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Airports up ante with hotels, plus trimmings

Atrium of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel
Source: Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel
Atrium of the Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel

Like spas, chef-branded restaurants, cushy cocktail bars and upscale shops, on-site hotels are becoming a must-have amenity at airports, both domestic and international. Most of all, not just any type of hotel will do.

Bad weather and mechanical problems often leave travelers stranded at the airport, using their luggage and jackets as makeshift sleep accommodations. However, those days may be coming to a close amid a wave of travel hubs installing lodgings with top-of-the-line accommodations.

Read More'Mindful' things: Airports aim for friendlier skies

In addition to meeting rooms and business centers, some airport hotels offer rooftop pools with runway views and expedited security checkpoint access to woo travelers needing—or wanting—to spend the night. In the coming years, New York City may join the ranks of places like Denver, Detroit, Orlando, Florida, and Dallas—all places where airports have become self-contained travel resorts.

An "option" to create a hotel is included in the $4 billion makeover New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced last month for LaGuardia Airport. As part of that announcement, Cuomo also announced that the empty Eero Saarinen-designed TWA terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport would be transformed into the $250 million TWA Flight Center Hotel.

That complex will contain 505 guest rooms, 40,000 square feet of conference and event space and a 10,000 square foot observation deck.

"Major airports around the world and the country have successful in-airport hotels," said Joe Sitt, founder and chairman of the airport advocacy group Global Gateway Alliance.

"So plans to bring hotels to the iconic TWA flight center at JFK, as well as LaGuardia, are both long overdue and vital to changing the reputations of these airports for the better," he said.

Turning airports into resorts

A new Westin Hotel expected to open at Denver International Airport on Nov. 19 will give business and leisure travelers an upscale option for airport lodging. Guests will be able to check into their rooms using smart phones, dine at fine restaurants, use the fitness studio and indoor pool and reach downtown Denver via commuter rail in 30 minutes.

"Our conference center, in particular, will make us more competitive as a national destination for business travelers because of Denver's convenient geographic location in the center of the country," said DIA spokesman Heath Montgomery.

Dallas/Fort Worth International has two high-end hotels on airport property: the Hyatt Regency DFW at Terminal C, which is an upscale convention and business hotel with a Texas-style steakhouse; and the Grand Hyatt DFW, a luxury boutique business property inside the international terminal.

Both hotels have a full complement of amenities.The Grand Hyatt also offers a sushi bar, a skySpa, a rooftop pool overlooking the runway and a program that issues security checkpoint passes. Those give guests access to the airport's terminals and amenities, even if they're not flying.

Like the Grand Hyatt, the Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport hotel built into the airport offers nontraveling guests gate passes to the airport. This hotel also has its own security checkpoint, and a fitness center with a pool offering runway views.

"This beautiful hotel is a great asset not just for DTW but for our community," said Michael Conway, an airport spokesman, "And it adds class to an already attractive and efficient terminal.

The dawn of the 'airport city'

Pool at Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Source: Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport
Pool at Westin Detroit Metropolitan Airport

Perks offered at the Miami International Airport Hotel, located before security in one of the airport's main concourses, include concierge baggage service from the lobby to airline check-in counters and a 20 percent discount at a nearby golf course. In September, the hotel lobby will be home to Air Margaritaville, the first airport location for Jimmy Buffett's restaurant chain.

Elsewhere, travelers will find Hilton hotels attached to Chicago O'Hare and Boston Logan International airports and Marriott hotels at Tampa International Airport and Houston's George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

The Hyatt Regency Orlando International Airport hotel is managed by Hyatt but owned by the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Amenities include an outdoor pool offering scenic runway views, and for a fee, a concierge service that will pick up your luggage in baggage claim and deliver it to your room.

At the in-terminal Fairmont Vancouver Airport at Vancouver International Airport, there's a full-service spa, a gym with lap pool and many rooms with views of the airfield. There's also a "fish valet" on staff to meet arriving anglers and transport their fish to special freezers at the hotel.

"The luxury hotel allows those who overnight at YVR a first class experience," said Susan Stiene, director of commercial services at the Vancouver Airport Authority. "We also benefit from increased nonaeronautical revenue from the hotel; revenue which goes back into more airport enhancements."

It's not just large domestic airports that have on-site hotels. In Connecticut, the fitness center, pool and some rooms at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel at Bradley Airport offer views of airport ramp activity. Meanwhile, there's just a doorway separating South Dakota's Sioux Falls Regional Airport from the $5 million, 76-room AeroStay Hotel that opened in June.

Travelers seeking on-airport lodging at major U.S. airports will soon have more options.

A $17 million on-site hotel is part of the $826 million development for a new terminal complex at Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport, and a 300-unit boutique hotel is expected to open in January 2018 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has issued a request for proposal for a development that will include a travel plaza, gas station and a 300-room, four-star hotel that will have direct access to the airport terminal.

"We believe strongly that by adding these new mixed-use facilities, Hartsfield-Jackson will significantly grow our nonaeronautical revenues," said ATL spokesman Reese McCranie.

The shift toward hotels and amenities "will prove that an airport city concept not only works, but that it spurs additional development in the areas surrounding the airport," he added.

—Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas . Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.