The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 at Heathrow has become our default overnight stop for early morning flights out of London. Firmly located at the ‘budget’ end of the price scale, this hotel has the distinction of being the closest to Terminal 5 – other than the luxury Sofitel which is connected directly to the airport.

This is now the third time we have stayed here.

Check in

Having booked and pre-paid via Ebookers/Expedia, check-in was quick and easy – just collect a keycard from reception. There was no additional paperwork to complete, nor any need for ID or credit cards for ‘incidentals’.

The room

On this occasion we had a king-size double room which I think is supposed to be at the upper end of the accommodation options. The bed was decent (Linda says the mattress was too hard for her) and the crisp, white linen clean and comfortable. The fixtures and fittings in the room were in generally good condition.

The shower is warm and the water flow perfectly reasonable. There is a bath tub if you are that way inclined.

Pros: We had a Nespresso coffee maker and capsules

Cons: No runway view in room 209. It’s a long walk between reception and room 209.


Top tip: The electrical socket mounted above the desk has 1 x USB-A and 1 x USB-C charging ports for your electronic devices.


Other facilities

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 has had a few upgrades since our last visit, most notably the addition of a ‘shop’ in reception. This replaces the vending machines of old, selling over-priced beer and snacks. There is also a Costa Coffee machine for those staying in non-luxury rooms.

Food and drink

There is a restaurant and bar on the first floor offering excellent runway views across Heathrow Airport – expect to pay approximately £20 per person for a main meal (pizza, burger, fish and chips etc). We did not visit either on this occasion.

We opted for KFC delivery instead.


Top tip: Meet your delivery driver at the front gate to the car park. They will be extremely grateful for saving them from the parking ticket hell that ensues once they pass the entrance barrier.


Appearance

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is very much a product of its time. The 1970s building has the same vibe as many British Telecom telephone exchanges and other utilitarian buildings of that era. Externally, it has definitely seen better days.

Inside, the hotel fares much better. And is actually in relatively good shape considering the sheer number of people passing through every day.

Check out

Very quick. Just drop your keycard in the glass bowl, nod to the receptionist and leave.

The Heathrow POD

The most important reason for using the Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is its unique transport deal with the airport. Guests are permitted to use the automated Heathrow POD transport system to and from the terminal. It’s a journey that takes just 5 minutes in little autonomous vehicles that run on their own dedicated track, away from the busy airport ring road.

A picture showing the POD route between Thistle Heathrow Terminal 5 hotel and the airport
The red line traces the route taken by the POD between airport and hotel

The PODs run from level 2 of Heathrow Terminal 5 to the nearby ‘POD car park’ which backs onto the Thistle Hotel. There is a security gate between said carpark and the hotel grounds, offering a slightly cheaper, faster alternative to taxis (and far less stress than the Heathrow Hoppa hotel bus service). 

On arrival, simply press the ‘Call’ button to gain access. 

NOTE: The POD service is NOT free for hotel guests. You are supposed to pay a fee of £8 per person per trip at the hotel reception. Whether you are actually charged or not is at the discretion of the person on the hotel reception desk.

The same process applies for the return journey. Technically you must pre-pay at Reception to get a PIN code which opens the gate. 

The POD is a novel and fun way to travel. We were able to fit ourselves, the mobility scooter and three suitcases without too much of a problem.

Given that I was quoted upwards of £50 for a taxi to do the same five minute journey, the POD represents reasonable value.

Can residents of other hotels use the POD?

There are several hotels near the Thistle, such as the Travelodge and the Sheraton. Which raises the question,  can residents of other establishments use the PODs? 

Officially, the answer is no. There is an exclusive agreement in place between Heathrow Airport and the Thistle. 

However… Having arrived at the hotel, you may be able to feign ignorance and pay your fee at Reception before heading on to your hotel. Similarly, you could turn up at Thistle’s reception the next day and purchase a return ticket – it is unlikely the receptionist will ask too many questions.

Please proceed at your own risk.

Overall

The Thistle Hotel Terminal 5 is unlikely to win any style or design awards. And you wouldn’t stay here for a romantic weekend away. But as an airport adjacent crash pad, it’s a very solid choice.

Cost: £152 booked through ebookers.com
Fair value: £70


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