There comes a time in every traveler’s life when the prospect of sleeping in an airport loses its appeal. We appear to have found that time, and a convenient alternative!
Recently, we decided to splurge
a few lots of frequent flier miles on business class flights to join some friends in France. As frequent fliers, of course, we were rewarded with all the perks of the less popular routes, which included an overnight in London on the return. That’s when we realized that we have reached that time in our lives. We are, after all, celebrating “pre-tirement.” Oh sure, we like adventure, but we also like a good night’s sleep and a bit of privacy.
On the other hand, we have no fondness for paying a whole night’s price for a hot shower and a few hours of comfy coziness. But those are your options, right? Sleep in the airport, maybe a lounge if you’re lucky, or book a night at a close-by hotel. Or…let’s try something different.
The Evolution of Airport Hotels
A few airports have seen short term hotels opening in recent years. The idea is simple: You get a quiet place for a lay-over nap and shower before your next flight, and only pay for the hours you are actually there. Depending on the area, the savings can be substantial.
There are trade-offs, of course. You’re not going to find a pool or spa. Restaurant options are out in the airport, or beyond. Amenities are lean, and rooms are small; at Japan’s NineHours Narita airport, they are literally single-sized capsules. But then, you’re there for some shut-eye, not a vacation experience.
Almost ten years ago, the slightly larger YotelAir opened in London at Gatwick and Heathrow airports. Espousing “compact luxury,” the rooms (46 at Gatwick, 32 at Heathrow) sleep up to three comfortably with a little room to spare. (And we mean that literally.) Our layover happened to be at Heathrow, so we checked into Yotel LHR on the land-side of Terminal 4. (We said we like adventure, right?) We booked a double cabin, and…we liked it!
Space Station Yotel?
The first thing we noticed is the more than passing resemblance to a hip space station or something from the Fifth Element: white walls, pink lights, porthole windows, and built-ins. Rooms are called Cabins, and the front desk is Mission Control. This could be the prototype for orbiting space hotels!
We later learned that the cabins were designed by aircraft designers and inspired by British Airways’ first class lounge. The goal is to merge first class air travel with a luxury hotel experience. What better place to showcase the design than an airport hotel?
We admired the efficient design, which whispered sweet nothings to our fondness for Tiny Home design. We marveled at the space-station-esque panel of controls for the lighting and sofa/bed. We even oohed at the “monsoon” shower head.
Your Flight Crew for Today
What generally sets any property apart, though, is the staff. (Keeping with the space station theme, would that be flight crew?) Here, too, Yotel was a winner. Being first-timers, the desk agent, George, gave us a thorough check-in briefing, and handed us our supplies. By supplies, we mean he asked us if we would like extra towels, electrical adapters (dang this Yankee accent!), or a hair dryer, and provided them. Note: He asked us if we would like extra towels. We ask for that at every hotel we visit. This was the first time a hotel asked us! It’s also worth noting that he warned us that there was no bath mat, and we might want a towel for that, too.
Most importantly, George handed us the keys to the free Wi-Fi, and explained that we could stop by the front desk for complimentary tea, coffee drinks, or hot chocolate any time we wanted. Heck, he’d even bring them to our room, along with a select variety of foods for purchase. (Despite the temptation, we did not run amuck with the endless caffè lattes.)
The Cabin Experience
The cabins come in three sizes: Standard (for one), Premium (for a couple or a solo who likes more space), and Premium Triple (could sleep up to four). This is where Yotel innovation shines. Similar to Tiny Home design, almost everything is made to tuck away or do double duty. There is a table – for work or dining – which folds into the wall, and a single folding chair which also has a dedicated storage spot on the wall. The bed is your second seat, and it reclines at the touch of a button. Slide it halfway out, and you have a comfy spot to watch some TV. All the way out and it’s a double-sized bed. Getting around the cabin, though, becomes a challenge.
As you might expect, Yotel is clearly not designed for long stays. There is no closet, no luggage rack, no drawer space. There is a cavernous space under the bed for luggage (our roll-aboard and backpacks fit nicely) with a couple more nooks for baggage. There is a single hook for anything that needs to hang, in front of the full-length mirror. And there is shelf space molded into the wall, both in the room and the bathroom. Helpful, as there is no counter space in the bathroom.
Speaking of the bathroom…
If anyone is going to have an issue with Yotel, that’s probably where it will be. It is separated from the sleeping area by a glass wall, partly frosted, and a privacy drape. Being one space with sink, toilet, and shower, it’s hard for two to get ready at the same time. Making it even harder, the shower is divided from the facilities by a partial wall and, because of the monsoon shower and its placement, water tends to splash about. A lot. George’s advice to have a bath mat was spot on.
So the shower was one issue. The air was another. Yotel is entirely indoors, meaning there are no outside windows. Ventilation could be an issue, save for the constantly circulating air. There is a control to make it warmer or cooler, but you cannot turn it off. We also could not really tell that the air got significantly warmer or cooler. To be fair, we were warned that it could take about 30 minutes before you could feel the change, and we probably fell asleep before that point. Also, we completely forgot which way to turn the nob to warm things up. (Labeling could be better.) It was not uncomfortable, but just a bit cooler than we prefer.
That’s it? Two soft strikes? For us, yes. We love the concept, and the execution is good. Yotel bills it as “compact luxury” and, while nothing seemed truly luxurious to us, it was far from a bare bones budget hotel. The cabins are comfortable, and the staff was great. Would we stay there again? You bet! We do love luxurious hotel vacations but, when practicality is what you need – and you only need it for a few hours – Yotel is a winner.
Where: We stayed at the Heathrow airport location in Terminal 4. There are YotelAir hotels at London Gatwick, Amsterdam Schiphol, and Paris Charles de Gaulle airports. There are also a full-service Yotels in midtown Manhattan, Boston, and Singapore. Yotel San Francisco promises to open in 2018. (Yotel being the company name, YotelAir distinguishing airport locations.)
Amenities: Complimentary bottled water and hot beverages (coffee, tea, hot chocolate); free Wi-Fi; business center.
Check-in/out: At YotelAir, you pay by the hour (four hour minimum) so there are no set check-in or out times. Reserve the time you want.
Ratings: Yotel at Heathrow has a 4.5-star TripAdvisor rating.
More cabin photos from YotelAir at LHR
If you’ve stayed at a YotelAir, or any pod or micro-hotel, we’d love to hear how your experience was! If not, would you? What are your thoughts about these smaller airport hotels with by-the-hour options? Let us know in the comments.
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Disclaimers & Details: TravelLatte enjoyed a media rate at Yotel LHR. As always, all views are our own, and are based on our experiences.