At a time when American consumers are up in arms over the growing list of hidden fees tacked on by airlines, I was more than a bit surprised to read about the concept behind the newest budget hotel to open in London.
The Tune, located in Westminster, is the first Western edition of a chain launched in Malaysia in 2007. It bills itself as a one-star hotel offering clean rooms with five-star beds.
But if you want to do anything -- and I mean anything -- besides sleep, be prepared to keep opening your wallet.
Want to shower? A kit with towels and essential toiletries will cost you $2.37.
Need to use a hair dryer? That's $1.58.
Want the room to stay clean while you are there? Maid service costs $11 a day.
Access to basic, free television channels will cost almost $5 a day.
And wireless Internet runs $2.37 an hour or $4.70 a day.
OK, I figured if the room was a real bargain and you really did just want to sleep, the extras might not be a bother.
But a recent price check for a Thursday night in November showed the lowest rate to be $95. That's hardly a steal in a city with three- and four-star hotels in the $100 range. Still, it was among the lowest rates in the London area and arguably in a more central location than most of the cheaper three-star hotels I found.
I attempted to reach someone with the company to find out how the hotels are faring in an age when Americans, at least, seem to be revolting against extraneous fees. But apparently media relations is also an added expense, as I never got any response to the emails I sent to a generic email address listed on their website as a way to contact the company in Malaysia.
If TripAdvisor is a valid gauge, however, customers appear to be pretty happy.
"The rooms ARE small -- probably the smallest I have ever stayed in, and people with lots of luggage would need to leave their bags in reception," one reviewer wrote on TripAdvisor. "I would also recommend staying in a room with a window. However, for the price this is an excellent accommodation in central London. I can't imagine you could find better value so central."
Another visitor wrote: "We had expected the worst and mentally prepared to stay with family if it was a flea pit, but [we were] pleasantly surprised. Had opted for the windowless room to save £9 but on arrival [were] upgraded, which meant that we benefited from natural light and air. The hotel is opposite the [Lambeth North tube station] but just a five-minute walk from Waterloo train/tube station, so used this route the most for more travel options -- all wonderfully close.
"Staff were very friendly, and the room was spotless, with an excellent mattress and pillows that guarantee a fabulous night's sleep. Bring your own travel towel and miniature soap and toiletries if you can to save money. Food can be bought from the nearby grocery store, or if you're starving and it's very late, try the take-away opposite where you can also eat inside.
"The only negatives are how tiny the room is (luggage can be stored under the bed or in front of the door -- pray there's no fire!), meaning it's a struggle to get out of bed if you are the farthest away from the Tardis-like en-suite loo, sink and shower. [Editor's note: Tardis is the phone booth that serves as a time and space capsule in the Dr. Who series.] The lights are incredibly bright, so I opted to use the cubicle in the dark rather than waking my partner (leaving the brilliant blackout blind slightly raised helped!). Despite pressing all switches and turning off the A/C, there was a constant hum of air throughout the night, forcing us to wear ear plugs.
"If you want a cheap, central night and don't suffer from claustrophobia, this is a bargain. Just don't tell everyone so that we can get a room there next time we visit the Big Smoke!"
Tune has seven hotels in Malaysia and two in Indonesia, which appear to be quite a bit cheaper than London. Average rates in Kuala Lumpur range from $3 to $26, which obviously makes the dormlike accommodations more palatable.
Perhaps this traveler summed it up best after his stay at the downtown Kuala Lumpur property:
"I'm not joking, some of the people who have reviewed this need to take themselves outside for a slap," the reviewer wrote. "It is a budget hotel, located about 100 meters from the monorail, has a Subway and 7-Eleven downstairs that is 24 hours. It also is smack bang opposite a mall and is easily found wherever you are coming from. Tune Hotels have the most comfortable beds in S.E. Asia along with awesome power showers. All for only $8 per night.
"People stay at a budget hotel and then review it like it cost them $100 per night. ... At this hotel you get a whole lot more than what you paid for, and I'd never stay anywhere else in Kuala Lumpur."
Although one reviewer said Tune has "really overdone the no-frills room nonsense with rooms that are too small to even be considered cozy," the majority of the reviews are surprisingly positive.
I can only surmise that the difference in reaction to Tune and the outcry on this side of the pond to growing lists of fees in the travel industry is transparency. Before you can complete the Tune booking process, the list of add-ons and their price is displayed for selection. So it is very clear from the outset what is and is not included.
While I personally don't understand why anybody in the customer-centric travel industry would base a business model on nickel-and-diming their clients, I can only hope the airlines -- and hotels that insist on continuing to charge resort and other extraneous fees -- will take a page from this little company and make their myriad charges clear from the outset.
Correction: Tune Hotels launched in 2007, not 1997 as originally reported.
Email Jeri Clausing at [email protected].