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I don't think I understand the concept of 'no frills'. My understanding was that a no frills service or product retained the usefulness and core functionality of a more expensive equivalent, but did away with any unnecessary add-ons or peripheral additions. Think Ikea furniture versus Habitat – often very similarly-styled items only made of materials that perhaps won't endure quite so long, but in essence designed to fulfil the same principal use.
We stayed at a Travelodge at Hayle in Cornwall when visiting my niece in Penzance at the weekend which has turned my comprehension of a no frills service on its head. I've stayed in a Travelodge near Heathrow once before, and endured a thoroughly miserable night's sleep owing to the comings and goings of noisy travellers along the corridor throughout the night. However, that was pre-credit crunch and the corresponding rise in popularity of brands such as Travelodge and Premier Inn. I figured, mistakenly, that with that rise in popularity had come a rise in standards; more basically, I assumed that the Heathrow experience was just the product of its proximity to the UK's foremost airport, not a damning indictment of the chain per se. This trip wasn't our main holiday, and with a scarcity of accommodation around Penzance catering for families with small children, plus those hotels that did having family room rates of around £120 per night, we decided to go for the Travelodge at Hayle where the total stay for three nights was around £125.
Travelodge's ethos, according to the creased and stained literature in the room, is to make you feel better off, and in this regard they succeeded. And judging by the prevalence of Audis and BMWs in the car park it's a marketing strategy that's paying dividends. Paying for three nights what I'd have paid for one elsewhere was of course a big saving, and I did feel like I could afford to spend more generously elsewhere. I didn't; I decided that I'd do similarly uncharacteristic things like go to McDonald's for breakfast and stopping at a Harvester on the way home. Perhaps that makes me sound like a snob. Perhaps I am.
It's the sheer basicness, if that's a word, of the place that first surprised me. The furniture and set-up was nothing short of utilitarian – a simple desk, some hanging space for clothes, some open shelves and a bed, plus a sofa bed for our eldest daughter and plenty of floor space for our youngest daughter's travel cot. The bathroom, though tiny, had a decent shower. It was clear from the layout and lack of ornament that the room was designed to serve one solitary purpose, and that was for sleeping. You wouldn't – couldn't – choose Travelodge for a romantic break. Sleeping is really all we did there; we'd get back from my sister's house and go to bed, get up, get clean and get out. With only a curiously over-priced to-the-door breakfast available we were out early as well. I wonder if it's still cheap if you work out how much it costs per minute you're actually prepared to be in the room.
Still, so far, no major gripes. We saved money and slept, if not well, then at least enough to be able to start the day with at least a vague sense of feeling refreshed; also, the room seemed clean, but then again the carpet was of such a nauseatingly dense Seventies pattern that you'd have been hard pressed to tell. But there were some things which were beyond basic, and were instead just plain wrong. First, the bed had no support and left Mrs S – who hasn't got the best back at the best of times – feeling all sorts of aches and pains; the duvet cover was literally the same size as the bed, which meant – because of the inadequate storage heater (on all day, off all night) that we spent the night in a perpetually chilly duvet tug of war with one another; the duvet cover itself was open down one side; the mattress cover on the sofa bed was torn and hole-ridden and there were some dubious stains on the mattress itself; the back of the sofa bed literally came apart when I tried to make it up; towels were thin and threadbare; the sink had a crack in it; the room, in spite of being non-smoking, smelled of a combination of decades-old fags and contained a faint whiff of damp dog etc etc. Need I go on? Getting the picture?
It is possible, through staying at a Travelodge, to deduce what the chain must believe to be the 'frills' we can live without, and whether you agree or not that's tough. For example, a lock on the toilet door? No need. Buttons down the side of the duvet cover? Superfluous. Toiletries? Bring your own, cheapskate. Curtain hooks along the full length of the curtain rail? Come on, they close don't they? Quit complaining. You get what you pay for.
The last point is, I suppose, crucial: you get what you pay for. Michael O'Leary of Ryanair is the most prominent exponent of the 'pay peanuts, expect shit' mantra. We paid less than a third of the price for three nights that you'd pay at somewhere like The Soho in London for a single night, a place whose rooms are so stuffed with frills of all shapes and hues that you could be mistaken for thinking you were sleeping in a large doily. But that's really what I want from a hotel. Well, maybe not doilies, but hopefully you get the picture. We all deserve a little luxury when we travel, I say. I don't want to stay somewhere that's less luxurious than my own house. Sorry if that's not the credit crunch spirit.
If I've learned one thing from this stay, it's 'pay more, get more', and that's exactly what I'll be doing next time.