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Why Extend a Long-Haul Trip for a Stay at an In-Airport Hotel? We Tell You.

by Carolyn Spencer Brown | September 29, 2023

Have you ever extended a long-haul trip so you could take a travel respite along the way? My list of favorite, strategically located airport hotels—either as a first welcome to the countries I’m visiting, or as a way to savor the journey if headed to somewhere beyond—is growing. That’s because airport hotels are changing to better suit the needs of more demanding travelers.

It used to be that the price you paid for the convenience of lodgings near your airport was a basic experience, nothing more. Today, there are more full-service options that are just a shuttle bus ride away. However, despite the so-called convenient location of these hotels, the shuttle bus experience has not, by and large, received an upgrade. When I was at the Westin Los Angeles Airport last fall, I waited some 25 minutes for the shuttle, and the ride included stops at other hotels along the way. It was an extra hour in transit that I had not planned for.

Lobby's sunken lounge in TWA Hotel, JFK Airport.

The sunken lobby lounge in the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport. Photo: Teijo Niemela

Here’s what’s interesting. In a welcome evolution of near-the-airport hotels is a category that incorporates lodgings that are actually attached to a terminal—or a short walk away.
Better yet, many of them, like the Fairmont Vancouver Airport, the TWA Hotel at JFK Airport, the Sofitel at London Heathrow, and the Grand Hyatt at Dallas Fort Worth, are not only full-service but also offer extras like beautiful spas, top-notch restaurants, and rooftop pools.

Carolyn in the TWA Hotel's pool looking at the parked airplanes.

Our reporter, Carolyn, in the TWA Hotel’s rooftop pool.  Photo: Teijo Niemela

These hotels are not meant to replace a stay in the city center, no matter how easy it can be to hop on a train or bus and be downtown in minutes. More importantly, they serve as a comfort point on a long-haul trip, when you’re just passing through. On a recent connecting flight to Korea’s Incheon International Airport, a stay at the Dallas-Fort Worth Grand Hyatt had a great view of the airfield—and a good meal and great rest broke up the tedium of the 13-hour-plus commute to Korea. When headed to the U.K. this spring for a trip to the Isle of Wight, a post-red-eye sleepover at the Sofitel London Heathrow, which has marvelous restaurants and a gorgeous pool and spa, was a great way to adjust my time clock and rest up for the journey ahead.

The indoor pool at Sofitel London Heathrow.

The pool at the Sofitel London Heathrow. Photo: Sofitel London Heathrow

Since in-airport hotels are accustomed to guests arriving at all hours (they tend to staff up on housekeeping for longer stretches and can flexibly turn a room around), they may not be as restrictive about check-in times as normal. It helps to have status at the property you choose.

And one more tip: Make sure the in-airport hotel you choose is close to the terminals you are flying in (and out of) or that it has easy train service between them. When flying home from the Isle of Wight trip, I chose the Hilton Garden Inn instead of my favorite Sofitel, simply because I was flying out of Terminal 3.  (The reward? The lovely property had a fantastic rooftop bar with indoor and outdoor views that spanned all of Heathrow.)

One other thing about walkable airport hotels: You will likely pay extra for the convenience. For me, it’s worth it.

The gold studio room at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport hotel.

The gold studio room at the Fairmont Vancouver Airport. Photo: Fairmont Hotels

Some of the best experiences we’ve had in our travels included breaking up a long flight to Africa via a 15-hour layover at the Oryx Airport Hotel at Hamad International in Doha. We loved the spa and the lengthy pool, and, because we were in transit, we dined elegantly at the Al Mourjan Business Lounge. The added advantage: The hotel is located airside, so there’s no need to go through security again when catching your connecting flight.

Other favorites on long-haul travels include the Hilton Helsinki Vantaa Airport, when we’re headed to the Nordic countries or onward to Asia. The Crowne Plaza Changi Airport in Singapore, the Hilton Munich Airport, and Amsterdam’s Hilton Schiphol Airport are also super-comfy and located within, or an easy walk from, the terminal. You’ll find more top airport hotels here, listed by region.

Not every international airport has caught on to this trend. On a recent trip from the Caribbean island of St. Maarten to Philadelphia, tough connections meant a night at the Miami airport. Mind you, I’ve long used the Pullman Hotel outside the perimeter as my go-to spot. Last year, on a rushed trip with a bad connection from St. Maarten that gave me six hours overnight at MIA, I opted for the in-terminal option. Indeed, the Miami International Hotel, in the airport’s E Concourse, was a disaster. Its in-bathroom sink had a big hole in it (the water poured onto the floor). Carpets were moist, there were threadbare towels, and, frankly, I didn’t feel safe. Never again.

Fortunately, this has been a rare disappointment. Which makes me wonder: Do you have a favorite hotel that offers respite from long-haul flights? Or is there one we should avoid? Tell us about it in the comments.

 

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3 Comments

  1. Christian

    I’ve enjoyed staying at the Hilton ORD a number of times. It’s huge and not super high end but it does the job and the location is very nice. The airport hotel at BKK (Sofitel?) is even better: nice swimming pool, good rooms, and very good food.

  2. Jeannie Mullen

    When I went to SE Asia in May 2023 I had a very long layover (11 hours) in Incheon (Seoul) … Sandy and Ethan (AsiaDesk) arranged for me to stay at the Park Hyatt (club level) in Incheon (a simple and inexpensive 10 min taxi ride from the airport) … I took a nap, worked out in gym, had a massage, mani and pedi, ate lunch on the club level, showered, changed clothes and returned to the airport totally refreshed. – Jeannie Mullen

    1. Brook Wilkinson

      Jeannie, your layover experience in Seoul sounds much better than mine–no doubt because you had WOW Listers Sandy Ferguson and Ethan Crowley (https://www.wendyperrin.com/contact/sandy-ferguson/) in your corner!

      Years ago, I had a long layover at Incheon and Asiana Airlines booked my family a free hotel room. We had to take a shuttle bus from the airport that stopped multiple times to drop passengers at different hotels, and ours was the oddest place in the oddest, emptiest neighborhood, with a many-buttoned toilet that mystified us in our jet-lagged state. I sure could have used a massage instead!

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