by Cheryl-Anne Sturken | August 18, 2008

The InterContinental Chicago O’Hare promises all the amenities of a big-city hotel plus ultimate airport convenience.
Not so long ago, spending the night at an airport hotel was a last resort for travelers hoping to keep their dignity — and comfort level — intact. Today, however, the reputation of such properties is climbing steadily, thanks to the infusion of luxury resort elements such as penthouse suites, fine dining, full-service spas, cutting-edge technology and superior service.

In 2007, airport properties ranked second behind luxury hotels in terms of capital investment, with the hotel industry spending $5.5 billion on massive renovations to existing properties, according to New York City-based PricewaterhouseCoopers. The result: slick, designer lobbies and plush guest rooms outfitted with upscale amenities such as 32-inch flat-screen televisions, signature bedding, iPod stations and Wi-Fi.

This new generation of airport hotels is good news for budget-strapped meeting planners, who, despite the properties’ high-end aspirations, still can save big on room rates and transportation costs.

And word seems to have gotten around. According to Smith Travel Research, the average occupancy rate for U.S. airport hotels for the first 10 months of 2007 was 71.4 percent, compared with an average of 65.1 percent at the nation’s nonairport hotels.

Following are profiles of six properties offering affordability and the convenience of being just steps away from debarkation.

InterContinental Chicago O’Hare
Rooms: 556
Meeting space: 53,000 square feet

Scheduled to open this month, the InterContinental Chicago O’Hare, across the street from the Donald Stephens Convention Center with its 840,000 square feet of exhibit space, is intent on raising the bar for airport hotel offerings. Complete with a live-theater venue and a modern-art gallery that has its own full-time curator, the hotel also features three full-service restaurants, including The Capital Grille, a classic Chicago steak house with plush mahogany chairs.

The hotel’s extensive event facilities include 33 meeting rooms, nine private boardrooms and four ballrooms, as well as a 24-hour business center and a state-of-the-art fitness facility. Another perk: complimentary shuttle service to downtown Chicago, just 15 miles away.

Grand Hyatt Dallas/Fort Worth

Rooms: 298
Meeting space: 34,000 square feet

Inside Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport’s new $1.4 billion Terminal D, the sprawling Grand Hyatt DFW won TripAdvisors’ 2008 Travelers’ Choice Award as best luxury hotel in Dallas. For any property, that’s quite an honor.

Unique among the hotel’s mix of options is its Epicurean Studio in the main kitchen. Groups can take part in culinary courses, even blend and bottle their own wine and take home video footage of their experience as a memento. Those interested in dining at the hotel’s Grand Met restaurant can peruse the menu online and make their own reservations. For prime people-watching, a seat at the M Lounge, a trendy martini and satay bar, is recommended.

The Grand Hyatt’s express check-in/checkout kiosks and 24-hour rooftop fitness center help ease the grind for weary road warriors, as does the Stay Fit Spa, with its selection of soothing massages and body treatments.