When we hike in Germany, we generally make it a point to stay in small, family-run B&B-style hotels. This is Germany as in “countryside”, mind you, where B&B-style hotels are plentiful and good value for money (cheap and cheerful) and where you generally don’t have much of an alternative anyway.
Cities, however, are a different story: for every good family-run hotel, there is a rotten one, too, so your best choice is often a chain hotel: cheap-ish if not particularly cheerful, but at least you know what to expect.
Comparing Budget Hotels in Germany
The two largest budget hotel chains in Germany are Ibis (with about 80 hotels) and MotelOne (with about 40).
If you are travelling to any large town or city in Germany and are looking for a none-too-costly roof over your head for the night, chances are you will find at least one of those on your list of options.
I myself have been to Ibis hotels quite often in the past, if rarely in Germany, while my experiences with MotelOne are limited but good.
I found, however, that MotelOne have the hotel business upside down in a way, providing their customers with stuff that they did not ask for: designer-this and fancy-schmancy that, while denying them more essential items – a room which is big enough to swing a cat, for example.
But why take my word for it? For an objective assessment, let us go to WiSo, a weekly consumer magazine on the ZDF, Germany’s second largest public service TV station. They put both budget hotels to the test, and this is what they found out.
Their test (of one hotel from either chain in Berlin) found MotelOne to be clearly ahead of Ibis on two counts: the hotel was better designed (particularly with a stylish and elegantly furnished lobby) and cheaper, although WiSo admitted clear-cut comparisons were difficult because of the different pricing policies of both chains. (MotelOne offer their rooms at fixed prices whereas Ibis charge differently for different days of the week.)
MotelOne were very slightly ahead in terms of customer satisfaction, and a comparison of the breakfast offerings from the two chains ended in a score draw (with good results for both).
The category “room quality” also went MotelOne’s way, but mainly because their room was found to have a slightly smaller number of bacteria on light switches and door knobs, which seems to me – no offence, WiSo people – an exaggeratedly German perspective on things.
(If you are confident about your German, you can watch the whole 10-minute clip here about the duel between two budget hotels in Germany.)
A few years ago, the print magazine Test – published by the Stiftung Warentest, a non-profit consumer organization – arrived at similar, but slightly different results. Similar in the sense that they, too, found Ibis and MotelOne to be the most competitive providers of budget accommodation in Germany (alongside the far smaller Express chain, a subsidiary of Holiday Inn with app. 20 hotels ), and slightly different in the sense that they, in contrast to WiSo, saw Ibis ahead of MotelOne, if only by a whisker.
In this test – a much wider-angled affair that included several budget chains and even youth hostels – the “hard discounters” of the hotel market, Etap and Formule1, were hammered pretty hard. (The comparison table with a full overview of the results is here) .
Again, this is in German, but you don’t need to be a linguist to catch the gist of it. “Frühstück” is “breakfast”, “Zimmer” is room, and “öffentliche Räume” are “public spaces“. The lower the figure in the final column, the better.)
Ultimately, I think it is fair to say that both Ibis and MotelOne provide a safe option: if you stay in one of those, your holiday will not be ruined because of the poor quality of your accommodation, and this is really all you can and should expect from a budget hotel.
Ibis was the uncontested market leader in this segment for a while, but there is a tough new competitor in town, and Ibis have their work cut out if they want to fend him off.
Not being able to match MotelOne on the “stylish design front”, they will, probably, need to fine-tune their pricing policy – for the benefit of travellers with an eye for a good bargain.
Let’s keep this eye open!