The Disappearance Of Airport Shuttles: Self-Inflicted Wound For Airport Hotels

Far fewer airport hotels have free shuttles than did before the pandemic. Hotels are short on labor, and they’re trying to cut costs generally, and many have dropped their airport transportation – one of the key elements of being an airport hotel.

There are multiple reasons for this,

  • Airport overnights are most common at major international gateways, and international travel slowed – though it’s coming back, and roaring back across the Atlantic with planes generally quite full.

  • Airport hotels at outstations where crew overnight attract plenty of guests, but airlines need to provide their crew transport whether there’s a free shuttle for other guests or not.

  • Hotels are cutting costs across the board, just like they’re eliminating automatic daily housekeeping and may not operate full restaurant hours.

Hotels seem to have a frame of ‘we need to do less for the customer in order to improve our margins’ as though the things they did for customers were gifts in good times rather than investments in attracting customers in the first place and delivering value that will achieve higher rates.

And hotels have forgotten that their biggest competitive threat is Airbnb, and their primary tool to differentiate themselves in the marketplace is service. Airbnb is largely self-serve (except when hotels list themselves on Airbnb!) so investing in services is what makes hotels different and gives customers a reason to choose them. And Airbnb’s most annoying feature is add-on fees, so the drip pricing of resort and destination charges makes hotels less differentiated as well.

Eliminating airport shuttles doesn’t just reduce competitiveness against Airbnb, it reduces competitiveness against other hotels. Once you have to organize your own transport from airport to hotel you might as well go a little farther off airport to a nicer place.

In other words, airport hotels offered shuttles for a reason in the before times – because it was in their interest to do so.  It is not something they did as a favor to guests.  They may think they’ve reached a new equilibrium, since so many other airport hotels have stopped offering shuttles (so they do not need to offer them to compete against other airport hotels).  But hotels that think this are conceiving of their competition too narrowly.

  • Off-airport hotels compete against on-airport hotels in many places, dropping transport makes paying more for the convenience of on-airport more desirable (raises the rates of on-airport via increased demand, and forces off-airport to lower their rates to attract guests).

  • Off-airport airport hotels are competing against city hotels which offer access to more amenities and activities. Once you’re arranging alternative transport you might as well drive a bit further.

Cutting the things that attract guests away from alternatives is short-sighted, but it’s the path that many hotels are choosing to their detriment. The hotel industry complains it didn’t get bailouts, and so the large REITs that own many of them face challenges paying back large lenders, but it’s the lack of attention to customers that’s really creating their problems going forward.

(Thanks to reader Miles for the question)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Airport shittles (typo but I’m leaving that as is) were on the way out before the pandemic. Hotels began charging for shuttle service. This charge was separate from the tip that was always expected. Many drivers that I met were absolutely shameless about tips. And they were horrible drivers too. Multiple times I saw customers luggage fall out of the back because the driver didn’t even bother to close the rear door before taking off. So my point is airport shuttles sucked and airport hotels are better off without such suckiness on their reputations.

  2. This is so true. And the worst offenders are the big three: IHG/Marriott/Hilton. Just finished a trip that included a rewards stay at an IHG. The repeatedly reminded me that because I used points I wasn’t eligible for a host of things I normally would have gotten. Why in the world would I try to earn points or stay loyal when other hotels not only have an open restaurant, full service, complete amenities, but also include breakfast?! #hardpass

  3. @Gary – I think there’s a question about what this says about the intelligence of these investors and whether they’re managing their funds wisely. I believe you’ve already implicitly answered it, but something tells me you have more to share. 🙂

  4. Its simple as this without a shuttle the likelihood of staying @ an airport hotel goes from a 75% chance of staying there to less than 5%
    My reasoning is unless catching an extremely early flight @ crack of dawn why bother at all.
    Just get a driver and come to he airport when you have to and stay in a far nicer hotel offering full elite benefits
    Done! That’s before we get on topic of restaurants and elite benefits
    Penny wise pound foolish lives on until they cease to exist or become another brand

  5. Completely agree re competition with other hotels further out, particularly when those other hotels are next to a rail or other rapid transit station, so you can get to the airport easily. 90%+ of the time, the only reason I’d stay at an airport hotel was speed to the airport on the shuttle

  6. Many times I have sought out hotels specifically with airport shuttles.
    Would I stay at these properties if the shuttle was not available. NOPE.
    Some property managers are clueless as to why people stay with them.

  7. @GLN2LW: As horse-drawn carriages are available for transportation on Mackinaw Island, Michigan when your luggage falls off a shuttle, it usually drops into a pile of fresh, gooey, and stinking horse excrement.

  8. I only stay at an airport hotel if I am leaving very early in the morning and the hotel is connected to the airport so I can walk to check in or the airport tram. DFW, AMS and CDG come to mind. Traveling for work, I often found airport shuttles undependable and slow, so took a taxi or Uber and expensed it.

  9. Same here. We’re not yet traveling as much as we did in the good old days, but we suffered one annoying experience some months ago at a DFW Tru by HIlton, when we foolishly assumed an airport Hilton property would have a shuttle. No, not on weekends and even during the week only certain hours of the day.

    We paid nearly as much for transportation late night and early morning (reserved an Uber) as we did for the room itself, and of course had even fewer hours of sleep than we’d expected.

    We’ve read plenty of complaints about various airport properties we’re checking out on the usual review sites.

    I now call the property in advance to confirm the existence and hours of their shuttle.

  10. I recently wrote to a hotel that discontinued its shuttle, but used to provide an excellent shuttle service to the subway/city center, the airport, and Amtrak/waterfront. I explained that their “park and fly” package is not useful if there is no shuttle to get to the airport. It makes “car free travel,” which cities try to promote, harder than ever. I will now have to choose hotels on the bus/train/subway stop. Another problem I had/have, limited shuttle hours: 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., for example. I will still try to use the shuttles as much as possible.

  11. Genuinely curious how this affects American Airlines, there’s no mention of them in this story but they must be involved in some way.

  12. Speaking of airport shuttles (or a lack thereof), I have never been able to figure out, for the life of me, how the elimination of the LHR free bus zone earlier this year never got any real discussion on travel blogs in the US. Maybe it was a pandemic thing – people weren’t going to LHR, so it never was on the radar here – but there is now officially no free way to get to any of the LHR-area hotels that are off airport, unless you walk to them from the terminals.

  13. Counterpoint: in some European cities, I get hotels that can be easily reached from the airport without a shuttle. At AMS, the regional train stops at Hoofddorp on the Leiden side and Amsterdam Sloterdijk on the Amsterdam side. Both have tons of trains an hour, and decent enough hotel rooms for cheaper than the airport/shuttle served properties.
    On the other hand, waiting half an hour for the MSP Hilton shuttle? I shoulda just taken the LRT into town.

    On bad shuttle drivers: once on the shuttle back to FCO, the driver took a right-turn-only ramp to make a left turn onto a four-lane boulevard, swung across three lanes and clipped a car in the fourth. Even for Rome that was impressive.

  14. I suspect this problem will self correct, as many travelers will book away from hotels without airport shuttles. Personally, I have long tried not to use them, as I find the service to usually be slow, especially leaving from the airport. But with Uber fares now rising as well, many travelers will book away if they would otherwise want a shuttle.

  15. Airport shuttlebus drivers who suffer from airports allegedly cutting their jobs will somehow in some way find a loophole to starting their own business and earning passive income from doing what they love. The days of job security are long gone. You’re better off starting your own business and relying less on working a regular job.

  16. @DNN,
    – Airport shuttlebus drivers are not employed by airports nor are their jobs controlled by airports.
    – Often they are not even employed by the hotels served by the shuttle bus.
    – Starting one’s own business requires capital which blue collar workers do not have.
    – Earning passive income requires a lot of luck and effort.
    – Most people do not love to do anything except eat Cheetos and wack off.
    – The days of job security are still present in some jobs but they tend to pay less and it is often not worth it because you might as well work a shorter tenure in a riskier job and then have more savings so you can retire early so you don’t care if the job gets eliminated.
    – Working a regular job, or even the gig economy jobs, are the best option for most people. Remember for every start-your-own-business success story there are millions of failures who worked just as hard.
    – GTFO with the spam link in your comment name.

  17. This is very true! I booked a stay at a hotel just of airport grounds that I have stayed at dozens of times, but cancelled it when their email noted that they no longer provided a shuttle. That was literally the only reason I stayed there! I spent the same amount with uber, but stayed at a nicer hotel.

  18. @ GLN2LW – absolutely untrue, what airport hotels in US charge guests for airport shuttle ? Not anywhere in US and Asia but Europe, but Europe has been charging airport shuttles to and from hotels and airports for years. In US , pre pandemic every airport hotels provide free airport shuttles even the budget brands like comfort inn, super 8, or Travelodge

  19. GLN2LW Hotel
    shuttle drivers are considered tipped employees and don’t follow under minimum paid employees. I’ve lugged many bags in an out for zero tips from people coming back from all inclusive vacations. Airline flight crew generally tip $1 each and have done that $1 for over 20 years. UPS pilots dod $5 each, the best of employed guests.

  20. I think you’ll see hotels get more creative as the pandemic ends and competition increases. For example, in San Diego, a group of hotel owners in Old Town got together with the airport to plan a free shuttle open to all. It connects to a transit hub and puts those hotels a short walk away from the shared stop.

  21. I recently stayed at a very expensive hotel that offered an airport shuttle. I don’t usually take these because I’m an older lady and I difficultly climbing in and out of those vans. My outbound trip was quite good.
    My return trip was a nightmare! I called the hotel when I landed to request the van pickup. I waited patiently. No van. Second call,after 30+ minutes, I got “Yes ma’am, the van is on the way. “.
    Another 30 minutes. No van. Third phone call. “OH yes ma’am, the driver is on the way. ”
    Another 30+ minutes goes by and a flight crew shows up.
    They make one quick call and by some miracle, the van is there in 10 minutes.
    It became very obvious to me that the hotel staff KNEW that this flight crew would be coming in and they were NOT sending that van around to pick up one person.
    I think I had a totally valid complaint, it was obvious what they did and I will never stay there again.
    I would rather pay the $20 cab ride and get to my hotel.
    Not depend on the whims of a lazy hotel staff.

  22. @Sunny, I have also experienced that and it’s maddening- I’d prefer, rather than be lied to, to be told that the shuttle won’t be there until the flight crew arrives, ETA ~90 minutes, and I’m welcome to wait or use another method of transport. A nice hotel knows that’s an inconvenience and will tell me as a thanks for waiting that a drink at the lobby bar is on them when I get there. I’m a reasonable person.

  23. Yes especially since it became so obvious that they were waiting for the flight crew. I was exhausted after my flight and I would have gladly paid the cab $20 to get to the hotel. I knew exactly where they were coming from and how long it takes to get around to the pick-up area. Honesty, courtesy and customer service are just a thing of the past.

  24. At some point when hotels are able to fully staff again and are in competition for customers they will compete again on reasons to stay there. Actually I”d ban a hotel calling itself an “airport” hotel unless it has easy transit from the airport, a shuttle, or is in walking distance. There are a lot of “airport” hotels out there that are really not so near an airport, but kind of qualify since they serve the airport with a shuttle. Take that away and it’s false advertising.

  25. If there is a missing service maybe some enterprising company will fill the void.

    London airport hotels do not have direct shuttles, another company schedules a pay per trip shuttle service between multiple hotels. Travellers still pay for the service at Heathrow, event hough public transport is free in the area (thank you Marriott concierge for pointing me towards the bus option).

  26. Some managements’ “race to the bottom” continues. Who on earth would stay at most “airport” hotels, knowing they are usually noisy, service-free dumps without any amenities you’ll use? The only answer is “easy access early mornings or late nights for a place to bed down with a convenient path to/from the terminal.” Eliminate the last part, and there’s a VERY limited customer pool. Penny-wise and pound foolish.

  27. When traveling to – from SFO, I often stay at the Hyatt regency near SFO which is a 12k redemption vs the Hyatt in SFO at 20k.

    Arrived late my most recent trip a few weeks ago, was meeting a friend who was arriving next day.

    I simply got a shuttle to hotel, stayed the night, next day returned to SFO and got rental car.

    If not for shuttle, I simply would have stayed at the Hyatt in SFO, nicer joint and more convenient. Why would I pay $20 each way for an Uber?

    Or as the writer says, I’d simply rent a car or Uber to another location

  28. Tried for two hours to find (and then confirm) a hotel around DFW with a shuttle. The ones that were listed on Hilton/Marriott brands that did show a shuttle denied it when I called and one claimed that had one but it “might not run most days.” I ended up driving to DFW and flying out with no hotel stay at all. How much gross did the hotels make on that non-rental? I think it will turn around again when one or more start offering a reliable shuttle and the others have no customers.

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