I prefer not to be encumbered by having to return a rental car on the day of a flight home from Europe, so our initial—but flawed—plan was to go online a few days before departure, book a hotel near the Frankfurt Airport, and return the car the night before our flight. That meant dropping the car at the airport and taking a taxi or a shuttle to the hotel. When I finally got around to make the booking, three days before departure, I realized our scheme had holes.

First, it was a mistake not to book earlier. The hotel we ultimately chose (stay with me and you'll find out which one) was much cheaper if booked seven days in advance, and for the date we required, prices near the airport and in Frankfurt were unusually high; probably due to some sort of congress or fair. Finally, whichever airport hotel we selected, without a car we would be stuck there for the evening—unless we wanted to taxi somewhere or take the shuttle to the airport and a train to downtown...then the train back and the shuttle again. Not good options. Over the years, I've stayed at several hotels near the Frankfurt Airport and the food and atmosphere leave much to be desired. On our last night, we wanted to walk the streets of a German town and find a traditional German restaurant. That's not really in the cards at the Steigenberger, the Sheraton, the Mercure, or any of the dozens of other Frankfurt Airport properties. I knew all this but just didn't think through the process.

So...Plan B. One of the hotels we considered was an InterCity, a chain owned by Deutsche Bahn with hotels at both the Frankfurt rail station and near the airport. We would return the car to the rail station, stay at the downtown InterCity, find a restaurant that fit our requirements, and board one of the many trains for the 10-minute ride to the airport in the morning. Except that the least expensive room was €169 and I thought we could do better. In my online wanderings I noticed there is an InterCity Hotel 150 meters from the Mainz rail station. Plan C...

Instead of €169 the Mainz InterCity price was €139 (around €80 had we booked at least a week in advance), not a great difference but the main lure was an evening in Mainz's Altstadt and Cathedral Quarter. A quick look at the German Rail website revealed several direct morning trains from Mainz to the Frankfurt Airport, with travel times ranging from 16 to 25 minutes. We could return the car in Mainz, take a taxi to the hotel, or return it to the airport and take the train back to Mainz. The first option is better for most travelers but for reasons that relate to our car rental business, I wanted the experience of returning a rental car to the Frankfurt Airport, something I hadn't done for a few years.

It all worked as planned. We first checked into a sparkling, modern room on sixth floor of the Mainz InterCity Hotel, drove 30 minutes to the Frankfurt Airport where we returned the car without the pressure of time, then caught the train from the airport to the Mainz rail station, and from there walked across the street to our hotel. In the evening we used the free local public transport passes which are a part of InterCity Hotel bookings and caught a bus from in front of the hotel for the brief ride to the old town. There we found a throng of several thousand enjoying the Mainz Christmas Market. On a side street, at the gemütlich Stadthaus-Schänke, we ate and drank well for €37, including beer and a shared dessert. In the morning we caught an ICE (InterCity Express) at 8:43 and 16 minutes later were in the airport's Terminal 1. Without rail passes the fare would have been €12 per person. Lufthansa's air/rail service has a bag check facility in the airport rail station which enabled us to almost immediately shed our luggage. (Note: we checked-in for our flight online the night before at the InterCity which provides a computer and printer in the lobby. In fact, the entire InterCity experience was first-rate). The two and a half hours before our flight were spent in Lufthansa's new business class lounge.

Book InterCity Hotels here.