Even this week--after the big wedding and plenty early for the Olympics--my seven day stay in the capital for my book launch will cost me more than spending the entire month of March in San Francisco. Over the past twelve months, my average nightly room rate has hovered around $120, which is roughly £70. In London, that's barely enough for a bright orange, wipe-clean room at the Easy Hotel, Victoria or a "five star bed at one star price" room at Tune.
(There's really only one way to get a good room in London for less than 70 quid, and by telling you about it I'm almost certainly killing the golden goose. The Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch has rooms starting at around £80 ($130), but for just £19 ($30) they'll rent you one of those same rooms between the hours of 10am and 4pm for use as a "day office." If you're happy being nocturnal, there's nothing in theory stopping you from sleeping there all day and then partying all night. Squarrrk. Sorry goose.)
But, ok, London is an expensive city and I wouldn't object too loudly if my $531 room came with $531 service. But it doesn't. In fact, by any metric, London hotel service constantly disappoints. In the US it's remarkable to receive open hostility at check in (except at the Riviera in Las Vegas); to be given a downgrade from a suite to a twin-bedded attic room, or to be told that due to overbooking, you have to make your own way right across town to a sister property.
All three of those things happened to me in the same week during my last trip to London. As for housekeeping: at one "five star" property which should probably remain nameless but won't; it was The Mayfair (Radisson) - I opened a closet door only to find someone had scrawled the words "THIS HOTEL IS A SHIT-HOLE" on the back inside in pencil. I would have called down to report the graffiti but the room phone didn't have a dial tone.
London hotels are going through something of a--no pun intended--renaissance right now, with new flagship properties opening at St Pancras (Marriott's St Pancras Renaissance) and Leicester Square (The W at the site of the former Swiss Centre) just in time for the Royal Wedding and there's a whole cluster of others opening to coincide with the Olympics.
In most other major cities, this would be seen as an opportunity: to show off the best of London hospitality to the world, buoyed by the increased occupancy rates brought by millions of additional visitors. Judging by initial reports, the major new-builds seem to understand this -- but based on past performance, I fear most other places will simply see the influx of tourists as a chance to hike rates even further without adjusting room or staff quality one jot.
Still, the realities of London hotel economics and service do have one upside for a budget-conscious hotel-dweller like me. They justify throwing fiscal caution to the wind and splashing out on luxury. In other cities, staying in a $650-a-night room (like the ones offered, say, by The Lanesborough tonight) would require a bit of careful thought, but in London it's basically a no-brainer; a Maslowian question of survival. Why would I pay $531 for a shit-hole, when $120 more gets me my own butler, complimentary WiFi on tap and - a weirdly anachronistic perk - unlimited free porn on the television? Free porn! That's living the dream.
Then, once I've become tired of London again--by about the start of next week--I can just have my butler pack my life back into a carry on bag, hail a cab for Heathrow and jump on a plane to somewhere friendlier and less expensive than London. I've heard good things about Abbottabad.
Paul Carr is a writer who lives permanently in hotels. His book, The Upgrade: A Cautionary Tale of a Life Without Reservations is available from Amazon and all good UK bookstores. He blogs daily at www.paulcarr.com/theupgrade