Cheap and cheerful

For most South Africans school holidays mean increased stress levels – on the mind, body and wallet.

It’s getting harder each year to find affordable accommodation. School holidays are when the travel industry cashes in by charging premium rates. It’s the old rule of supply and demand, especially at Christmas, the peak travel period.

Getting round the lack of cheap airfares over Christmas and other holiday periods has been easy for South Africans, who take to the roads in their millions to visit family, friends and the coast.

However, road trips are getting more costly as the price of fuel increases, meaning that accommodation needs to be not just affordable, but the best value for money possible.

How many of us have had to “slum it” in grotty holiday apartment blocks, with grimy, dingy and downright dirty facilities?

On our last drive to Cape Town in holiday time, I discovered a little-known South African “secret” – the City Lodge group of hotels.

If, like me, you thought that City Lodges (and their associated Town Lodge, Road Lodge and Courtyard hotels) were just for business people – think again. Yes, they are geared for the corporate market, but the group is just as big on leisure.

And, with prices that start at an internet rate of R285 for a double room (the online booking is often cheaper than the “over-the-counter” rate), theres really nothing more affordable on the South African hotel front. Not unless you go for the “flea pit” option.

My family put City Lodge to the test during a recent trip to Cape Town to visit my brother-in-law and his family. His tiny townhouse wasn’t big enough to accommodate another family, so we opted for the closest budget hotel option, the City Lodge Pinelands.

Around the corner from “boetie”, this killed two holiday birds with one nine-iron – it’s on Mowbray golf course and meant that the long-separated siblings could spend quality tee-time together.

What was different about the trip for us was the way we got to Cape Town and back.

We did it in a couple of stages, via Bloemfontein (where we visited old friends) and Kimberley (we wanted to see the Big Hole). We used City Lodge again in Bloem and a “no-name” guesthouse in Kimberley.

Breaking the trip beat the hell out of slogging 15 or 16 hours, sleep-deprived and with grumpy children and other irritable family members.

The first stop in Bloemfontein left us plenty of time to catch up with our buddies (who, like my brother-in-law, had a small home, not big enough for six extra bodies). Then there was a leisurely trip to Kimberley, where we spent two nights – enough to explore the sights, relax and prepare for the drive to the Mother City.

Bloemfontein’s City Lodge was clean, serviced and accessible. The service was great, the people friendly and eager to assist. And the cost? A double at City Lodge Bloem will set you back R594 for the room, which sleeps two.

Unfortunately the no-name guesthouse in Kimberley wasn’t so good. Advertised as upmarket, it was decidedly dowdy and not very welcoming. The standards of cleanliness and service were just not up to scratch. To add insult to injury, it set us back R350 per person, per night.

Its a fact that a lot of the cheaper accommodation options in South Africa are not that nice. Cheap and cheerful is fine, but in this case it was not so cheap and definitely not cheerful. We could have done the Road Lodge in Big Hole country for R315 for up to three people sharing.

The stay in Pinelands was the most expensive of all – R356 per person, sharing. But compared with the price of the cheapest and nastiest-looking Cape Town option (which came in at more than R550 per person, per night sharing), the choice was a no-brainer.

A word of advice to those who choose budget accommodation: if you are expecting larney locations on the beach with five-star luxury, this is not for you.

Budget hotels focus on value for money. Location is not what its about. Most budget hotels have easy access and are close to business and shopping centres – but it’s budget and the bottom dollar that really counts.

The deciding factor for us choosing the City Lodge option was that while we saved money, we didnt sacrifice quality. True, the locations arent always fabulous (although the Pinelands option was faultless in that department, with rooms facing the golf course and mountains behind it). But, what you get for your money is unbeatable value and the peace of mind that all of the hotels in the group have the same, high standards.

If, like my family, yours is one that uses accommodation as a place to sleep, what is the point of spending thousands of rands on super luxury? And if, again like us, you are holidaying somewhere to visit family or friends whose homes are just not big enough to accommodate another family, then convenience, great service and affordability take precedent.

The lowdown
City Lodge is perhaps the best known budget hotel group in South Africa, incorporating Courtyard suite hotels in Pretoria, Johannesburg, Cape Town and Port Elizabeth (the most expensive option of the group, with suites and studios starting at R413 per person, per night sharing) and City Lodge hotels, Town Lodges and Road Lodges across the country.

With rates starting at R335 per room, per night, for three people sharing, Road Lodge is the cheapest of the four options. The prices listed exclude breakfast.

For more information and current rates for all four products, visit

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