REVIEW: YOTEL London Heathrow Airport Premium Cabin
Flying with American Airlines to anywhere other than Asia, South America or the South Pacific, you're likely to either be put on an itinerary or at a minimum be offered one flying to London Heathrow (LHR) for an onward connection. This has been the case for many of my travels around the world, making my way across the globe through London's most massive air complex. Many of those times I simply would spend my time wandering the terminals and enjoying the beautiful accents all about me, or if I were lucky that trip I'd be relaxing in one of the lounges dotting the airport.
The other times I'd be on overnight connections or very long layovers during the day. In need of a bed or a place to crash for hours on end I became very familiar with the hotel situation at LHR. The hotel scene around LHR is very competitive, which is good overall since it means generally there are lower costs associated with purchasing a day room or overnight stay. Over the years I've become familiar with the Hilton which a decent property that is attached by walkway to LHR's Terminal 4, the Sofitel which is a beautiful hotel attached to Terminal 5 and is therefore the most convenient location when connecting on British Airways, and the various other properties strewn about the local area.
The Sofitel and the Hilton are the most conveniently located, but are often beyond my price point. On the other hand, the other airport hotel properties are often priced pretty well but so annoyingly difficult to access using Heathrow's absurdly named "Hotel Hoppa" bus service that takes a bit of time to use and is only available for a fee. Neither is very appealing, so I was often on the look out for something different.
Enter the YOTEL.
Like the Hilton, the YOTEL at Heathrow is at Terminal 4. It's located on the public land-side (important to note for transit passengers - you must enter the UK) on the mezzanine level across from the Windsor Castle restaurant, so it's very easy to navigate to from your gate. If you happen to be arriving at a terminal other than 4 (and that's the case with most arrivals into LHR), you can make your way here by hopping onto the free Heathrow Express trains between terminals. While the service generally heads from the airport into Paddington station, it can also be used to transit between terminals free of charge. Trains from Terminal 5 stop at the airport hub at Terminals 1 & 3, and you can ride the train to the hub without a ticket. From there you hop on a train bound for Terminal 4, or if you've arrived at Terminals 1 or 3, just hop directly on to a train to Terminal 4 with no transfer needed.
Once you've made it to the YOTEL, you have two options to check-in - a self-service kiosks or a single agent that staffs the front desk. As modern and chic as it is to remove human interaction from many parts of the travel experience, I'm a bit old fashioned and still prefer a face to face conversation when arriving at hotels or taking a flight, so I have no experience with the self-service kiosks.
Much like a seedy motel next to a truck stop off of I-80 in Des Moines, YOTEL rooms are available for rent by the hour. Advanced reservations are available through its website or other online consolidators, though I do think a significant portion of its business comes from people simply wandering in. Unlike the motel in Iowa though, the YOTEL is quite clean and much less seedy.
Rooms are available in three types - standard cabin, premium cabin, and triple premium cabin. As is the norm with most tiered offerings, the standard cabin has less space and is less luxurious than its premium cabin cousin. The triple premium cabin isn't necessarily nicer than the premium cabin, it simply has more space and a different lay out to accommodate three people.
This review will cover just the premium cabin, though I also have rented the standard cabin in the past.
Check-in is almost always quick but friendly. Despite being in London I've never once been assisted with check-in by someone who appeared to be from the UK. Most folks tend to have Eastern European accents and wear welcoming smiles. Your method of payment is requested at check-in, and if you've pre-paid for your time you are simply given a room key and asked if you'd like a beverage before being let through the door into the room area, which has controlled access for security.
As you can tell, YOTEL seems to have taken a page out of the Virgin book and tends to bathe it's public spaces with pink mood lighting. The term "cabin" is appropriate as the hallways often remind me of a cruise ship, though I think the actual theme may be "space travel". Each cabin has a door as well as a window looking out into the hallways, so you need to be aware of this window and close the blinds once you've entered your room. In all my visits to the YOTEL, I've almost always walked past someone enjoying their cabin who has clearly not noticed that the blinds are open and they are sharing a view of their room with the occupants of the hallway. After the second or third floppy dick or pair of breasts you get motivated to remember to lower the blinds as the very first thing you do when you enter your own cabin. As you can see from the picture below, the premium cabins give passersby a phenomenal view of your bed and shower.
The mood lighting extends into the rooms, but once inside you can deactivate it and run some normal lighting.
The YOTEL is essentially a play on the famous Japanese capsule hotels - small spaces with minimalist design that allows for a quick and no frills way to rest comfortably. The Japanese versions are often compared to coffins with good reason, but the YOTEL model caters to Europeans whom are likely accustomed to slightly more space than the Japanese.
When you've stepped into your room at the YOTEL, you can see the entire room and everything in it from a single vantage point, regardless of whether you're in a standard or premium cabin. So while pictures can be deceiving, keep that in mind when looking through the rest of this report. It's a small space.
The focal point of the room is essentially a motorized futon with a fixed hardback shell as a head board. When you enter the room it's set to be in the couch-mode, where the mattress if folded in half and the top half of it is raised to be flush with the hard shell, like a deep-sit lounging couch. However, with the click of a button you can extend the couch into its bed format for a relaxing rest.
At the very end of the video I stand in the walking space between the fully extended bed and the wall to show you just how narrow the room is. Keep in mind that I wear an 8.5 American sized men's shoe, so my feet are tiny to begin with.
While the bed is definitely a great accessory to the space as it's motorized nature make it easy to switch between a lounging mode and sleeping mode quite easily while maximizing the limited space, it's not actually the most comfortable of beds. On a scale of one to ten with a one being sleeping in a cardboard box of broken beer bottles and ten being sleeping on clouds while angels gently massage your temples, this was a solid 5. Not on the level of a Starwood property's signature "Heavenly Bed" but comfortable enough that I can lay down on it and fall asleep and feel rested when I wake up.
The mattress on the convertible is listed as a double bed though it felt like that might be a rough approximation in size, as the dimensions feel a bit off every time I lay down on the mattress. It's still was more than enough space for me to crawl onto and zonk out.
Directly across from the bed is a wall that would almost seem more at home in the Bat Cave. It was a utility board of items ranging from glasses for drinking, a folding chair, a fold out table, outlets, a television, to a place to hang clothes.
The small table is right below the television and is used by pulling it up from the wall and locking the brace below it. It's of a decent size, almost the same as what you'd remember from using in grade school. As you can see, if the couch has been converted to a bed you cannot really use the table as it's flush with the bedding, so you'll need to make sure that if you plan to sit at the table on the folding chair that the bed isn't converted.
As you can see, outlets are provided to charge your electronics but they are only set up for UK and EU plug types, so if you're coming from the US hopefully you brought your own adapter.
The last part of the wall is a full length mirror and a single hanger, so look through your luggage and decide what shirt you love the most. Again, this isn't designed to be a full service hotel, just a quick pit stop on your way from point A to point B, so the single hanger makes sense. You're either on a lay over and taking a quick nap in which case you're using the hanger for your current shirt to make sure it doesn't get wrinkled, or you're on an overnight and you're using the hanger for the shirt you plan on wearing tomorrow in the hopes the wrinkles fall out over night.
The remainder of the room is taken up by the ensuite bathroom. It runs the length of the room and does come with a door that you can close to help try to reduce the humidity from seeping into your living area when you take a shower, however the door isn't flush floor to ceiling so there's still some creep going on in.
The shower area has just a half partition separating the bathing area from the toilet and sink area, though I've never really had too much of an issue with water flowing into those areas, and I tend to take long showers. You're provided with two towel during your stay, and shower and shampoo amenities (as well as hand wash) are all from two multi-purpose cleansing agent bottles attached to the wall by the sink and shower.
The front desk, referred to as "Mission Control", offers complimentary coffee, tea, and hot chocolate during your stay. Food and other beverages are available for order from Mission Control as well, though the quality is rather dubious from what I've seen. I highly recommend going out into Terminal 4 to pick up some snacks if you think you're going to want to nosh on something during your stay. In addition to the pub located directly across from the YOTEL's entrance, there's a WHSmith just down the escalators which offers a pretty decent variety of pre-packaged foods and beverages for you to grab before or during your stay.
Wifi is free throughout the hotel and is very fast and efficient. Not only can you check emails or update your Facebook, but I was able to rather easily stream videos from YouTube.
While it's not everything that a full hotel would offer you, YOTEL has become my location of choice when staying on a long layover or overnight connection at LHR. Its location at Terminal 4 makes it an easy location to access (even from other terminals), and at the very minimum is cheaper than paying the fee to take the Hotel Hoppa service out to one of the other hotel properties. It's not as luxurious as the Sofitel or Hilton but at the reduced price point I'm happy to trade off the additional space and pampering.
Advance rates are generally pretty good at the YOTEL, and if you book through an online consolidator service like Priceline or Orbitz you can often find good deals when staying overnight. If staying at the nicest property available is your travel game, this property certainly isn't for you. Run far, far away from the YOTEL.
But if you're genuinely interested in a solid product at a good price point with buttloads of convenience, give YOTEL a shot.