Illustration: Michael Mucci.
THERE are few major cities without a big-brand airport hotel these days. At airports around the world you can get off a plane and head straight to a hotel of four- or five-star standard, with restaurants, exercise facilities and spa treatments on offer.
Sydney is set to get its first true airport hotel next year, with work under way on a 317-room property next to the international terminal.
The four-star hotel, which will be operated by Rydges Hotels, will be within walking distance of the terminal and give travellers a room right at the airport, without the need for transport.
An artist impression of the Rydges Hotel set to open at Sydney Airport next year.
The thing to know about airport hotels, if you haven't already learnt it the hard way, is they are far from created equal.
Hotels that sell themselves as "airport" properties vary enormously in terms of access, convenience, facilities, quality and price, making it hard for travellers to know what to book.
While such hotels have done a good job of marketing the benefits of a comfortable bed and a hot shower during a long journey, sometimes it pays to consider other options. First and most obvious is price. Some really know how to charge.
I recently paid nearly $200 for just eight hours in an airport hotel in Asia because the timing of my flights did not qualify me for the cheaper day-use rate.
A search for rooms at the Sofitel London Heathrow, which is often touted as the best airport hotel in the world, shows you can expect to pay well in excess of $200 a night during the week, when business travellers are on the move.
This is a big expense if you really just want a shower and a way to pass the time.
The other big point to consider - and this can require some investigation - is access to the hotel.
While in airports such as Hong Kong's Chek Lap Kok you can wheel your suitcase or luggage trolley straight into a hotel via an air bridge, many airport hotels require a trip in a minibus or taxi.
This is often at no charge but it can take and feel a lot longer to get to your hotel and settle in.
The key to deciding whether an airport hotel is the way to go - and how much you are prepared to spend - is thinking about what you really want it for.
If you can't sleep on aircraft and think you will be able to get a few hours' kip on a hotel bed, it is probably worth the expense. However, some big airports are introducing private rest suites with day beds to serve the same purpose. If you just want a shower and a change of clothes, do some research on what is on offer at the airport as many have such facilities for a modest fee.
Many airports also have internet kiosks, massage stations, game stations, hairdressers and other services to help pass the time.
At Singapore's Changi Airport, for example, you can use the rooftop swimming pool at the Ambassador Transit Hotel for about $10, which includes a shower, towel and a non-alcoholic drink.
My mother-in-law recently had a seven-hour stopover in Hong Kong and decided she would be better off filling in the time with a meal and a massage, rather than checking into the airport hotel.
Most of these hotels offer day spa facilities and many airports also have massage and basic treatments.
You can potentially book a three- to four-hour spa indulgence for what you might otherwise pay for a hotel room but make sure you plan ahead, as spas are often booked out well in advance.
If you decide on a hotel, you might be able to keep costs down by getting a day-use or short-stay rate.
Even if this does not appear to be available, it is worth contacting them to see what they can do. If they are not busy, they may be willing to bend the rules to get the booking.
For longer stays, it could be cheaper to consider options away from the airport, especially where there is an airport train or other reliable mode of transport.
Many cities have hotels a few kilometres from the airport and offer much more modest lodgings than the official airport hotels.
Do not disturb
Day-use hotels are not just for weary travellers.
A French-based website, dayuse-hotels.com, has found great success in offering boutique hotels for periods of as little as three hours, with a promise of "discretion".
The owners of the site claim to have been surprised at the number of people using the service for extramarital affairs, saying the service is also aimed at travellers and those looking for a "second office".