Family rooms as cheap as £8 per person per night are on offer in youth hostels, to counter the rapid rise of "no-frills" hotels. The YHA, which runs the official hostel network in England and Wales, is also targeting the bargain-basement market, with a night on a "sleeping platform" in a camping barn on offer for just £6.

Chains such as Travelodge and easyHotel have been selling rooms using the same techniques as low-cost airlines: rewarding guests who book well in advance for off-peak dates. Travelodge has rooms sleeping two adults and two children on offer for as little as £26 - or £6.50 per person. In retaliation, the YHA is aggressively promoting its deals. "The market is more competitive, so we're making it very clear what prices we're offering," says Duncan Simpson of the YHA. "We're also focusing on more flexibility in pricing."

A typical rate is around £40, covering two adults and, in some properties, two children, but some rooms are available for families of four for as little as £32.50.

The association also boasts that its properties have an intangible extra: each is different and many are unusual. For example, what was once Smedley's Memorial Hydropathic Hospital in Matlock, Derbyshire, is now a 52-bed youth hostel, with five family rooms.

Matlock happens to be the location of the national headquarters of the YHA, which, since September, has closed 23 of its hostels as part of its controversial cull of loss-making properties; nine have subsequently reopened under new ownership, and remain in the network.

Also in Derbyshire, no fewer than seven camping barns are on offer, offering the most basic accommodation for £6 per person per night. There is also a range of bunkhouses, including one at Steps Bridge in Devon, for £10 or less.

The YHA has pinched an idea from its US partner, and now offers tipi rental at some locations for £60 a night. These large tents, "created from an authentic Native American design", sleep six people and are fitted with a heater. One of the pioneering locations is Burley in the New Forest.

It is no longer necessary to be a YHA member (£22.95 annually for a family) but hostel rates for non-members are slightly higher.

The Scottish Youth Hostels Association has long had lower subscription rates than other nations, and is currently offering a year's free membership to students and holders of "Young Scots" cards. The forms can be downloaded from the website,, but the card is issued only when the applicant checks in to one of the country's leading hostels.

St Patrick's Day promises to be extremely busy for travellers to Dublin. Because the patron saint's day, on 17 March, falls on a Saturday this year, demand for transport and accommodation is likely to be heavier than ever. An Oige, the Irish youth hostels association, announced this week that its main hostel in Dublin is already fully booked from 15 to 18 March inclusive. Fares on the Aer Lingus short hop from Manchester to Dublin have reached £185 return for some departures that weekend, while Ryanair's Gatwick-Dublin flights are £150 return.

THE long-established Independent Hostel Guide has now put all of its information online - with the help of some funding from Defra and Europe. The website - - has details of 300 independently run hostels, such as the Hatters Hostel in the Northern Quarter of Manchester, which has beds from £15.50 per night.

Another is the Old Red Lion, in Castle Acre, Norfolk, a former pub converted to a backpackers' hostel, with beds at £15, and Yoga Weekends for £105, including accommodation and meals. In south-west Wales, the 18th-century Long Barn is on an organic farm, and sleeps 34, for £8 each a night.

The most northerly independent hostel in Britain is the Hurdiback on Papa Stour in Shetland, with beds at £12 a night. Access is by ferry, which runs intermittently, often on request only, and not at all on Tuesdays and Thursdays.