As the year-end travel season heats up, there is a bigger chance than ever of being caught in the crossfire of delayed flights or travel plans simply not working out as they should. Airport hotels do not have a reputation for being especially interesting places to stay, but this trend is slowly changing as some new properties prove that there is no need to sacrifice convenience for quality

(Nov 26): A few years ago, producer Christina Wayne decided to close out a trip to Rome by spending a night at La Posta Vecchia, a Renaissance villa once owned by John Paul Getty that features marble staircases, stone fireplaces and silk drapes that frame views of the Tyrrhenian Sea.

Its best amenity, though, is that it is an easy ride from Leonardo da Vinci Fiumicino Airport. “Our flight out was very early,” says Wayne, CEO of ­Assembly Entertainment. She chose La Posta Vecchia as a high-end alternative to an airport hotel, a move that paid off handsomely when she learned her flight had been cancelled. “We wound up having to stay the weekend. It was glorious!”

Airport hotels — those properties in or next to an airport that cater specifically to people in transit — have upped their game in recent years. The Fairmont Vancouver Airport, which sits directly above the US departures terminal, has a soundproofed spa and serves afternoon tea. Adjacent to the Denver International Airport’s Jeppesen Terminal is a Westin that offers mountain views and a rooftop pool. Next year, the TWA Hotel will debut in the Eero Saarinen-designed terminal at New York’s John F Kennedy International Airport to provide retro-styled relief to tired travellers.

But for the most part, airport hotels feel like utilitarian sleep boxes; even the best have a ­you-could-be-anywhere vibe. They are great if you have a four-hour layover and just need a shower and some shuteye, but if you’re staying longer, they are not the only option.

Some savvy travellers are booking five-star retreats that are almost as convenient. These are located close enough to the airport to work for long lay­overs, early departures, brief business meetings and international rendezvous, but because they are designed as destinations rather than stopgap lodging, they offer distinctive design, memorable meals and even some serious leisure activities.

At the new Solis Two Porsche Drive near Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta, guests can learn to drive sports cars. The Westdrift Manhattan Beach, 10 minutes from Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), has a nine-hole golf course. Farther afield, at Roseate House in New Delhi, a five-minute drive from Indira Gandhi International Airport, you can wander around acres of gardens or take a dip in the 100m swimming pool.

While these hotels may not be within walking distance of the luggage carousels, they do not require a trek downtown. Since many airports are located in outlying areas, an open-minded traveller can find a country property with lots of character. In the UK are grand estates-turned-­resorts; in France, it is manors and country inns.

In less cosmopolitan areas, the options can be even more rewarding: Consider the Umstead Hotel and Spa (photo below), just a seven-minute drive from Raleigh-Durham International Airport in North Carolina in the US, where you can get 24-hour room service instead of a bowl of bagels. At the following six properties, all under 20 minutes from a terminal, you will be praying for a flight delay.

Westdrift Manhattan Beach
A 10-minute taxi ride from LAX

Instead of battling Los Angeles’ notoriously tangled downtown traffic, head towards the beach. Though it is not directly fringing the ocean, the Westdrift has a laid-back, modern feel — like West Elm, in a good way. Amenities include an outdoor swimming pool, a nine-hole golf course, a crossfit-inspired gym, and an ­indoor-outdoor restaurant.

Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas
Ten minutes from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport

True to Texas stereotype, this resort does it big. Spread over 400 acres, it has three swimming pools, two golf courses, indoor and outdoor running tracks, and a sandy beach — all ­minutes from the airport. If you get in late, there is 24-hour room service. And if you have not had enough time in the air, you can sign up for an aerial yoga lesson.

Coworth Park (main photo)
A 20-minute drive from Heathrow Airport

It may not be obvious to those passing through but Heathrow is set in a posh part of the English countryside — Windsor Castle is just 20 minutes away. So is the Dorchester Collection’s Coworth Park, an elegant Georgian estate set in 240 acres of parkland near Ascot. For speedier access, the property also has its own helipad. Instead of a departures board, you will find smoked-oak floors, a spa, three restaurants and even a polo field.

Lansdowne Resort and Spa
A 15-minute trip from Dulles International Airport

You do not have to choose between a chain hotel or a 45-minute slog to downtown Washington. At Lansdowne, which overlooks the Potomac River, you can book a treatment in the 12,000 sq ft spa or hike one of the trails winding through the 476-acre property.

Solis Two Porsche
Five minutes from Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta Inter­national Airport

Go from the airport to the racetrack in 300 seconds flat. The year-old Solis overlooks the Porsche Experience Center at the carmaker’s North American headquarters. Guests can watch the action from the rooftop or take part in it, choosing from a fleet of dozens of vehicles and learning from an expert “drive coach”. There is also an indoor swimming pool, a 24-hour fitness centre and an airport shuttle every 30 minutes.

Roseate House, New Delhi
Five to 10 minutes from Indira Gandhi International Airport

Delhi’s airport has not one but several five-star hotels nearby — including a JW Marriott, an Andaz and the distinctive Roseate House. The 1.8-acre property has a striking contemporary design, a rooftop infinity pool, a full-service spa, four drinking and dining venues and its own theatre.