Review: InterContinental Johannesburg Airport

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We landed from Paris at around 10AM, and were departing the next morning at 10:30AM. We were in South Africa to go on safari, but rather than continuing to our first camp immediately, we decided to first spend a night in Johannesburg:

  • Given that safari was costing an arm and a leg, I wanted to be 100% sure that we didn’t get into a situation where a delay caused us to misconnect
  • Given that we were getting off a long haul flight, I figured it would be good to have a day to recover, rest, get caught up on work, etc.

So for our roughly 24 hours in Johannesburg we decided to book the most convenient hotel to the airport, which is the InterContinental Johannesburg OR Tambo Airport.

Booking The InterContinental Johannesburg Airport

The paid rate at the InterContinental Johannesburg Airport was super high, over $300 per night per room. Fortunately I managed to book two rooms using free night certificates and points:

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport Review

The InterContinental at Johannesburg Airport couldn’t be more conveniently located. Sometimes at airport hotels I wonder why I even bother — you have to wait 30 minutes for a shuttle, and then it’s a 10 minute drive, and then I wonder why I didn’t just stay in the city.

That’s not the case here. The InterContinental is less than a minute walk from the international arrivals area. We exited the terminal and there was a sign pointing right to the hotel.

Signage to InterContinental Johannesburg Airport

It doesn’t get easier than that!

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport exterior

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport entrance

Reception was immediately inside the entrance. The two associates checking us in were friendly, though we were informed there was a 500ZAR (~34USD) early check-in fee since we were arriving before 2PM. While that caught me off guard at first, that seemed fair enough, especially since both rooms were ready.

I was also impressed that both rooms were upgraded to executive rooms on account of IHG Platinum status (I rarely get any sort of “real” upgrades at an InterContinental as an IHG Platinum member).

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport reception

Within a few minutes we had our keys, and headed up to our rooms. The elevators were just down the hall in the lobby.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport lobby

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport lobby seating

Ford and I were assigned room 508, an executive room on the fifth floor.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport hallway

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport room exterior

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport floorplan

The room was actually… really nice? One of the nicest I’ve ever had at an airport hotel. There was an entryway with the door to the bathroom on the left, and then that led into the rest of the room.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room entryway

Here’s a question, because I saw this at multiple hotels in South Africa — what is this, and why? I assume it’s some sort of liquor, but is the intention that you can just drink it for free? And why is it so common in South Africa? I guess it’s a nice touch, though given that it’s an “open” bottle that presumably isn’t replaced between guests, I’m not quite sure what to make of it.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room

Anyway, the executive room was huge and well appointed.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room

It featured a very comfortable king size bed, a desk with a rolling chair, and a sitting area with two chairs.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room bed

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room sitting area

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room desk

In the back corner of the room was a minibar, a Nespresso machine, and a kettle.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive tea & coffee

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room minibar

The bathroom was back towards the entrance, and featured a walk-in shower, a bathtub, a toilet in a separate room, and a sink.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room bathroom

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room bathroom

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room bathtub

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room toilet

Toiletries were from Agraria, and were nice.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room toiletries

This was a corner room with views in two directions, though in both directions we just had views of the terminal and departures area, so unfortunately there were no plane views.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport executive room view

Overall I thought the room was awesome, and the Wi-Fi was also fast and free.

As far as the hotel’s other features go, the spa and gym were located on the eighth floor. While it’s nice that they have a pool, it was amusingly small, and also kind of awkward. The spa reception is right by the pool, so if you’re in the pool you’re being watched by the spa receptionist the whole time.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport pool

The gym was right behind the pool, and was fairly well appointed. What I liked most was the runway views, which made being on the treadmill all the more fun.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport gym

For the next 24 hours we were more or less stuck eating at the hotel, since it’s not like the airport had great dining options either. Ford and I napped when we landed, and when we woke up we ordered room service. I had a chicken salad, while Ford had a chicken burger with sweet potato fries.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport room service

In the afternoon I was feeling quite tired, so headed down to the lobby lounge for a coffee.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport lobby bar

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport lobby bar

The menu read as follows:

The cappuccino I ordered was excellent.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport cappuccino

The InterContinental has a single all-day dining restaurant, which is Quills Restaurant. When we checked in we were informed that reservations were recommended there. While that seemed like a bit of an overkill, we did indeed make a reservation there for dinner.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport restaurant

The menu read as follows (as a reminder, one USD is roughly 14.7ZAR):

For an airport hotel restaurant this was really nice, with white tablecloths and all. We were offered a selection of warm bread when we sat down.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

I had a vegetable stew as my starter.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

Ford had the roasted butternut and chilli feta salad.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

For the main course I had the three bean curry.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

For the main, Ford and my dad both had the peri peri chicken.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport dinner

The meal was excellent, I thought.

Then we also had breakfast in the restaurant, due to a lack of other options. The breakfast menu read as follows:

I ordered the “healthy breakfast,” which was described as offering “natural seasonal fruit salad, low fat yogurt, health bran muffin, margarine, poached eggs, health bread, and caprese salad.”

This is what I received:

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport breakfast

I feel like about two thirds of my meal was missing? I actually didn’t end up asking about the rest of it, because by the time I ate that I wasn’t really hungry, and at that point we were in a rush, so…

Ford had an omelet, which he enjoyed.

InterContinental Johannesburg Airport breakfast

Funny note about the crowd at the hotel. The people staying at this hotel were roughly 100% people from the US heading on safari. You wouldn’t know whether you’re at the InterContinental Cleveland or InterContinental Johannesburg.

InterContinental JNB Summary

The InterContinental Johannesburg Airport was an excellent option — the hotel couldn’t be more convenient, our executive room was large, the facilities are good, and I found the restaurant to be great as well.

I’d stay here again in a heartbeat if just passing through Johannesburg for a day.

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  1. Landing at JNB at 5:30pm, should I use FN Certificate at Intercontinental JNB or use 8k Hyatt for Hyatt Regency? Leaving next day at 8am for a Safari.

  2. @ Lou — Can’t beat the convenience of this place vs. going all the way to the Hyatt. For what it’s worth, I asked myself exactly the same question before I booked, and I had a much longer layover.

  3. While nice, I too passed through Johannesburg earlier this year on my way to safari. There’s a lot to see and do and a stay of a day or two is highly worthwhile. The apartheid museum is 100% worthwhile to see. Really gave great insight into the country’s history. Absolutely fascinating. We stayed at the four seasons, which was delightful and well priced for a four seasons. Next time I’ll probably stay at the Saxon. Then the restaurant scene in Johannesburg is fantastic. Recommend. Ubers to get around are safe and easy.

  4. I think I stayed in the exact same room a few months ago, also on our way to a safari hah! I was so pleasantly surprised by the hotel as well. The staff was super nice, and we found the food at Quills to be incredible – especially for those prices (we tried the fun stuff like the crocodile carpaccio – it was delicious). I came in with really low expectations (airport hotel expectations) so that might have helped. I guess that the quality explains the high rates, we also ended up using a certificate).

  5. Visited the hotel for a long layover and the airport lobby bar visit was the most pleasant layover in months if not years. Purchased sprinkling water and tipped in kind and the staff were very accommodating.

  6. Given you were there for 24 hours I’m surprised you didn’t go into the city. It’s really not that far even if you are staying at the airport. Could have tried some local restaurants and sights.

  7. I’ve stayed at this hotel 8 of the 17 times I’ve traveled through Joburg to go on safari. It is very expensive but also very convenient (Yes, I get that if you can afford to fly that far to go on safari $400/night isn’t expensive, but it is exorbitant for an airport hotel). They will also sell you a “day room” which is great when returning from safari in the morning or early afternoon and leaving on the late evening flights, since the airline desks don’t open until 3 (sometimes 4) hours prior for checkin and access to lounges. The food and service is always good but the rooms aren’t always available when they promise which can be a shock when getting off of two back-to-back long haul flights to get there and have to sit in the lobby.

  8. @Ben: Funny you Americans aren’t aware of Sherry….

    It’s fairly high in alcohol. So I doubt there’s much risk from bacteria or whatever even if the previous guest had the same carafe.

  9. It’s such a shame that so many people pass through JNB with the intention of experiencing the city as little as possible. I know that it has a reputation, sometimes earned, for not being the safest or most interesting city, but there is still plenty to do in 24 hours in any of the very nice, very safe wealthier neighborhoods around town.

  10. 25 hrs is plenty of time to stay in the city center. The Michaelangelo Hotel in Sandton is great, and is an easy 10 minute ride on the Gautrain from the airport terminal right to the hotel. From there you have several restaurants, a giant mall attached, and lots of places to safely walk around. To me, it’s just as easy as the Intercontinental for that length of time.

    I’d choose the Intercontinental if I was arriving in the evening and departing early the next morning.

  11. @ Lucky do you think the annual IHG offer to pay $200 and “achieve” IC Ambassador status is worth it over the Platinum you get with he IHG card? I did the last couple of years and did always get IC upgrades (But not club lounge access) but it seems like in your experience it can still happen regardless?

  12. The alcohol by the door is Sherry. It is traditionally drunk as an aperitif or at the end of the night. Until recently the UK was the largest importer of Sherry, and since the English invented safaris Sherry is a traditional drink. As mentioned above it’s high in alcohol so no concerns about germs.

  13. We also stayed there going and coming from safari. Wonderful rooms, one of the most comfortable beds we’ve ever slept in, and the best shower ever. That’s sherry and it was delicious. We also received a 3 tier tray of chocolates and fancy desserts with a small bottle of bubbly for a Plat welcome gift. The restaurant was also excellent and the prices very reasonable. As for you comment about the Intercontinental Cleveland- you would definitely know a difference as it would probably have more foreigners as it’s connected to the Cleveland Clinic. People from all over the world come there for treatment and it’s the only hotel connected to the Clinic. We travel there from ID and now CA and we always see quite a diverse group roaming around from appointment to appointment.

  14. Awesome timing. We are booked for an overnight stay in a couple of weeks at the end of our first Safari trip. We had originally booked the airside Protea in the airport because it seemed more convenient but after reading some reviews we thought better of it. Sounds like that was a good change.

  15. I stayed there in February on safari for 1 night. I used my free certificate.

    Awesome – ate in the bar and had the ostrich – excellent

    Going back to South Africa again next year and will probably stay again.

  16. Hi Ben

    Thanks for sharing this amazing trip you took with your Dad and Ford. Loving the great reports and experiences.

    Hopefully you’ll head to South Africa soon again. You mentioned the limited food options at Johannesburg airport. I think it might be due to the strange layout of the airport. There’s actually quite a lot of restaurants, coffee shops and casual dining options. However, you don’t really see them when arriving on international flights.

    I’ll mention 2 areas. Namely, the floor above the domestic terminal (say a 5 minute walk from the international arrivals hall. Then there are a couple of restaurants on the departures level between domestic and international.

    I go to SA about 5 times a year so pass through OR Tambo Int’l Airport quite a lot.

    My go to place for a nice big breakfast after a long haul flight is the Wimpy. In SA, we have awesome Lime Milkshakes if that’s your thing. Also try the other flavours like Bubblegum, Bar-One (a local chocolate bar) and even the Strawberry and Banana shakes are great. But Wimpy has everything from Full South African Breakfasts with Boerewors (SA Sausage), lamb chops and steak, to great toasted sandwiches with all kinds of funky toppings. If your dad is like mine, the bottomless coffee will also go a long way. They also do burgers, salads and desserts.

    The Spur restaurant in OR Tambo is the Soaring Eagle Spur. This is a meat restaurante want a US Western theme but uniquely South African. Great steaks including, rump, sirloin, fillet or hot rocks. They also do quesadillas and fajitas. The Spur is a South African brand that is not only available nationwide, but internationally.

    Ocean Basket. Fantastic fish restaurant that has also expanded internationally (I always head for Ocean Basket when I’m flying through Dubai Terminal 3). Some SA fish like Kingklip on the menu but a big menu you can dig into if fish is your thing.

    Loads of coffee shops like Mugg & Bean. SA Coffee shops are often sort of community meet up points where people get together for a chat and a “kuier”.
    Capello, YOLO and a couple of others are spread out across the airport.

    If I can give you some tips before your next trip, would love to connect.

    Keep up the awesomeness.

  17. @wonkachocolat You forgot to mention Nando’s; there’s one landside. Nothing beats some peri-peri chicken with pap and coleslaw (and a tiser).
    As for JNB there are plenty of excellent options for accommodation and food a short Gautrain ride away. Johannesburg is a wonderful place, one can easily spend one or two exciting weeks there.

  18. @Jasper

    Yes, Nando’s is very popular in SA and internationally. They are also now trying to expand in the USA.

    I’ve never been to the one on OR Tambo but Nando’s anywhere in SA and the UK is a good choice

    SA has a very large number of good quality restaurants and also fast food. Typical SA fast food restaurants like Chisa Nyama or #braai. If you are tired of KFC, you can also try Chicken Licken.

  19. Looks great but I too would recommend Sandton area for such a long layover. We stayed at The Maslow which had a free lounge and showers if you arrived early, though our rooms were ready very quickly.

    Perfectly safe (they have a private security firm patrolling area etc) and you can go to the mall for dinner. We did the open top bus tour which was v interesting

  20. While the Intercontinental at the airport is nice, I’m sure, it’s a shame that you basically spent 24 hours confined to an airport hotel and didn’t get out to see any of the local attractions. And coming from somebody born and raised in Joburg, there are plenty of great restaurants that I guarantee would be better than an overpriced restaurant in a hotel at the airport:

  21. Have stayed here several times and always had an excellent experience, typically after landing on the very long haul ATL-JNB before continuing on to CPT.

    The staff and food are lovely, and I also enjoyed dinner at Quills this year during a long layover before catching a VS flight to LHR.

    You really should’ve gone into the city with 24 hours though… the Saxon and Four Seasons are top-notch. Next time..!

  22. You were not in the InterContinental Cleveland if every sign/printed material wasn’t bilingual in English and Arabic. When I stayed there half the cable channels were in Arabic as well. They also have doors in the hallways setup to block off whole wings of rooms on a floor for “special guests”. I watched a hilarious PSA from Saudi showing a guy secretly taking a sip of bourbon in his home and then the secret police swinging in from every window and door when I stayed there. (5000 pt/night Point Break after moving out of my Cleveland apartment)

  23. I have to echo what others have already said – with 24 hours, there’s no reason not to head in to the city. Even if I’m arriving late afternoon and leaving the following morning, I would much rather go in to the city than stay by the airport. While there are plenty of landside restaurant options to choose from so you don’t need to eat at the hotel restaurant, heading to Sandton or Rosebank will give you that much more to see, eat, and do – all 15-20 minutes away on the Gautrain, which is much cleaner and safer than any public transit I’ve taken in the United States.

    I’ve left my luggage at the luggage storage location at JNB for a 6 hour layover before so I could head in to town – with 24 hours stuck at the airport (any airport, other than maybe SIN), I’d go insane.

  24. Glad you had a good experience!

    I stayed there for one night before and after my safari trip in March. It is a very comfy hotel and nice respite, especially after the very long trip from California to South Africa. It was so nice to have a shower and a soft, clean bed to rest. With the times the long haul flights arrive, it is difficult to get the connecting flights the same day (or at least it was to Zambia for me). The butter chicken is really good too at the Quills restaurant.

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