The great thing about London hotels is the variety: there are as many modern temples to high-design as Miss Marple B&Bs, as many to-the-point business hotels as discreet butler-serviced palaces. The bad thing about London hotels is the price.
At about the same time last year that a poll announced London was no longer the most expensive city in the world (I think Caracas had sneaked ahead), hotel rates - especially in the luxury sector - were astonishingly low. You could get a bed in certain four- and five-star properties for less than at nearby run-of-the-mill chains.
It didn’t last. Occupancy rates have remained pretty high, which means that bargains still aren’t easy to find unless you know where to look and what to look for.
If you aren’t able to book months in advance, the widely quoted average rates for a double of around £120 are pretty accurate. B&Bs can often be cheaper, but with few rooms on offer late availability becomes a headache. If you do get a room in London for less than £100 a night, don't expect it to be perfect - follow my recommendations, though, and it should at least be comfortable.
Things to consider before booking
Stay as close as you can to where you want to spend most of your time while you're here. Public transport is better than you'd think from listening to the grumbling of the locals (although beware ongoing weekend line closures), but if you get a £50 a night B&B out in the sticks you'll be spending an hour or more each day of your holiday travelling in and out of town. Bloomsbury (for the British Museum) and Earl's Court (not far from the South Kensington museums) are still good hunting grounds for cheaper B&Bs and small hotels.
In the kind of hotels that depend on weekday business trade, you can get some superb deals if you're only staying for the weekend. Andaz Liverpool Street, Mint Hotel Westminster and the Fox & Anchor are often worth a look, and the swanky Haymarket is currently half-price for the Sunday night of your booking.
Parking, extras and VAT
Few central hotels have parking facilities. Those that do always charge. Usually a lot. And don’t assume that facilities are free, especially at the luxury end. Internet usage and breakfast are very often not included in the room price - which can be a nasty shock if you’re stretching the budget for a special treat! Business hotels usually quote prices exclusive of VAT (currently 17.5%), since their weekday clientele prefer it that way. Leisure customers should watch out for the extra hidden cost.
Lifts and small rooms
The majority of London’s hotels are in adapted townhouses. You can’t assume there’s a lift and rooms are generally on the small side, especially in comparison to the United States. Rooms on the ground-floor or first-floor usually have higher ceilings, because the upper floors used to be where the servants lived, so grab one of these to make the most of whatever space is available. Otherwise, opt for a new-build... they might not feel so atmospheric, but most are designed so that every room is identical in size and facilities, and lifts come as standard.