“ Address: Freemans Place / Walkergate / Durham DH11SQ / Tel: 0871 527 8338 „
Searching for accommodation for a weekend break in Durham, I did not find many budget hotel options. The local Travelodge did not have a breakfast facility, and as this was a cheap family break rather than a luxurious weekend, we opted for the next cheapest hotel on offer: Premier Inn.
Premier Inn are owned by Whitbread and currently have 578 budget hotels across the UK and Ireland. All Premier Inns have a bar and restaurant which are situated inside the hotel, and were recommended to me by many friends as a more upmarket option to Travelodge. Probably best remembered for Lenny Henry's bouncing advertising campaign ("Everything's Premier Except the Price"), they offer a 'Good Night Guarantee' - your money back if you don't get a good nights sleep.
The Premier Inn in Durham is located right in the heart of the city centre, about 10 minutes walk away from the train station. Although it is right next to the River Wear, it does not offer river views and is situated on a quiet road. This is a hotel in two halves; our room was extremely noisy and looked out onto a busy shopping centre which included the Slug & Lettuce Pub; my sons' room was much more peaceful and looked directly into the city swimming pool. This knowledge is essential when booking and I advise you to always ask for the swimming pool side of the hotel.
The cathedral, castle and old town were a five minute walk away, and the modern town centre with all of its pubs, restaurants and coffee bars was right on our doorstep.
Booking s for Premier Inn can be made online, via their very helpful website, but as my booking was quite complicated I decided to call the premium number and pay 10p per minute to make sure that I got what I wanted. A friendly young man did his best to help me, but seemed a bit panicky and confused.
In the end, he assured me that I had booked a twin room and a double room for the Saturday night, and that we could stay in the double room and turn it into a family room on the Sunday night, after my oldest son had returned to Newcastle.
I particularly asked for the two Saturday night rooms to be close to each other, and made sure that we would not have to move rooms at all on the Sunday.
I booked a couple of months in advance, hoping for a good deal, but the Saturday night rooms cost £64 each and the Sunday night room cost £44. Breakfast was not included but could be booked for £7.95 for an 'all you can eat' cooked breakfast or £5.50 for continental breakfast. Children eat for free when an adult breakfast is booked.
Nearer to my visit, I tried to find a landline number for the hotel to check my booking, but after a lot of searching realised that I had to call the premium number again, which was quite annoying. It also got me through to a central booking centre and they could not give me any details about my rooms.
The hotel itself is a five storey modern building, built out of wood and concrete. The whole feel is light and airy but fairly characterless and corporate. Automatic double doors lead from the street, straight to the reception area. A Costa Coffee Bar is situated to the left of the reception, adjacent to the lounge, with its large flat screen TV which seemed to be showing live football matches for most of our stay. The lounge contained large leather sofas which were very comfortable and were grouped around coffee tables.
The large restaurant next to the lounge not only offered full or continental breakfast in the morning, but also provided evening meals and lunch if required.
The first problem occurred when we arrived. Both rooms had been booked as double rooms, not a twin and a double, as requested. It was impossible to change as the hotel was fully booked. My two sons said they did not have too much of a problem sharing a double bed, so we went ahead.
The bed itself was large and comfortable; very high and easy to get up from with plump pillows and a large duvet with a white cover. A side table on each side of the bed was the perfect size for books, etc. Small LED bedside lights on a flexible metal stalk were located on each side of the bed for individual reading. A larger round light was located in the ceiling above the head of the bed and could be controlled from either side of the bed.
The room contained a desk with a hard chair, one easy chair, and a large wooden unit which held a small flat screen TV, kettle and tea making equipment, hairdryer and a hanging / shelf area for clothes. The TV could access all Freeview channels and had an excellent reception. A line of hooks by the door were available to hang coats and handbags tidily out of the way.
The window had a net curtain for privacy, plus fabric curtains for light elimination, and could be opened a little way for ventilation. For reasons of security the windows were fixed so that they could not be fully opened. There was an air conditioning unit in the room which could be adjusted by the occupant, from 16 degrees up to 30 degrees.
The ensuite bathroom was very spacious and contained a bath with a large-headed shower unit over the bath. The shower curtain looked new and still had the creases in it. The sink was large and everything was very clean. Two soap dispensers offered Carex from the sink dispenser and Imperial Leather hair and body lotion from the bath dispenser. There were plenty of clean white bath and hand towels available.
After the slight annoyance of the booking mix-up, much worse was to come. Going up to the third floor, we found that our room was some way down the corridor from our children. Although there was a phone in the room, there did not seem to be a way to call another room in the hotel.
Our room was very hot and had a strange smell of sewage around the bathroom. There was a double flush on the toilet, but this did not work properly. During the night we soon realised that the air conditioning did not work and we were roasting hot. The noise from the Slug & Lettuce opposite was very loud, and made it impossible to have the window open. Around 2am the crowds of chattering clients disappeared and the pub started to recycle its glass. We were kept awake by the heat, the noise and the smell of sewage from the bathroom until the early hours.
In the morning, the receptionist informed us that we would have to check out of this room, as our Sunday night room was on the second floor and it was impossible for us to remain in the current room because we would have to pay £64 rather than £44 for it. Although this was not very convenient, we were happy to change after all of the problems. We packed and put our bags in storage, having to return to the hotel to check into our new room at 3pm.
The new room looked out onto the swimming pool and had a good air conditioning unit. After very good nights sleep, we woke up in good time to catch our early train home, only to find that the kettle did not work and our longed-for cup of tea would have to be put on hold. Moving into the shower, I found that the soap dispenser was broken and I had to remove the soap bag to squeeze out a blob for washing. Jumping out of the shower to go to tell the receptionist that the kettle did not work, I found that the hairdryer was also broken. By this time my patience was wearing thin and anxiety levels due to the imminent train departure were high. Pulling back the curtains I discovered splashes of something that looked like brown curry sauce all over the net curtains, and for some reason this seemed like the final straw!
The customer service was excellent. Every time we mentioned a new problem, the staff apologised excessively. A new kettle and hairdryer were brought up to us within 15 minutes of calling reception. On both nights the receptionist offered to refund the money that we had paid for the room, and did it with a smile. Every member of staff that I met was smiling and helpful - and very, very apologetic!
Looking back, the Premier Inn was very comfortable, very clean and had excellent customer service, and the cost of £159 for two rooms with four breakfasts was very reasonable. Being offered our money back so quickly definitely lessened our annoyance at all of the things that had gone wrong during our stay - but I still would have preferred a comfortable nights sleep and a trouble free stay.
I was also a little worried about the speed with which I was refunded. I did not ask for a refund or really complain too strongly on the first night, but the receptionist seemed almost eager to give me my money back. The couple behind me in the queue were checking out and when asked if they had enjoyed their stay, mentioned that there had been a long wait for breakfast. Not surprising as the hotel was fully booked. However, as a result of this very mild comment, the receptionist leapt to refund the £15 they had paid for breakfast.
I am left wondering just how much of a premium is put onto the prices to cover this very generous money-back policy. The cooked breakfast was on the expensive side at £7.95 and the rooms were not that cheap at £64 a night. Does Premier Inn hike up the prices to cover the 'Good Night Guarantee'? There must be some people who go from hotel to hotel, complaining every time and getting an easy refund every time. Am I paying for their 'free' stays?
I don't think I will be visiting a Premier Inn again. Just too many things went wrong with my stay, starting with the booking mix up and including all of the faulty equipment. I feel that there are other budget hotels that are either cheaper, or which are more reliable.