Washington Dulles – Chicago in United First Class and the Greatest Airport Hotel Ever, the Intercontinental O’Hare

Intercontinental OHare Hotel: (This is a Continuation of “Trip Report – A Private Jet Experience: Alone in First Class on ANA and Thai, Plus Singapore First, a Suite, a Villa, and Some Incredible Food Porn”)

I kept checking for a first class award seat on Washington Dulles – Chicago, my seat was booked in business and my wife was in first. It’s a short segment and doesn’t much matter, but why not try to upgrade to the international first class cabin on a 767? Unfortunately not only did another first class award not pop up, but the aircraft was downgraded. To an Airbus. Now we were together in the same cabin, at least. Though the whole reason for heading out to Dulles was blown to bits. I really do despise Dulles and will avoid it whenever possible. But on a US Airways award ticket, and without US Airways status, I decided against paying a change fee ($150 times 2) to grab a flight out of National instead.

We arrived at Dulles to find out flight oversold, looking for volunteers. What was once supposed to be a 767, downgraded to an Airbus A320, was now an A319. We had the whole afternoon, we were flying out the day before leaving the country because I didn’t want anything to get in the way of starting our trip but the weather turned out to be fine. A perfect day for a bump! And yet we decided to just fly, and took a pass on the denied boarding compensation.

Boarding was on time, the flight was naturally unremarkable except for the ways in which it lagged behind even the usual United domestic first class experience.

No pre-departure beverages. No assistance with coats. The flight was just a ‘light snack’ aka snack basket service, we got one pass of drinks and nothing more.

When we landed, passengers in row 1 pushed their way back past me to get their own coats, which they had hung themselves and hadn’t been returned to them prior to landing.

It was just a short hop to Chicago, but being gone for more than a week and a half we had checked bags. Headed down to baggage claim and I was confused at first, our flight wasn’t on the board with the baggage claim belts listed. It took a moment to realize that the flights were frozen in time from six days prior.

We collected our bags and went over to the hotel shuttle center at O’Hare, a real schlep. I had considered just booking the Hilton, it’s attached to the airport after all, but I couldn’t resist an $87 rate at the Intercontinental which I’d wanted to try for awhile. It certainly didn’t disappoint.

It began with the shuttle ride over. The Intercontinental must have the nicest hotel shuttle van I’ve ever been in, leather seats with that new car smell. All black, there’s a place for a bar setup (though the bar wasn’t set). The seats are actually comfortable for the short trip over to the hotel.

Walking in, I was immediately struck by the modern lobby with bright colors and high ceilings. It felt more like a Grand Hyatt in Asia than an O’Hare airport hotel.

The hotel has its own art gallery, and art is prominently featured throughout the hotel — from the lobby to murals on the wall by the elevators of the guest floors.

Checking in I was told we had been upgraded to a suite. The clerk checking us in wondered why we had been pre-assigned one without a view, so he tore up the assignment and found a room with a view out towards the city and directly in the landing path for O’Hare.

It was incredible to watch planes line up, more than a dozen deep in two rows, for arrival into the airport.

I was told I’d receive complimentary internet as a Royal Ambassador. The hotel has no club lounge, I’ve seen references to complimentary breakfast by other travelers but nothing was mentioned. So I asked. And the response I got was interesting, “Sure, we can do that. It’s not really a benefit but I’d be happy to do anything for you that you would like. I’ll deliver certificates to your room shortly.” And they did, not just breakfast coupons but also for free drinks that evening in the bar.

The room was beautiful and modern, a spacious living room with L-shaped couch and a separate bedroom, a half bath in the entryway and a giant master bathroom.

The living room, bedroom, and guest bath:

Here’s the master bath:

The Royal Ambassador amenity:

And the minibar, which I only flag of course because its liquid contents are of course free for Royal Ambassadors:

The hotel’s business center has a live departures board above their checkin computers. Those worked great, except that I separately checked in for my Singapore Airlines flight and Singapore produces boarding passes as .pdf files. I had to check-in again on my laptop, save the .pdf to a thumb drive, and then print it out on one of the business center computers — fortunately they provide 15 minutes of free computer time in the business center as well.

The hotel’s gym was nice enough, too, no complaints.

On either side of the property are a Capital Grille and a McCormick & Schmick’s. I still had some McCormick & Schmick discount cards that I’ve picked up in airline lounges, unfortunately they expired two days before our visit. We had a nice dinner and spent the evening at the hotel, went to bed early after a series of very hectic weeks.

It was just a relaxing stay. My wife even commented that we could “just stay here for 12 days and that could be our vacation!” And at $87 a night, with free breakfast and cocktails and internet and minibar, I could almost have seen us doing just that. Almost. If we didn’t have much better lying ahead of us.

We enjoyed a light breakfast in the morning, not wanting to overeat before beginning our journey

And then we took the hotel shuttle over to the airport, getting on our way to Asia.

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 InsideFlyer.com, 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. […] installments:Prologue: The decision-making and booking process Washington Dulles – Chicago in United First Class and the Greatest Airport Hotel Ever, the Interco… Alone in First Class on ANA, Chicago-Tokyo Singapore Airlines First Class, Tokyo-Singapore JetQuay […]


  1. Happy you enjoyed your stay at the IC ORD as well. Truly one of the best airport hotels in the world (if you can even call it that).

  2. I’m new and clueless to the hotel game. Would you mind sharing where you booked this $87/night rate?

  3. Gary, I love these trip reports, as well as your description of how you find award seats, etc. Although I’m in a very AA heavy city, and my status and miles are on AA, I still find it interesting to see how you go about your Star Alliance planning. If you do something like this on Oneworld, I would like to see it.

    One question: are you using Expert Flyer when you are searching for award seats? I assume yes. I’m a recent subscriber to Expert Flyer, and so far it has gotten me to Hawaii in F on AA.

    Thanks again for these reports. Cheers!

  4. I stumbled upon the IC O’Hare last fall and was equally impressed. I booked an 9.99/wend day car from Enterprise for the Chicago Do. Not wanting to take a taxi to the off-airport Enterprise I checked to see what hotel was closest. Sure enough IC O’Hare was within walking distance. I used their comp shuttle then walked the 7 minutes to Enterprise. The money I saved on cab fare went to the shuttle driver – he couldn’t have been nicer. I was amazed at how cool this hotel is – certainly a lot nicer than the airport Hilton, which has only location going for it – yuck.

  5. Quite a few (if not most!) hotels could certainly learn a lesson from IC ORD.

    Awesome hotel!

    Looking forward to this trip report so much now!

  6. I’ve stayed there once before prior to an int’l fight. It was fine, and at the time it was 65$ couldn’t beat that. F&F works there too often.

  7. Awesome trip report so far…with all the details that I care about.

    You are lucky that your wife is so understanding…I don’t think my gf would be so happy to make so many connections, (even in F), or stay at an airport hotel for a positioning flight.

  8. I’ve always thought the Hyatt Regency Orlando Airport was the best airport hotel in America (nice place with an unbeatable terminal location), but I must say the Intercontinental ORD looks very nice.

    You certainly got a lot for $87. 🙂 It makes me think I want to be a Royal Ambassador — my Priority Club plat just doesn’t cut it! Isn’t there some sort of referral program?

  9. So US Air let’s you book into a class lower than the award you pay and you can call in for an upgrade when a seat opens up in first -for no fee?
    So unlike US Air (ie no changes to tickets at all after the first leg).

    Also, can you share how you obtained IC RA?

  10. @Mordy Sometimes it can take 2-3 agents before one will upgrade the class of service on an award with no fee. Some will say they want to start the award over, cancel and rebook, and charge a fee. Others will want to charge a fee for the class of service upgrade. And still others believe that no fee is attached since you aren’t changing flights. I have another story about this later in the trip, the Thai flight on the return…

    I was first referred for Royal Ambassador status (members who earn it get to refer someone / gift the status to someone) in 2005 or 2006.

  11. Hi Gary,
    Great trip report. Does one have to be Royal Ambassador to get upgraded to Club Level with IC hotels, or does PC Platinum status suffice?


  12. @Basil Priority Club status won’t get you anything at an Intercontinental property, Intercontinental status is Ambassador/Royal Ambassador.

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