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Now it's hip to stay at the airport

Rancho Cucamonga's Aloft and Custom in L.A. may appeal to your wallet but their stylish touches will put a smile on your face.

October 26, 2008|Valli Herman | Herman is a Times staff writer.

Wit and style have come to the airport hotel, those often dully practical shelters for the business traveler. With the June opening of the 136-room Aloft in Rancho Cucamonga and last year's arrival of the Custom Hotel near LAX, leisure travelers can share the road warrior's affordable lodging.

Aloft, a new brand from Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, made its U.S. debut in Rancho Cucamonga, about five miles from Ontario airport. The hotels are positioned as lower-priced and highly stylish, and the chain is poised to grow to 500 locations near airports, college towns and business centers.

Aloft borrows the playful essence of its sister brand, the W hotels, with a smart mix of features that budget-savvy travelers will appreciate.

As part of a grand-opening special that runs through the end of the year, rooms booked by Friday for Friday or Saturday stays cost $79 a night ($86.90 with tax); Sunday through Thursday stays cost $119 a night.

I checked into America's first Aloft on a blustery October Saturday and found a bustling social scene. In the lobby, labeled re:mix, a man played pool while young travelers chatted in the deep sofas. The techno terminology extends to the self-serve cafe, re:fuel. The lobby lounge's name, w xyz, is a nod to the W's habit of labeling some hotel features beginning with the letter "w." Thankfully, I found no sleeping chambers called "wombs."

The public spaces blaze with vivid colors, clever lighting, fireplaces and photo-print pillows. A pool, gym (re:charge) and an outdoor fireplace allow for socializing.

The rooms steal from loft apartments, borrowing the high ceilings, tall windows and industrial-tinged decor. The walls are papered in textured gray.

My guest room's two queen platform beds were dressed in white down duvets and striped bolster pillows. Sheets of cork upholstered the headboards, which were built into a room divider, the back side of which efficiently functioned as shelf space, closet and bathroom wall.

Many stylish hotels overlook practicality, but this room included more than 10 feet of desktop and an adjustable task chair. An integrated plug system lets techies run programs from their laptops or their iPods through the 42-inch flat-screen TV.

With free Wi-Fi access throughout and rooms wired for cutting-edge technology, the Aloft hotel brand is aiming to be the hotel of the future. Yet its blend of style, function and affordability makes it right for right now.

Budget boutique

Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, there is a pug on my bed. And a Labrador and a terrier, each dressed like a nobleman, staring out from a tapestry coverlet.

At the Custom Hotel, the custom-made doggy duvet is just one example of the design wit that runs rampant throughout the 250 guest rooms and suites in this 12-story hotel within jogging distance of LAX.

The Custom brings a dose of distinctive boutique hotel terroir to the vin ordinaire of airport-adjacent lodging, and at competitive prices. Rack rates run from $199 to $299. Still, the Custom is probably the best boutique bargain in L.A.

In mid-September, I booked a deluxe king room for $90 ($102 with taxes) on a travel website, though the hotel's website offered it from $159.

Developer Avi Brosh has a fun concept in a great location that also attracts students from Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount universities, who drop their dough at the hotel's rooftop bar, weekend pool parties and comfort-food restaurant, Bistrotek.

Travelers may not, as I discovered, get great service. Housekeeping took nearly an hour to deliver toothpaste to me. At the restaurant, my chowder was gloppy, and the buns on my shrimp sliders were burned black. Yet my $10 continental breakfast arrived in 11 minutes.

My quiet corner room offered expansive views and floor space, and decor far less manic than other hotels. A plain white down comforter covered the platform king-size bed; two walls were painted flat white; the other two had floor-to-ceiling sheers. The bathroom was fresh, utilitarian and bright.

Some features are budget-cutters: The closet is an aluminum rolling rack; the carpeting is an industrial variety in rodent gray; and the writing desk is a countertop paired with a too-low, red-upholstered cube "chair."

Nine themed vending machines fill a fourth-floor room called Bazaar. "Salty" features tins of anchovies, Spam and bacon-flavored toothpicks. If you need a red clown nose or red false eyelashes, "Baroque" is your machine. Cue the squirting corsage.

Meeting rooms are whimsically themed: "Cow" comes with floor tiles photo-printed with meadow grass and aluminum rocking chairs. "Scribble" perches attendees on artists' benches with easels.

The cleverness is almost too much in the two tiny gyms, one an AstroTurf green labeled Horse Racing and the other in hot pink called Dog Racing. Each is an unsubtle commentary on how we look while exercising.

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