a large dome with many towers

Welcome to your five star hotel in London, where you’re lucky to have a room to accompany your reservation, because we cancel some without assisting in rebooking guests, and once you do arrive, the pool is more than $35 per person.

This may sound like a sketch from Comedy Central, or Saturday Night Live, but the Intercontinental O2 is quickly becoming the most shameless hotel in London, and in a bid to hold onto the title, its latest trick is a masterpiece.

Want to enjoy the beautiful but desolate pool? It’s $35 per adult, and kids aren’t free.

There’s so much to unpack, so many valid questions to answer and so many eyebrows to raise, so here’s the latest with this utterly bizarre take on “hospitality”, parentheses being the operating principle.

a large dome with many towers

Intercontinental O2 Adds Pool Fee

As spotted by our friends Head For Points, the Intercontinental O2, theoretically a five star London hotel — I’d say really, four at best — has added a new pool charge. No, it’s not for Londoners hoping to stop by for a dip, but for actual hotel guests.

Update: The Intercontinental O2 has backed down and will not charge for pool access, after a wave of negative media backlash.

Yes, even if you’re paying the fairly high nightly rates for a non-centrally located hotel, you’ll need to pay $35 to use the pool and also may need to book in advance. Precisely, it costs £30 per adult and £15 per kid under 18 to use the pool. It was previously free.

It’s worth noting that all Covid-19 restrictions in the UK have been dropped, so it’s not like this solves a capacity issue or brings some exciting new service. It’s just yet another shameless hotel offering shameless fees because they feel the world owes them one.

Even guests who are already choosing their hotel and paying for the experience.

This Isn’t New For This Hotel

This hotel is owned and operated by the Arora Group, which doesn’t appear too fond of customers, but very fond of any underhanded attempt to extract more money, even when it means breaking loyalty program policy.

During the pandemic, the hotel cancelled hundreds of reservations on short notice and refused to honor the reservations or rates for a later date, or to rebook elsewhere — as per IHG rebooking policy for hotel initiated cancellations.

The move left guests stranded, many of whom had come from far and wide. So yes, in one way, the new pool fee can be seen as a positive, because if you at least get offered the chance to pay it, it means the hotel hasn’t been able to resell your room at a better rate, and cancel your reservation.

double decker buses on a street in front of a large building
Image by Alfred Derks from Pixabay

Why Doesn’t IHG Do Something?

People forget that hotels participating in major loyalty programs are very rarely owned by the big company with their name on the marquee. They just sign agreements to use the major brand name and hotel standards to attract guests.

Most “major chain” hotels are owned by investment groups, real estate firms, or just lone individual owners.

In a weak market, hotel owners desperately lean on the IHG’s, Hilton’s, Accor, Marriotts flying the flag for the hotel to fill rooms, but in unprecedented times like the demand of today, rooms fill up anyway.

They feel less benefit from program participation during these times, so they like to play hardball with the “free” stuff they need to give away to members or elite guests.

These marketing groups like IHG can’t afford to piss off a hotel ownership group and lose the contract to operate and market the property, so they stay far more hands off — even when hotels are being naughty and breaking program rules — than they should, or maybe might like to.

Hotels Race To The Bottom

A hotel in the US recently added a “sustainability fee”, which sounds admirable, right?

Only, the fee is to restore the old building to save the hotel owners operating energy costs. This isn’t about saving the planet, but saving the hotel owners expense sheet, by sneakily charging guests extra to accomplish the goal.

All around the world, resort fees continue to creep up not just in resorts, but major cities, and a slew of deceptive “post price” extras keep popping up too. And no, they “can’t” be waived, even if you don’t use the facilities or wifi.

But even with all the shame in a hotel industry which seems determined to drive everyone into Airbnb’s, where service standards and amenities are actually improving, few things take the cake quite like the new £30 ($37) per person fee to use the pool of the hotel you’re staying in.

GSTP has lots of great tips for visiting London, but the guide may need an update with some things best to avoid too.

Gilbert Ott

Gilbert Ott is an ever curious traveler and one of the world's leading travel experts. His adventures take him all over the globe, often spanning over 200,000 miles a year and his travel exploits are regularly...

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  1. I have recently stayed at this hotel and agree it’s only redeeming feature is it’s proximity to the O2.

    On resort fees, I recently stayed in NYC at a hotel where a resort fee was charged but free continental breakfast offered. Not bad…unless you’re there on the days that it’s not offered. It was refunded but it was a scam to reduce the headline room fee by adding a local resort charge. The price, should be the price, period.

  2. TWA hotel at JFK has done similar things. I would want to check out the hotel for the novelty of it but on principal with all the nickel and diming I just can’t

  3. The Okura, Amsterdam, charged hotel guests to use their pool. That may have changed since I last stayed there. I don’t think it’s unusual at top-end hotels. It’s another reason I avoid 5* hotels these days (see my comment on your recent post – April 17th – about the charge for water). I hate paying that much money and feeling disappointed.

  4. The whole industry is at the feeding trough it seem, and they can’t blame it on Covid either, this started long before Covid.

    Airlines with their “carrier surcharges” which are often more than the base fare itself. Hotels with resort fees or “destination charges” and restaurants with their “discretionary service charges” (which some London hotels are also now adopting).
    The whole industry needs a shake up and some legislation to ensure the price you quote is the price you pay.

    1. I agree with much of this, but I find legislation rarely helps much. People need to vote with their feet and support businesses which reflect their desires and hospitality styles. If they do, I can’t imagine too many people hanging out at the 02 pool.

  5. Going to the pool in London? t’s freezing in London. Vegas? Sure. Phoenix? Yup. Dubai? Of course.
    London? Nope. Heated or not.

  6. You want free water and now you want free use of the swimming pool. Lower your standards mate and stay in ibis branded hotels.

    1. I can’t tell whether you’re a comedian or you’re serious. Perhaps if we can ascertain that fact, we can get on better footing.

  7. Just make sure you tip the doorman, the concierge, the check in staff , the chefs, the dishwashers, the servers, make sure you tip the cleaners, the gardeners, the security staff, make sure you tip the bar men, the pool attendants, the guys who collect towels, make sure you tip the lobby staff, the elevator guy, the window cleaners, the parking garage attendants, the room service staff. All so the hotel doesn’t have to pay them all a decent living wage.

  8. I’m very serious. Stop moaning about not getting freebies. Open your wallet and stop being so tight. I think you will enjoy staying at ibis branded hotels.

    1. I don’t know anyone who enjoys staying at Ibis branded hotels. Low quality. Overpriced. And worst of all of the offer nothing for loyalty. And try getting in touch with their inexistent customer service.

  9. Is that even a word?
    Just accept that you’re an ibis hotel man now. All your hotel reviews are fake news as is your blog. You only ever travel economy class sitting at the back next to the dunnies and stay at ibis hotels. How about you do a review on your latest economy/ibis package. Show us all the real Ott.

  10. Do you know somebody who works in IT? Fake reviews and photos. Be strong and accept the fact that you’re a proud ibis hotel person now. Your readers will not judge you for being you.

    1. You’re really making a tit of yourself now, although I’m sure you consider yourself to be a mastermind in the parallel universe you inhabit.

      Don’t bother responding as I won’t read it.

  11. The worst thing about this is the pool and spa there is small and not particularly well maintained. The interventional at the O2 Is – by any measure – an outlier in the IC portfolio. I’m amazed IHG haven’t taken more action.

  12. It appears they reversed the decision after the story was picked up by the tabloids. The GM said they won’t charge for the pool. And I totally agree, I wouldn’t stay if I had to pay extra for the pool, unless they reduced the daily rate to make it worth it. The pool was too cold when I visited and hardly anyone was using it.

  13. To me it seems they might be trying to control the flow, as there were lines of people trying to get into the spa last time we were there. Seems the author is on some sort of mission to trash this hotel, possibly for personal reasons?

    1. Would those personal reasons be…. that the only time I stayed there I paid cash for a suite, had a perfectly nice stay and have no ill will at all towards the place itself?

  14. Personally, I have been avoiding Intercontinental hotels for around 20 years for exactly this reason. The first time I had this issue was in Barcelona when I had especially booked the hotel to enjoy a few days of relaxation with the other half. Having checked-in we went down to use the facilities and were told that everything (gym, pool and spa) all came at an extra cost per person, per facility used. What’s more you also were required to purchase a swim cap and slippers from the hotel if you wanted to use the pool.

    A few months later I unexpectedly had to stay overnight in Stuttgart and was offered the Intercontinental which I booked only after the agent had called the hotel and confirmed all facilities were included. Same thing, checked-in, went down to the gym and told there was an extra charge if I wanted to use it.

    Around 18 months later, I was travelling to Bangkok and saw a great deal on the Intercontinental. Thinking this daft policy must be Europe only, I called the hotel to check. Low and behold, they confirmed that not a single facility was included it all came at an extra charge.

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