“ Address: Airport Way / Luton / LU2 9LF „
~I'm no Early Bird~
When faced with the prospect of an early morning flight, my spirits take a very quick and very deep dive. I am not a morning person at all and I try very hard to avoid really early flights. In order to get to Lisbon for a meeting earlier this year, I had a number of choices, the 'least worst' of which was a 7.40 am EasyJet flight out of Luton airport. I had several ways to handle the challenge of the flight. The most instinctive option was to say "Sod that for a game of soldiers" and just not take it - but sadly I wasn't going to get away with that. The second slightly more viable but very unpleasant option would be to get up super early and drive down to Luton but to do that I calculated I'd need to set the alarm clock for around 3.30 am. That's a time that barely makes it worth going to bed. So being a bit of a wimp, and knowing I was spending company money, I went for the wise choice and booked a night in a hotel at the airport. Being a penny-pincher, I booked it via Hotels.com and Topcashback and earned 10% of the cost as cash back. Considering I paid a rather miserly £45, got £4.50 back and earned a night towards my free hotel night rewards, I was feeling rather smug.
One of the good things about Luton Airport - and goodness knows there's not a long list of them - is that they have a good selection of relatively inexpensive hotels very close to the airport. You just don't get that in most of Britain's airports where anything close enough to hear the engines roar will set you back a fortune. At Luton the hotels tend to be rather more 'budget' than 'luxury' with a Holiday Inn Express, an Ibis, and the latest addition is the Ramada Encore. Last time I did a silly o'clock flight from Luton was nearly a year ago and that time I had a surprisingly pleasant stay at the Ibis. The Ramada Encore wasn't even open at that point and the reception staff confirmed that it opened in July 2012. If you know where the Ibis is, then it's simple to find the Ramada Encore as it's right next door. What's even simpler is that both the close-to-each-other exits off the roundabout in front of the Holiday Inn Express will take you to the Ramada.
All three of these budget hotels are off the roundabout as you approach Luton Airport, close to the entrance to the mid-stay car park. They are not the type of places that call themselves 'airport hotels' despite being a 20 minute drive away.
We arrived at about 9 o'clock on a Sunday evening after delaying the inevitable as long as possible in order to prolong the weekend feeling. I had to fly and as my husband wasn't working the next morning (and fancied having my car whilst I was away) he agreed to go to the airport with me and come back again on the Wednesday evening when I returned. The car park had plenty of space and I was relieved to see that the shocking prices were much reduced for anyone staying in the hotel. An overnight stay if you aren't a resident would set you back £20 but for those using the hotel, it's a much more reasonable £5 for the night.
Since I'd pre-paid, all I did was hand over the paperwork and my Wyndham Rewards card (Ramada is part of that loyalty scheme) and we were issued with a room card-key and instructions to find our room. The receptionist was polite and friendly and answered my questions about how to pay for the parking in the morning and reassured me that they wouldn't be busy so early so I shouldn't worry about having to wait too long.
The reception area is large, bright and surprisingly stylish in an IKEA-ish way with lots of wood and bright colours. I'd booked 'room only' due to the early departure so we didn't eat breakfast in the hotel (well actually we did - but we brought it with us) and we weren't looking to eat or drink, just get our heads down and get as much sleep as possible but for those who do need them, there's a large bar and restaurant area. Main meals are served from 6.30 in the morning through to 10 at night with snacks available 24 hours a day. The timings may be worth keeping in mind if you're arriving late as there's not too much choice in the area if you need to go out to find food.
Access to the lifts to the rooms is via a door which can be opened with your room key. The lift is quite small and smells very odd in a cleaning chemicals sort of way. I was mildly amused that it was a 'Stannah' lift as I'd not realised they made anything other than stairlifts. Our room - 125 - was geographically as far as it was possible to get from the lift, down one corridor, turn down another, and again down another. We were on the back of the hotel overlooking the car park and looking towards the back of the Ibis.
~Bright and Light~
The room was pretty much what I expected from a budget arm of a reputable hotel chain. It was pared down to the essentials but these were delivered with a little bit of style and, since the hotel's not been open long, everything was still in good condition. The main colours are of light wood and bright red fabrics. The floor is light wood (or probably laminate) which matches the light wooden furniture. I found the floor a bit slippery after I'd had a shower and my feet were wet and that could have been improved. Many hotels now are using low-slip laminate flooring because they seem to be used to idiots like me running out of the shower to turn off their alarm clocks and risking breaking limbs when they fall over.
The main feature of the room was the large double bed which was dressed with crisp white linens. The pillows were puffy and there were spares available for those who need more than one. The bed had a duvet and a bright red runner across the base. Personally I'm a bit sick of these pointless affectations and would rather have a proper bedspread that has a functional purpose rather than something that just sits on the bottom of the bed looking pretty. The area above the head of the bed was in light wood which matched the bedside tables on either side. The bendy reading lights above the bed were almost painfully bright and dazzling.
Towards the window there was a bright red fold-out sofa-bed. I didn't open it to check but it had the 'feel' of a rather basic fold-out rather than a 'sprung' bed but we didn't need it so that wasn't a problem. If you want to book for 3 or 4 people, you may want to ask questions up front about the sofa bed. If it were actually folded out, there would be very little space to move around the room.
Opposite the sofa there was a curved desk. This was home to the spare pillows which were wedged under the work surface, to a flat screened television and a tray with coffee and tea supplies. There were plenty of television channels to choose from and we found pretty much the standard UK digital selection. I have no idea if they had any foreign language channels as I wasn't curious enough to hunt beyond the first few channels.
There's no wardrobe or drawers for storage of your clothes, but this isn't a hotel where you're likely to be staying for more than a few hours. Instead they provide two short rails with plenty of hangars. There's a ledge beneath that could be a bag stand but only if your bag is remarkably narrow. I found it wasn't fit for purpose and I had to put my bag on the floor. You should also not expect trouser presses, minibars or room safes in a budget chain like this but again, it's not the sort of place where you need such things.
The bathroom was surprisingly pleasant. I'm very familiar with the Ibis 'pod' bathrooms where everything is nasty and feels very moulded and very plastic. Ramada have attempted to give their bathrooms quite a lot of style with a large stone vanity unit, green glass walls and a large wet-room shower. The slate floor tiles look to have been a bit of a mistake and it looks like the grout is already reacting badly with the water to produce unpleasant marks on the floor. Toiletries are supplied in wall-mounted pump-bottles and were of pleasant fragrance and decent quality. The shower pressure was very good. The one thing I did notice that the lighting was rather poor and if you were someone who needs bright lights to shave or apply make up, you'd probably struggle.
~Restless and Ratty~
I slept horribly badly but I can't completely blame the hotel for that. When I know I have a really early start, I always sleep badly. My husband's snoring has improved in the last few months but he was making sounds like a strangled duck and the heating drove me crazy with the noise it made as the thermostat kicked in and out through the night. We'd spent the night before in a hotel which was really cold and there was a hard frost so we didn't want to wake up to a chilly room but the noise drove me half crazy.
Leaving in the morning was easy and straightforward. There were no other customers in reception and the two guys there explained the car park payment machine, giving us a card to put into the machine to reduce the amount we had to pay. At 6.20am in sub-zero temperatures the car park had a lot of black ice and could have done with a good gritting.
The hotel has free and easy to use Wi-Fi but no bus service to the airport terminal. You can either walk to the terminal in about 10 minutes or if you have luggage, there's a bus which runs from outside the Holiday Inn Express. I got my husband to drop me off before he drove home.
For £45 for the night with a £5 charge for the car park, I felt I got a good bargain. Early morning departures are often cheaper than later ones and you may well be able to save enough by booking an early flight to pay for your hotel the night before. The prices will of course depend on when you want to stay but there are clearly good deals to be had whilst Ramada tries to build a clientele for their Encore hotel. The receptionists told me that they get a lot of cabin crew staying at the hotel but their non-crew client base is taking a bit longer to build up. If the prices were the same or similar, I'd probably choose the Ramada ahead of the Ibis and at parity with the Holiday Inn Express.