Europe’s hotel landscape is quite a bit different from ours: some of the players are the same, but with very different positions. And knowing the hotel landscape is increasingly important as big chains slowly but surely edge out the funky independent “mom and pop” hotels and bed & breakfasts to which budget travelers formerly gravitated as a matter of course.
For whatever reasons, most of the low-cost chain action is based in France and the UK and is led by four large chains: French-based Accor and Groupe Louvre and the British Premier Inn and Travelodge. The majority of their locations are in France and the UK, but they’re also steadily spreading around Europe.
Super-Budget Hotels. There is really no U.S. equivalent to the very bottom end of the European budget hotel market:
- Accor’s Formule1 brand (rebranded as Hotel F1 in France) is iconic: rooms of about 100 square feet, one standard double bed plus mini-bunk for a kid (twin beds in a few locations), washstand, and TV. Toilet and shower are across or down the hall. Check-in and room access are completely automated—pay by credit or debit card, then use access codes to get in the hotel and into your room. You can stay there without ever encountering an employee. Rates in small cities start at around €30 (about $40) per night; breakfast is extra. Formule 1/Hotel F1 is concentrated in France, but operates at least some hotels in Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Switzerland, and the UK.
- Accor’s Etap and Groupe Louvre’s Premiere Classe are a small step up the ladder. Rooms generally include a private bath or shower and toilet, but they’re still tiny. Both are mainly in France.
- EasyHotels, part of Stelios Hadj-Ioannou’s “easy” empire, operates handful of hotels in the UK plus a few outposts on the Continent. Accommodations are similar to the bottom-end French chains, with very small rooms, self-contained but minimal bath facilities, and pay extra if you want a daily change of linen. Rates start at around $45 in the suburbs, $60 in the city.
Low-Budget Hotels. If you’re looking for something a bit more like a typical U.S. budget motel, try Accor’s Ibis and Groupe Louvre’s Campanille and Kyriad, again mostly in France, but expanding into other areas. Rates start at around $60 a night.
Conventional Budget. The next step up the ladder has more players and extends over more of Europe. The largest concentrations are in France, the UK, and Spain. Accommodations are similar to what you find at typical midrange budget hotels in the United States. Typically, rates start at around $100 a night.
- Holiday Inn Express is reasonably well represented in Europe, with facilities about what you’d expect from your experiences here at home.
- Premier Inn and Travelodge dominate the UK scene, with a smattering of locations in other countries.
- Dublin-based Jury’s Inn operates seven hotels in Ireland and 23 in the UK.
- An additional small British chain, City Inn, has only six locations but has received good reviews.
- Husa operates more than 100 locations in Spain plus a handful in other countries, with rates starting at under $50 a night.
- Multi-tier chain Sol Melia‘s brand is similar, with many locations, again mainly in Spain.
- The only similar German chain I could find is InterCity, with 34 hotels; rates start at about $100 a night.
Start with the brands’ own sites when you’re looking for good deals: Accor, Premier Inn, and Travelodge, in particular, frequently promote sales and special advance-purchase rates.
Otherwise, check the usual suspects: The big online travel agencies cover Europe as well as the United States. Also try Booking, Priceline’s UK affiliate. In a quick check, I found that these agencies can often find discounted prices at three-star hotels that are in the same price range as rack rates at more down-market budget properties.
Where do you stay on a budget in Europe? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!