No, Transit hotel and Airport hotel are not the same thing

by Anshul
a building with a walkway and a walkway

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In a recent conversation about airport hotel options in Johannesburg (JNB), my friends were using the terms ‘transit hotel’, and ‘airport hotel’ interchangeably to describe the two options at JNB – The Protea Transit Hotel and InterContinental Johannesburg O.R Tambo Airport. I tried to clarify that ‘Transit hotel‘ and ‘Airport hotel‘ were not the same thing, but only managed to induce confused looks on both their faces. The two JNB hotels being discussed could not be more different, in type, location, and the target audience. Let me explain 🙂

As the name suggests, the Protea Transit Hotel is located in the transit zone of Terminal-A at JNB, is exclusively for international transit passengers (domestic passengers are not permitted) and requires an onward boarding pass or e-ticket to access the hotel. My last visit to this transit hotel was when I travelled from Toronto, Canada to Gaborone, Botswana: YYZ-FRA-JNB(transit hotel)-GBE.

Transit hotel and Airport hotel

Image Credit: Protea Transit Hotel

Intercontinental Johannesburg O.R Tambo Airport hotel on the other hand is a full service hotel located outside the airport, a quick walk across from the arrivals terminal. The hotel is accessible to everyone, including those that don’t plan to fly anywhere. This was my preferred hotel when I travelled to JNB on short business trips.

Transit hotel and Airport hotel

Image Credit: Intercontinental O.R Tambo Airport hotel

So in this example, Protea Transit Hotel is strictly a Transit Hotel, and Intercontinental is an Airport Hotel. While there are no strict definitions of either, here is how I distinguish between the Transit Hotel and Airport Hotel;

Transit hotel

Accommodations located inside the airport, ideally airside, and can be accessed by travellers without going through passport control. They cater to short term stays for those in transit that need a place to rest before continuing their journey. A boarding pass or an e-tkt is required to access transit hotel facilities.

Aerotel, Minute Suites, and YotelAir are great examples of transit hotel brands. Located inside airports, they offer basic and comfortable amenities like bed, WiFi, attached shower rooms, Tv, baggage storage, etc. Transit hotels are not full service hotels, and can be booked on an hourly or nightly rate.

Sleeping pods are a wonderful alternative to transit hotels and cater to passengers with long layovers airside. Companies like GoSleep have tapped into this demand around the world by offering lie flat pods equipped with privacy panels,  and power ports.

Transit hotel and Airport hotel

Image Credit: GoSleep

Airport Hotels

Traditionally airport hotels are connected to the airport but outside passport control, or located within walking distance of an airport terminal. TWA hotel in JFK is another good example of an Airport hotel. Airport hotels are excellent option for travellers that need a place to stay before or after a flight, and offer full service amenities like breakfast, pool, gym, lounge/bar, etc. However, over time this loose interpretation has stretched to absurd proportions as some hotels advertise themselves as ‘airport hotels’ despite being located miles away simply because they offer an airport shuttle service.

I wonder if this distinction is blurred on casual travellers due to sneaky hotel marketing, and so the terms are used interchangeably. But frequent travellers would be more adept at recognizing the difference between Transit hotel and Airport hotel, hence use the terms appropriately?

Do you have a favourite transit or airport hotel? Share in comments below.


Heather January 18, 2023 - 10:29 am

The fun part about the Protea Hotels near JNB is that there are two, and the names are very similar. One is a transit hotel, the other is an airport hotel.
I’ve stayed in the airport hotel a number of times as it is conveniently located and also has an aviation theme throughout and you can get views over the runways.

Anshul January 18, 2023 - 11:33 am

Did not know about the aviation themed Protea airport hotel – thanks! They are such good Bonvoy redemptions as well.


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