“ Address: London Road / Slough SL3 8QB „
~Fail to plan and you plan to fail - or at least to pay more~
Under normal circumstances I spend a lot of time researching hotels before I book them. I check out all the reviews, compare the prices, think it over, wait for a nice cashback deal with Topcashback.co.uk and behave like an entirely rational (if slightly obsessed) human being. When booking the Holiday Inn Express T5 Heathrow, I bypassed most of that normal process entirely. You see we hadn't planned to stay near Heathrow the night before flying to Gibraltar for the weekend but things conspired against us. The very useful 'friend who lives by the airport' forgot I'd asked if we could stay and we clashed with her works Christmas party and I forgot to remind her until it was the day before. All of that would have been OK - the flight wasn't until 10 am and we could have just got up early - if the weather reports hadn't been preaching doom, gloom and snow in the Midlands. Paying for a hotel to ensure we didn't miss the flight was an annoying but sensible precaution.
I didn't care too much what the hotel would be like - I just wanted something cheap that was likely to be clean and was willing to take a booking just a few hours before we turned up. The hotel booking sites all came up with the Holiday Inn Express T5 Heathrow which is actually in Slough - but let's not hold that against it. I booked through Topcashback to get an 8% cash back and paid £79 for a room including breakfast. I was told that parking the car for the night would cost £7.50 and I didn't need any longer because I'd already booked the car park at the airport. Stupidly I didn't take my loyalty card for Holiday Inn with me so I missed a trick on that front.
~Finding the Hotel~
We set off late in the evening and my Tom Tom took us right to the door without any trouble. When your airport hunting instinct tells you to turn left off the M25 (if you are going anti-clockwise) you need to ignore it and go right, along the M4 heading away from the airport. You then leave the M4 at the first exit and the hotel is just a few minutes away. The car park was not secure and the barrier seemed to have been broken or deactivated - on the plus side I thought there was a fair chance of getting away without paying, on the downside if I HAD paid to leave my car there whilst we went away I'd have been peeved at paying for an insecure site. We parked up somewhere round the back, figuring that car thieves would be too lazy to bother going further than the first lot of cars, and then headed into the hotel.
The hotel is a big one which fronts onto a major road. I did wonder if it would be noisy until I registered that there were very few cars so late at night. We headed into reception where there were several staff and we were checked in very quickly. We were told where to find breakfast, briefly recognised there was a half-decent coffee bar at the end of the lobby and then set off with our two room card-keys (always a nice touch) to find our room. We foolishly missed spotting the lift that was just a few feet from the reception and instead headed all the way down the corridor, up two floors and then ALL the way back down to the other end of the hotel.
I suspect that this Holiday Inn Express is quite a recent build because the room was still in pretty good condition. Bearing in mind that Terminal Five has only been open a few years, I guess it's probably newer than the terminal. The room was a little smaller than a standard Holiday Inn (and if there's ever a chain where 'standard' really means standard, it must be Holiday Inn and Holiday Inn Express) and was very blue. The carpet was in blue and cream stripes and the curtains were blue too. The blue fold-out sofa bed was at the window end of the room and the bed was next to the bathroom. All the wooden furniture was in a pleasant mid-brown wood and included two bedside tables and a long wall mirror (with hair dryer next to it). The wall-mounted television was a tad on the small size and had an astonishingly complicated menu system that seemed to be designed to accidentally on purpose trick you into accessing pay channels.
HIE is the pared down, budget version of Holiday Inn and the differences are clearly thought out. For example you don't get a wardrobe - you get a hanging rail - and the bathroom has only a shower (though a nice big one) with shampoo/body wash dispensers instead of a bath with shower over and little bottles of goop. The towels were big, white and fluffy so no complaints there either. You do of course get a kettle and tea and coffee supplies.
The lighting in the room was quite good with multiple uplighters and downlighters. I get really annoyed by hotels that light their rooms as if they expect you to use them only for sleeping and don't provide any place where you might actually be able to see what you're doing. Aside from the row of blinding spot lights strangely placed above the bed head (and guaranteed to make anyone lying on it feel like they are being interrogated) it was pleasantly and effectively lit.
Time to moan and groan and bitch about the bed - it was absolutely awful. The moment I sat on the bed and sank straight into the mattress I knew that neither of us would get a proper night's sleep. It was such a shame since everything else about the room was fine or really good but the bed was really really rubbish. You don't need to be an over-sensitive princess with a thing about peas to have a miserable sleepless night on such an awful mattress. I did find myself in the middle of the night wondering if it would be better to open up the sofa bed and sleep on that instead.
~Over-egging the Porridge~
In the morning we took our bags to breakfast with us so we wouldn't have to navigate all the way back to the room again. I'm not usually a fan of HIE breakfasts which tend to be free because they're so dreadful that nobody would ever be willing to pay for them. In this HIE the breakfast wasn't bad at all and included hot food that didn't look like it had all come straight out of a microwave. I have to admit that when I lifted the lid of one of the food servers my husband said "Oh look, porridge!" when it was actually scrambled eggs. Toast, pretty good looking croissants and pains au chocolat were tempting but I wasn't really hungry enough to do them justice. The coffee was crap and the juice a bit 'iffy' but this would still go down as the best HIE breakfast I've experienced to date.
Since we'd prepaid for our stay we just returned the card keys and headed off to find the car. We'd already checked through the breakfast room windows that the barrier in the car park wasn't down so we snuck out without paying for our parking. It took about 5 minutes to get to the airport. For people without their own transport there's a hotel shuttle service to the airport for which you have to buy tickets from machines in the lobby. I always think it's a bit of a cheek to charge for these buses as so many airports in other countries have free bus services and the tickets can add a lot to the cost of your stay.
We've stayed in many of the hotels around Heathrow and this is far from the worst for the price paid It's further away than many of the hotels and cheaper than those which are nearer so unless you need to be at the airport ultra-early, it's not too bad to be a little further away. If you book it for your car parking as well as an overnight stay, I would suggest to make sure that the security barriers are actually working before agreeing to pay. In view of the awful bed I could only really recommend this if you can deal with soft beds - or are willing to open up the sofa bed instead. It rankles to know that if I'd booked earlier, I'm sure I could have got this hotel a lot cheaper but for what we needed and the short notice with which I booked, I can't complain too much.