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As part of the ongoing response to the current COVID-19 pandemic, many countries and their Governments have instigated strict quarantine procedures for travellers, including mandatory 10 day stays at UK quarantine hotels which started in late February 2021. As COVID vaccinations are rolled out and people plan a return to travel, we also wondered what the costs are and what it would be like to stay in a UK Quarantine Hotel.
As luck would have it, one of our friends (David) has recently returned to the UK to start a new job (leisure travel is still not permitted at the time of writing in March 2021). We asked him about the UK quarantine hotel experience including all you need to know about the pre-departure and arrival process, hotel quarantine food and drink and the big question – whether you can get a supermarket online delivery to your quarantine hotel!
Here is what we learned about the UK quarantine hotels with lots of pictures, courtesy of David:
Pre-arrival – UK Hotel Quarantine costs
After booking my flights back to the UK, I booked my accommodation at Heathrow airport through the official UK quarantine hotel booking portal – costing £1750 for 10 days accommodation including food and drink. You find out which hotel you’ve been booked into 24 hours later via email.
My allocated hotel was the Heathrow Holiday Inn J4 M4, a short bus ride away from the main terminals. I was quite happy with this as I was hoping to see aeroplanes from my bedroom window! At least it wasn’t Travelodge (other UK quarantine hotels are available including the Radisson and Novotel Heathrow hotels).
Don’t book your flights before your UK quarantine hotel is confirmed
Once the quarantine is confirmed via email, I my booked my flights back from Panama, Central America to the UK – as it is a legal requirement to have quarantine booked if you arrive from a designated ‘red’ country (where there is a higher rate of COVID-19 infection). You are recommended to book your flights only after your UK quarantine hotel is confirmed.
Taking a COVID-19 test before you arrive
As required before returning to the UK, I took a Covid-19 test 72 hours in advance (booked through a private clinic) and got the results back in 24 hours – it was a relief as it was all clear meaning I could return to the UK! The Covid test results were then checked at my departure airport in Central America by the airline and immigration.
Arriving in London during the UK quarantine
On arrival I was greeted at Heathrow in the immigration hall with “where are you travelling from, are you on the red list?” – and directed down the red list lane. It was safely separated by a rope from the non-red list people.
Heathrow Airport itself was extremely quiet, there were more people working there than there were passengers! It was a very efficient process at UK immigration during quarantine – I went straight to the security desk and they recorded my details. My COVID-19 test results that I’d taken just before flying out to the UK were checked too.
Afterwards, I was escorted by an extremely friendly security person who talked me through the process and helped collect my bags. I also had the chance to buy a prepaid SIM card from a vending machine in the airport as a back-up (as I wasn’t sure how good the Wifi internet would be in the Holiday Inn Heathrow hotel).
Finally, I was taken to the processing area in the baggage hall and staff recorded my personal information and hotel details. I was asked a few questions simple questions by a customs officer, if had any goods to declare etc.
One member of security mentioned they’d had several arrivals from red countries who hadn’t booked quarantine accommodation before arriving and they were duly fined, including a family of four that morning – this fine would be in addition to the £1750 per person UK quarantine hotel package that you are meant to book in advance.
Getting to my UK quarantine hotel from the airport
I took a seat in the Heathrow Airport arrivals area and waited for the hotel shuttle bus – there was only one other person in the quarantine waiting area so I had to wait about 20 minutes in the end. By then, there were eight people waiting to start their quarantine and we were escorted out by the security to the bus. The quarantine airport bus was a full 50-seater and every one was allocated a seat ensuring we were spread out.
It took about 20 minutes to get to the hotel as it went via another Holiday Inn en route to drop four people off there (I did wonder which would be the better hotel).
Arriving at my UK quarantine hotel – the Heathrow Holiday Inn J4 M4
Myself and the other quarantined guests were warmly welcomed at the Holiday Inn by what looked like the manager and then taken into the lobby. We had a friendly, welcome brief from one of the staff (a bit like a TUI package holiday – although no complimentary glass of cheap bubbles!).
They explained about our 10 day stay and we were asked to complete a registration document and pre-select our meals up until Sunday (5 days – I’d arrived on a Wednesday). We were also given a welcome pack with details of how things operated then escorted to room by security who also brought my luggage.
UK quarantine hotel room – what to expect in your room
My Holiday Inn Heathrow room was of a good size and standard – it looked newly refurbished so it was all clean and fresh with a queen bed, desk and chair, comfy chair and table.
Luckily, I had a big hotel window with a view overlooking the nearby countryside (and M4) on the 8th floor – although the window didn’t open for safety.
There was an additional fridge in the room (good for supermarket deliveries!) and a TV with all the Freeview channels. Additional facilities included an iron and ironing board, a hair dryer, a kettle (I’d brought my own central American coffee), a safe and a bath with shower.
My quarantine hotel room was stocked with 4 bottles of water plus tea and coffee sachets.
Another nice touch was that anti-bacterial hand gel, cleaning wipes, paper towels and bin bags were all supplied (although this did mean you have to clean your room during the 10 day stay).
Quarantine hotel food, drink and meals
By this stage, I’d got into my UK quarantine hotel room around noon and by 12:30pm, I got a knock at the door and my lunch had been delivered in a paper bag left outside my door.
The food was generally good and tasted hot – perfect after a long flight. You preselect your meals (served three times a day) generally a few days in advance.
The variety of meals were good, with an English breakfast served most mornings, a lunch (sometimes a hot snack, normally a sandwich of filled roll) and then a hot evening dinner. Meals ranged from seabass to curry, lamb to beef – not bad really.
On arrival, you are asked to select the first week’s meals, then on the Saturday, you select the following weeks’ options. There is only 1 meat and 1 vegetarian option for each of the meals so you can’t be too picky! Other dietary requirements can be accommodated on request.
All food is delivered with a knock at the door and left on the floor in a paper bag or on a tray.
Breakfast is delivered around 8:30am in a paper bag, and you get the same hot food every day. Breakfast consists of two sausages, one or two rashers of bacon, scrambled eggs, beans, two hash browns, one carton of orange juice, a small fruit salad, yogurt, croissant, jam, butter, bread roll and salt/pepper/sauces – a big breakfast! The only variation is the flavour of yogurt. Two bottles of water are delivered for the day – more available on request.
Lunch at the Holiday Inn during quarantine is delivered around 12:30pm in a paper bag – mostly pre packed sandwich / wraps / salads, crisps / chocolate bar / fruit, hot soups and bread and a canned soda drink.
Dinner is always a hot, cooked dinner – delivered around 6:30pm on a tray. The meals consists of either a meat or vegetarian dinner, plus dessert and a J2O drink – all presented on real plates with real knives and forks (no plastic – so good for the environment).
Additional fresh fruit is available on request.
Mini bar / bar service
A bar menu is available (you have to register for this on arrival if you wish to use it – sorry kids!). As you’d expect, hotel prices can be a little more expensive (after all, you are a captive audience in quarantine!) so Holiday Inn charged £25 for a bottle of wine, £5 for a pint or £2 for a half of soda.
COVID tests during your UK hotel quarantine stay
During your UK quarantine hotel 10 night stay, you are required to take two COVID tests which you self administer in your room, and are left outside your door several days apart. After you’ve swabbed inside your nose and back of your throat (not pleasant), the results are delivered the next day after you’ve left your completed test kit outside and registered it by phone or online. No Covid – yay!
How to treat yo self in a UK quarantine hotel / getting deliveries
So as you’d expect, there are no spa treatments available but I fancied a treat as it was the start of my lockdown weekend in the hotel.
Given the cheapest bottle of wine on the room service menu is £25, I looked at what you can get on Deliveroo. Morrison’s supermarket looked the best bet and it is free delivery if you spend £15 so I treated myself to a few goodies. It was delivered within an hour and brought straight up to my room (you can keep things cool in the room fridge).
The hotel will likely accept most deliveries and bring them to your door (Deliveroo/supermarket deliveries/Amazon/DHL etc.). I had a few deliveries, and everything was brought to my room instantly.
UK Quarantine Hotels – Top Tips
Always take a photo of the menu cards you complete so can remember what you have selected (or don’t if you want a surprise and have a bad memory!).
Treat yo self via Deliveroo or an online supermarket delivery – this saves you money on the hefty mini bar bills and the hotel staff are surprisingly accommodating.
Ask if you need anything – the staff are friendly and keen to help, almost like they feel sorry for you being confined to your room.
Get a prepaid sim card from the baggage hall at the airport if you don’t have one as a back-up (also in case your hotel Wifi doesn’t work too well – but the Holiday Inn Heathrow was fine).
Eat the hot food from each of the meals first – save any food you don’t (you can store it in the fridge if it is fresh) and can eat later if hungry – just don’t send it back or throw it away in case you get peckish!
If you’re a coffee fan / addict, maybe bring your own favourite instant coffee granules as you may need to request more frequent top-ups of the coffee sachets they provide otherwise.
Keep busy with different things like planning, reading, chatting with friends on the phone etc – all that broken up with the excitement of meals arriving and the 10 days pass fast.
UK Quarantine Hotels – FAQ Questions
Are you monitored by security during your quarantine hotel stay?
Yes, there is a security guard at the end of our hotel corridor – security staff also escort you to and from the outdoor break / smoking areas.
Will you be allowed into the UK if you are flying from a red country but haven’t booked a UK quarantine hotel?
It isn’t worth taking the risk as you will be fined – several people on the morning of my arrival were fined including a family of four who each had to pay a £2k fine as well as the quarantine costs – so £15k on arrival is quite the fee if you don’t book your quarantine package in advance.
Can you go outside / exercise if you are a non-smoker?
Yes, the Holiday Inn Heathrow had turned their car-park into a secure area to let people quarantine get fresh air – you could stay as long or as little as you liked, but if you are walking / doing laps then you have to walk in the same direction so as to minimise the risk of getting close to or passing by others.
To get outdoors, you would contact reception and security would escort you down to the outdoor area (plus bring you back to your room when finished).
Can you open the windows in a UK quarantine hotel?
No, the windows in the UK quarantines hotels are sealed shut so you are unable to open them, so it does mean that the windows in the room can suffer from condensation, especially after a shower.
Can you do your laundry whilst in a UK quarantine hotel?
It likely differs from hotel to hotel but at the Holiday Inn, you can do 7 smalls item for free during your 10 day stay, or you can pay the normal laundry hotel rate for more and larger items to be washed.
Do you get toiletries in hotel quarantine?
Yes, soap, sower gel and shampoos in big dispensers – plus you can request things like replacement toilet rolls from reception.
Is there someone you can contact in the hotel 24/7?
Yes, reception staff are available all the time if you call on the bedside phone.
Flying internationally during the coronavirus pandemic
I flew back to the UK with Iberia Airline and they were very organised and took lots of precautions to make it as safe a flight as possible. Everyone (guests and staff) wore face-masks with passengers only taking them off to eat or drink – the food service was a little different as all the hot food and snacks were pre-packaged. Alcohol wipes were also regularly given out during the flight.