Why It’s Worth Being Picked Up At The Airport In A Hotel Car

Filed Under: Advice, Hotels

For cities without good public transportation, one of my biggest frustrations is getting from the airport to the hotel. Maybe I just have horrible luck, but I seem to consistently have issues with this. From drivers nearly falling asleep on me, to drivers getting lost (even in a city with supposedly the most competent cabbies), to drivers claiming I damaged their car, to drivers refusing to take me to my desired destination, to drivers taking me the long way, it seems that more often than not getting from the airport to the hotel is an adventure.

While I generally have good luck using Uber to get from my hotel to the airport, I find it a bit tougher the other way around, since it’s often challenging to arrange an airport meeting point in a country where the driver doesn’t speak any English (and where I don’t speak their language). It’s easy if you enter a hotel as an origin, but not so easy when you enter an international airport with several arrivals areas.

With that in mind, lately I’ve started using hotel cars for getting from the airport to the hotel, at least in countries where most people don’t speak English. I’ve found it to be extremely worthwhile. Why?

  • There’s no confusion as to where you’re trying to go
  • There’s no waiting in the taxi line
  • There aren’t any scams you have to deal with
  • Generally the drivers are good and well rested, so I’m not as concerned about safety, whether it be falling asleep or something else
  • Now that I have T-Mobile, I can tether my phone when traveling, so I actually feel comfortable working from the back seat during a drive (I’d feel a lot less comfortable pulling out my MacBook Air and working in a taxi in a country that frequently has scams, etc.)

I was reminded of this recently when I took a taxi from the train station in Moscow to the St. Regis, which should have taken 10-15 minutes. Instead it took 50 minutes. That’s despite the fact that Ford speaks basic Russian, that we showed him the hotel’s name in his language, and that we showed him the hotel’s location on a map. Don’t ask…

Changsha-Airport-Lounge - 1

Bottom line

Assuming a hotel car isn’t outrageously priced, I’ve found it to be a worthwhile expense. It helps with the initial shock of entering a new country, and gets you to your hotel as quickly and comfortably as possible, and personally even allows me to be mostly caught up on email by the time I make it to the hotel. To me that’s money worth spending.

It’s not something I used to ever consider, but I’ve found that it makes the process of arriving in a new country so much more seamless.

Under what circumstances do you find it to be worthwhile to book a hotel car?

  1. Agree, I also hate taxis from the airport. Another good option can be airport shuttles operated by independent companies (mini buses / buses on fixed schedules between airport and certain hotels or towns).

    Best system I have ever seen is in Seoul, where you have very comfortable buses (2-1 seat layout) between ICN and virtually every hotel or place you might want to go.

  2. I’ve found that hotel shuttles often have issues, so they aren’t a perfect solution.

    Last month I had to phone my “airport hotel” in Baltimore six times to get a pickup by their own hotel shuttle. The hotel’s front desk was busy, so they repeatedly put me on hold as soon as they answered the phone.

    I intend to try Uber next time, in hopes of saving a lot of time for a small amount of money.

  3. I always prefer to use hotel car service from the airport as well but sometimes the premium is just too much. For example, a taxi ride from BKK to the Grand Hyatt is ~$18 USD while the hotel wanted $80 USD. That’s just too much of a delta.

  4. @Claus – agreed. I use those buses very often and for less than $20, it’ll take you pretty much anywhere in the greater Seoul area.

  5. Since I retired years ago and now travel with my wife, I always use hotel cars and have never been disappointed. Even if the rate is 30% more than a taxi, they have always been reliable and are usually larger so they can handle luggage. Depending on the country, they sometimes are waiting for us with a sign and take us to the luggage area and load our luggage as well. When we arrive at the hotel, the bellman automatically takes the luggage from the hotel car without being asked. Yes, Ben, I know you don’t travel with luggage, but some of us never learned to travel light. Whenever possible, I try to have the charge put on my room bill in order to get the extra points from the hotel credit card. Otherwise the charge goes on Citi Thank You or Sapphire. Bottom line, much less hassle using the hotel cars!

  6. I find that hotel car services are typically so grossly overpriced that it’s not worthwhile. Frequently there’s a middle ground between the hotel’s car and a taxi. In Bangkok for example there are many car services. Typically they cost 2-3x a taxi. But a hotel car is often closer to 10x a taxi. Granted it will be a somewhat nicer car like a Mercedes or BMW (usually) but the car services have nice, clean sedans like Camrys that are perfectly fine. Sometimes the hotel will have a rate that includes airport transfers in the room rate which can sometimes be worthwhile.

  7. I’d love to see you try out Blacklane (www.blacklane.com). It’s a service I’ve used many times in France to get into Paris from CDG. They guarantee english-speaking drivers, and they meet you just outside the baggage claim. There are some cities where it’s significantly more expensive than the other options (Uber/taxi/rail), but there are also times where it’s much cheaper (Paris being one). Tip is included.

    They’re pretty relaxed with scheduling, but you can do it ahead of time which is nice.

  8. I used to be torn about the extra cost of an airport transfer by hotel car, but it’s now my go to solution in unfamiliar cities (even some familiar cities). On my last trip to China, I arranged what seemed like a ridiculously expensive transfer through the Rosewood Beijing. Upon arrival in Beijing, I was surprised to see someone with my name waiting on the jetway directly after exiting the plane. I was escorted through passport control, was helped with my luggage through customs, and then was taken to the underground VIP exit of the airport where my hotel car was waiting. Sometimes, it’s worth the splurge to make life a little easier and little more comfortable.

  9. @ Lucky, 100% good advise! A number of ‘high-end’ properties also make an effort to meet guests arriving by hotel car (in my experience)……hotel car drivers almost always phone in their ETA….pretty common to be met curbside for escort directly to room (of course depends on hotel, room booked etc). Also, some hotels also offer ‘fast-track’ escorts through customs and immigration straight to a waiting hotel car (can be expensive but often well worth it).

  10. Moscow’s subway is quite easy to use form the train station to the St. Regis if you’re traveling light.

  11. Always a bonus when the hotel has your arrival time via the scheduled rides. More often then not a room will be ready for an early check-in. Whereas a typical walk-in guest in the AM may not have a room for those early morning arrivals.

  12. When I get off an international flight and am groggy and in a new city the last thing I need to worry about is getting screwed by a cab. I don’t mind paying the extra fees to have a person waiting with a sign that has my name on it and is ready to take me directly to my hotel. This is especially true in less safe countries. Extra bonus if I arrive at the hotel (South Africa, Mumbai) and they are waiting outside to greet us by name and show us right to the room.

  13. Now that you have T-mobile, just use uber where available. I’ve used it in 4 cities in Asia this year where I don’t speak the language and we always found each other, though sometimes it took a while. However, I’ve had the same issue with hotel hired drivers. Uber is cheaper. Of note, they won’t call you if there is a misconnect because of the cost to call a US number I was told in Malaysia.

  14. When I went to Puerto Rico (not exactly a different country), we arranged no ride before arrival. At the time, I dont think there was even Lyft or Uber, so we got to the airport and just stood in line for the blue shuttle van thing. We were the only ones in it too, just us two people. We made sure they knew where we were going, because after we told them the address and street name, they kinda looked at us funny. Apparently there is a Loiza as a district in San Juan and a Loiza as a street in Condado San Juan (where we were staying) – Thankfully, I mentioned the hotel across the street from where we were staying, and the Super Max, and they then knew exactly where we were going, and even more sure that we knew where we were going rather than dumping us off in the middle of nowhere. Got us there in about 10 minutes IF that. Super helpful and really easy, it was a flat cost for 2 for the district per distance travelled, I didnt pay for it, my roommate did, but I think she said it was like $20. Which to me, is a STEAL since we were alone in a big ass air conditioned van, in the late hours of the night, and got us where we needed in time for our dinner reservation right after we had a quick change from pants to shorts (being 85F and 75% humidity). It was safe, easy, and honest. Personally, I will only use a hotel or airport shuttle that is reputable, never a taxi. EVER.

  15. I like it when the room is ready, or they take you straight there.

    That said, my worst experience in India was at the very end of the trip. The hotel driver gave me a really hard time for not giving a big tip, to the point I was getting concerned he wouldn’t give me my luggage. So it’s not 100% guaranteed a hotel driver is always best, though sadly you don’t know until it’s too late.

  16. @raksiam I agree, I have used Oriental Escapes several times to travel to and from BKK to Bangkok and Pattaya. They deliver outstanding and reliable service at about half the price of a hotel car.

  17. When travelling to India specifically Mumbai and if your flight arrives around midnight, get a hotel car. My co worker (yes a guy) was taken to the Dharavi area (slum) near the airport and on the way to the city. He was raped by the driver and 3 others. Police did nothing and are totally corrupt and useless. Its best to spend a bit more and be safe than to have something bad happen.

  18. I understand where you’re coming from in principle, but I generally prefer to arrange my own private transfer instead of going through the hotel. With just a little bit of legwork upfront, I save a ton of money, and I get most–if not all–the benefits you mention.

    (As a general aside, it seems you spend tons of time maximizing your air travel but don’t seem to apply the same effort/mindset when it comes to figuring stuff out on the ground, which puzzles me, but whatever…).

  19. I’m with you Ben. There is nothing better than to get to the departures lounge and be greeted by a person with a sign, or more popular these days – an iPad with your name on it. Given the standard of many hotel cars – with on-board wifi, you don’t even need your T-Mobile.

    The downside is they are expansive. The other option is to use private transfers. We get our travel agent (Ford in your case) to organise it. These are usually cheaper than the hotel car, and you usually have a choice of vehicle grades. In my experience they are usually half the price of the hotel car, and can be almost as good in terms of comfort.

    All that being said – I think there sometimes is a relationship between the amount you spend with a property on things like airport transfers and the level of service you get. Impossible to prove, but it would be in their financial interests – so I presume it is true.

    For a more detailed report on this question see http://www.2paxfly.com/2016/02/airport-hotel-transfers-luxury-that-is.html

  20. Hi Ben, I have the same frustrations as you. I’ve come to use http://www.mozio.com which is fantastic. They’re kinda like the Expedia of airport transfers and they’re customer service is very good. Hope it helps

  21. I feel booking a car is part of the enjoyment of a vacation (and budget accordingly). I don’t want to be stressed or scrambling for the local currency on arrival, so I always arrange for a car. I’ve also found that more often than not, good Airbnb proprietors will have a connection with a driver as well. Our policy is to get arranged transportation to our hotel/apartment on arrival, and public transportation on the return (once we’ve figured things out).

    Also, living in Dubai and going home to the States, after a 14+ hour flight, I’m usually in no condition to be driving anywhere. An arranged driver is safer for everyone!

  22. For us, it all depends on the place. In Singapore, the taxis are so plentiful and the queue moves so quickly, the extra expense is unnecessary. the only time we took hotel car was when we had a morning flight and wanted to make sure we could enjoy the lavish breakfast buffet without worrying about a taxi. The car was packed and waiting so that we had no problem making the flight.

    In Bangkok our hotel(Mandarin Oriental) charges an outrageous price but we have always done it for the experience as they are alerted to our arrival. We are returning in November and somehow there is a package including the limo transfer.

    In Hanoi, our hotel sometimes sends a car as a courtesy but I speak Vietnamese so a taxi is easy.

    Lucky has it right. It is often well worth a premium, especially after a long flight, not to have to hassle with iffy taxis and touts.

    I have just gotten into points/miles in the past year or so but our trips still cost $$$ so why cheap it out for a relatively small sum? We used to take the train in Paris but lugging bags through the Metro is definitely not easy, especially when the station doesn’t have an escalator or elevator! Later we tried the “Yellow Van” and the Air France bus but now it’s taxi all the way. For 50E you go door to door and I can even brush up on my French along the way.

  23. Hotel car services can be just as variable as taxis/Uber, but almost always more expensive (sometimes hideously so).

    That said, the hotels that don’t screw their guests on these services often provide benefits that make reasonable premium surcharges worth it (such as expedient customised check in, water in the car, special handling at airport).

    But then you havel hotels like the St Regis Doha who will just screw you over if you take their “limo” (read grubby Toyota that is way below the quality of the local taxis, driven by surly dangerous drivers).

    One thing that I always find pretty poor though, is that many hotels will deliberately have a lower standard of service on your trip from the hotel to the airport, than they do on your trip from the airport to the hotel (no water, etc). That’s pretty shortsighted thinking in my view.

    Also, I never understand why top hotels fail to consistently offer LWB Mercs or BMWs or Audis (or other similar brands) for their premium airport transfers (which makes getting and out of the back seat way easier).

    Hotels that get it right have always had me as a return guest (and those that don’t, like the St Regis Doha, always ensure I don’t return).

  24. Have to agree with the poster who recommended Blacklane. I’ve used them when I’m unsure if I’ll be able to get an Uber at the airport. Only bad experience I’ve had is my first time landing at DOH, my driver never appeared and when I called him he said he’ll be there in about 45 minutes. Called up Blacklane where the CSR apologized, offered me a credit and suggested I make other arrangements Ended up finding out I can use Uber at DOH…

  25. Agreed. I have similar horror stories of taxis, uber, mass-transit and pre-arranged private transfers in getting to/from the airport. I’ll take the hotel’s driver (or shuttle) over these any day unless the price is truly obscene.

  26. We also have not learned to travel without luggage and, especially to Europe where we attend operas and concerts, we have way too much to take public transport. Exceptions are Munich, where you can pre-book the Lufthansa bus (even if you are flying another airline) and it drops you right at the hauptbahnhof which is right next to our hotel.

    Berlin Tegel is another place where you can just take the regular TXL bus as there is room enough for luggage and there is a stop on Unter den Linden, two blocks from our hotel in Gendarmenmarkt. I believe it continues to Alexanderplatz.

  27. This might be a silly question – but what’s the best way to find out the prices and book the hotel cars? My husband and I have a few big trips coming up in the next year (Bangkok, Australia, Rome, London) and I’d like to look into this – particularly for Bangkok. I’ve spent a bunch of time on Trip Advisor forums and the taxis seem to be safe but we’ll be getting in late at night (and eventually leaving very early in the morning) and after hours and hours of travel I’d rather not worry about it. We’re staying at the JW Marriott there and while the website shows they offer a 24-hour limo service, theres no email address – only an international phone number. I’m worried about the language barrier (and knowing for sure that the reservation has been made). I might be overthinking this but any tips or suggestions for someone who has always relied on a local friend or travel agent-booked transportation when traveling internationally? These are the first “big” international trips we’ve booked on our own, where we don’t know anyone locally and have used points for most of the bookings.

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