna, Warsaw and York. Singles and doubles on the advance non-refundable rate without breakfast start under €70 (in Brussels and Athens under €50, in Warsaw under €40). Breakfast is in the €12 range.

There are even younger players. The Harry’s Home Hotel group has 14 hotels after opening its first in 2016. Nine are in Austria, covering Vienna, Innsbruck, Salzburg (opened this month), Linz and near Graz. Three are in Switzerland and there is one each in Berlin and Munich. The emphasis is more on families and the booking concept allows the guest some flexibility to order services – such as room size and cleaning, apartments or breakfast size – and pay accordingly. Advance non-refundable bookings in Vienna start at €75/100 a single/double and breakfast is in the €15 range.

The small Citybox group is tackling the budget end of the market in some acknowledged high-cost locations: Oslo, Bergen (two), Kristiansand, Antwerp and Helsinki and Tallinn. Established buildings are used: the Oslo hotel combines separate buildings with a unified look and there some rooms are tight for space.

The savings are in minimalistic service – all but the room is considered an extra. Guests check in at machines and fetch their towels from a trolley, but there is a 24-hour desk. There are self-service kitchens where beverages and snacks are available from a machine, although locations close to cafes are selected. Advance rates in Oslo start about €65/75 a single/double.

Still struggling to find an affordable hotel for the dates you want? Some hotels in international chains come into the value class with deals and shrewd online advance booking searches. These include:

● Best Western
● Wyndham (a megabrand, but think Super 8, Days Inn or perhaps Ramada)
● Holiday Inns

Budget hotels influence hostels

Most of us don't want a dorm bunk. But in the past 20 years there has been a more youth-oriented, predominantly German movement to span the divide between budget hotels and hostels. These are best described as hostels that offer single or double rooms with ensuite. Features such as guest kitchens and common areas are usually included.

Berlin-born Meininger Hotels has almost 40 properties, 14 of these in Germany. Four each are in France, Austria and the Low Countries, and a slow expansion is under way into Italy (four) and central Europe (two). These have an upscale hostel feel, with guest kitchen, 24-hour reception, wi-fi and family rooms available, although the rooms are not standardised. Singles or doubles start about €80 a night, although rates are much lower in a city such as Budapest.

The 40 European properties of A&O Hotels and Hostels have the authentic backpacker hostel feel, but there is a secondary trade-fair market and a change of ownership several years ago signalled a new expansion. Self-managed check-in is the trend and wi-fi, common area and bar are provided. Germany maintains the majority of properties (25), but there are four in Austria and two in Venice. Properties have opened in Prague, Budapest, Warsaw, Rotterdam, Copenhagen and Edinburgh. Singles and doubles start in the €50-60 range but can be higher. Breakfast costs start at €9.30 (half-price for children). The loyalty scheme offers discounts of up to 25%.

Generator Hostels also straddle the budget hotel model and is now in 12 European cities, three sites being in Berlin. Its double and single rooms provide towels and toiletries and most properties have a laundry. There is a 24-hour desk, restaurant, cafe, bar and vending machines, but no kitchen. Singles and doubles start about €70 at most properties, breakfast at €7.50.

Wombat’s hostels have been around for 25 years and is one of the better-recognised names, but operate only five properties (Vienna, Budapest, London and two in Munich). There is 24-hour reception, a kitchen and laundry facilities. Singles and doubles start about €70 and breakfast costs €7.50.

Jo&Joe, with five European properties, has opened its doors in Paris, Italy and Vienna, emphasising design and atmosphere. But the group has been acquired by Accor, the owner of Ibis and HotelF1. Its durability remains to be seen.

The question of star quality

It's essential to recognise that hotel star ratings are based on facilities rather than quality. Check this summary of EU hotel stars criteria effective in 20 European countries. French hotel ratings are national but Italy’s hotel star system and Spanish hotel ratings vary by region.

How to get the lowest hotel rates anywhere

If a low price is what you're after in a hotel, let's start with some strong booking principles:

● Book early (at least six weeks ahead, preferably eight or more)
● Compare booking site rates with hotels’ own sites where possible
● Check differences between weekday and weekend rates before making decisions
● Avoid local events that you aren’t interested in attending
● If you are confident in your schedule, take the no-flexibility option

Last-minute bookings might also be cheap, but the practice will likely turn out to be expensive at times of high demand. You could be left out in the cold.

Let’s linger on events for a moment. Check this booking calendar:


And this one:

The vast differences in rates are driven by events in each city.

It’s possible to dive deeper into hotel pricing and refine the art of hunting lower rates. To understand enough about hotel pricing to save even more money, download the Raven Travel Guides Europe special report How to get the lowest hotel rate online 100% of the time. You’ll also get free weekly emails on European travel topics.

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You want a rich European adventure as a price-conscious traveler. With Raven Travel Guides Europe, you can enjoy travel affordably.

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