I tend to decline party invitations when they necessitate staying the night. If I’m at the host’s house, it will be ruinously late before I turn in (and I have no willpower to say no to nightcaps). If I’m staying at a hotel, then suddenly the whole thing has become an expensive minibreak.
When my niece was married recently, I booked a cab all the way home from the middle of nowhere, and it was still half the price of the hotel option. But when I was invited to a costume ball in Dover with a group of my favourite people, there was no choice.
The Premier Inn by the Eastern Ferry Terminal was a four-minute walk from the party, and a double room was £39, which I couldn’t believe. That’s less than the cost of a full English at Claridge’s. Or a 15-minute Uber when it’s raining. What, I wondered, could a room possibly be like at such a price? Here be dragons, surely? Well, maybe not.
The brand won Best Hotel Chain at the 2022 Which? Awards (it had topped the chart every year since 2015, apart from 2020 when Sofitel nudged it off – and placed third this year), and took the accolade of top Budget Hotel in the UK at the 2023 Business Traveller Awards, for the 12th year in a row. It’s got fans.
My experience wasn’t merely good. I found myself evangelical about the brand and wouldn’t stop going on about it. “Breakfast was under a tenner and it’s unlimited! Including all the sausages!” And it’s playful, too: this week, Premier Inn announced the launch of its “bean barrier” plate, with a raised motif to stop your Heinz running into your egg, and vice versa. An innovation for the modern traveller; a solution to a problem that none of us knew we had.
I might be easily pleased, but I can also eat a lot of bacon smothered in ketchup and pressed between two slices of toast. I worked out that if I ate 16 sausages I’d be getting my 2,000 calories for the day, all before 10am and with change from £10.
Everything about my stay at the Premier Inn was positive. Check-in was easy. The room was spotless, with pared-down décor. It was also twice the size of those in many violently expensive luxury city hotels.
Everything felt crisp and white, with pleasing purple accents and a tasteful striped carpet. The lighting was kind, and everything was functional – reading lights at each side of the bed that worked independently, and well-placed power points.
Crucially, the bed was perfect. Such is the confidence that Premier Inn has in its product that it has a standalone website, premierinnathome.com, which sells its beds, duvets, pillows (from £36 each) and mattress protectors.
I’ve encountered this before. I remember being so impressed by a Four Seasons bed in Marrakech once that I did a little digging and found the brand selling them online, but a king size would have cost me close to £3,500.
By contrast, Premier Inn sells its Silentnight-made king size beds for £1,209. Such is the popularity of the name, during last year’s Black Friday sale it sold a duvet and a pair of pillows every 60 seconds.
The 2022 Which? Award, the result of a survey of 4,447 members of the organisation and the public, noted that prices had gone up at Premier Inn by an average of 35 per cent, but the chain was still the second cheapest in the country, after Travelodge, its average cost per night £89.
Drilling down, the survey showed just what appealed most about Premier Inn – it gets five out of five stars for cleanliness and for the room description matching reality. Guests said they felt quality was “pretty much guaranteed”. Contrast this with the Britannia chain, which came last in the survey for the 10th year running and scored two stars in all categories, including cleanliness and bathrooms.
Premier Inn is a huge hospitality machine, and its efficiency makes you wonder why other budget hotel chains get it wrong. Last year it opened a new property in Canary Wharf, with 400 rooms over 28 floors; there are currently more than 840 Premier Inns in the UK.
It has more than 82,000 rooms and checks in about four million guests each month. That’s a lot of bacon and eggs being served every day. Some 40 million eggs a year in fact. And a lot of repeat custom. It’s also added the option of Premier Plus rooms, which have Nespresso machines, chocolate, a fridge and “ultimate Wi-Fi”. You’ll pay around an extra £20 for Premier Plus, but I’m not sure I’d bother when the entry-level offer is perfectly fine as is.
My only experience of a Premier Inn before Dover has involved its Brewers Fayre dining offering at the hotel next to Margate station. Whenever I visit friends on the coast, I always seem to miss the train home by about two minutes and find myself having a large gin and tonic in what is essentially a comfortingly basic, well upholstered chain pub.
The café in the station itself is hideous, so I’m always glad of the Premier Inn’s existence. It’s a place with mass appeal, and immensely inviting to the solo visitor with half an hour to kill, but doesn’t have the misery-inducing ambience of the generic 8am-opening Wetherspoons.
You can also get a large sauvignon blanc for under a fiver. I recently paid £12 at my local pub in Hackney for a glass of something white and gooseberry tinged from New Zealand and I’m still in shock.
It would seem that the reason people love Premier Inn so much is that it does one thing, does it well, and does it cheaply. There’s no pretence of a Brewers Fayre being anything other than a functional watering hole. And no one is ever going to have breakfast in bed at a Premier Inn. It’s never going to be a place for a special occasion.
But at the same time, it’s the perfect complement to a party. If no one wants to be a designated driver, the Premier Inn is just where you want to be at 1am.