What Is an Airport Hotel?

Here's how to pick the best hotel for a long layover or an early-morning flight

Westin Denver International Airport Hotel at sunrise, Denver, Colorado USA. The curved roof mimics the concave shape of the Jeppesen Terminal tents adjacent.
Blaine Harrington III

You can probably infer what an airport hotel is from its nomenclature: it’s a hotel at an airport. Most commonly used by passengers and crew with long layovers or early-morning flights, these properties range from luxury accommodations with rooftop pools and fine dining to budget-friendly chains that cover just the basics. But booking the right airport hotel might be a little more complicated than you might expect. Here are the things you need to know about airport hotels—and how to pick the right one for your next trip.

Landside Airport Hotels

The most common type of airport hotel is outside the airport’s secure zone on what’s called the airport’s landside. Sometimes they’re directly connected to the main airport terminal, while in other cases, they’re a shuttle ride away. (Typically, the former is more expensive, and the latter is more affordable). In either case, these hotels pretty much function like any other hotel, except for their check-in and check-out times. While some airport hotels have nightly rates like regular hotels, with late afternoon check-ins and late-morning check-outs, others offer day rates so you can check-in in the morning and check out in the afternoon or evening, which is ideal for travelers with a daytime layover. For landside airport hotels, you don’t need to have a plane ticket to book a stay—they’re open to anyone. Sometimes you’ll even find aviation enthusiasts staying at airport hotels just to watch planes fly by!

Airside/Transit Airport Hotels

Some of the bigger airports used for international connections, such as Hamad International Airport in Doha, Qatar, and Dubai International Airport in the United Arab Emirates, have hotels on the airside (that’s the area post-security) called transit hotels. Unlike the landside airport hotels, these accommodations are only available to ticketed passengers, as they’re located behind security. They’re designed for passengers with long layovers who would like a private space to rest, work, sleep, or simply take a shower. In most cases, transit hotels offer non-traditional rates—many allow you to book several-hour time slots to fit your layover schedule, so you don’t have to pay a full nightly rate.

How to Pick an Airport Hotel

Do you have an early-morning flight or a long layover coming up? Here’s what you should consider when picking an airport hotel. 

For Early-Morning Flights

Book a landside airport hotel if you’re planning on spending the night there before your flight in the morning. The only thing you really need to consider is if you’d like to be within walking distance of the airport terminal or if you’re willing to make a short commute in the morning. Naturally, the short walk is easier; however, terminal-adjacent hotels can get pretty pricey. If you pick a hotel farther away, make sure they offer shuttles, otherwise you might have to call a taxi or drive yourself to the terminal.

For Layovers

If you’re looking for a place to rest on a long layover, opt for a terminal hotel if possible—that way, you don’t have to go through security again before your next flight. But terminal hotels aren’t available everywhere, which means you might need to leave the airport’s secure area to stay at a landside hotel. In that case, you need to make sure you leave yourself plenty of time to target back through security. You also need to consider visas if you’re traveling internationally—you may not be permitted to exit the airport without the proper paperwork, which would rule out staying at a landside terminal hotel.

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