Should you park at the airport before you fly somewhere? Airports hope you answer “yes,” but frequent travelers like Andy Abramson are unconvinced. They almost never park at the airport, and with good reason.
“There’s really little value in parking at the airport,” says Abramson, a frequent air traveler who runs a communication company in Los Angeles. “Not to mention the risks of damage to your car.”
He’s returned from trips to find dents, scratched doors, and cracked windows. If he doesn’t rideshare to the airport, he looks for a safe, off-airport option in Los Angeles. Some hotels bundle an overnight stay with parking.
“The Hilton LAX has offered some great deals in the past,” he says.
Airports hope you don’t read the rest of this story. That’s because parking and car rental revenues accounted for $3.7 billion in annual U.S. airport revenues, or about 41% of their non-aviation income, according to a recent study.
A large hub airport earns an average of $63 million a year from parking fees. Apart from airline revenue, it’s the single largest source of income, which may explain why airports sometimes push so hard for passengers to use their parking.
Airport parking can cost more than your airfare, in some cases. A recent survey found that the world’s most expensive parking is in London, where you can spend as much as $244 a week. Boston’s Logan Airport also ranks highly ($136), and so does San Francisco ($131).
As it turns out, there may be lots of alternatives to parking at the airport, beyond ride-sharing and mass transit. They range from the bundled “park, sleep fly” options Abrams used to off-site parking lots that use advanced algorithms to find you the best — and cheapest — spot.
Bottom line: You should almost never park at the airport. There are usually alternatives to consider.
Why you shouldn’t park at the airport
Here’s why you should never park at the airport, according to experts:
- It’s almost always more expensive than off-airport parking.
- There are better ways to save time, like a park and fly option.
- Your vehicle might be damaged, particularly in a remote lot.
- Parking rates (and perks) are more competitive away from the airport.
Park, sleep and fly
Parking at a hotel is one of the best, and perhaps most overlooked options. John Madden, a retired government employee from Rochester, Mich., decided to do that on a recent flight out of nearby Detroit.
“I had an early morning flight and didn’t want to deal with the stress of a 40-mile drive with commuters and having to get up extra early, and I absolutely did not want to be late for or miss my flight,” he recalls.
His solution? He found a hotel and parking package through a site called ParkSleepFly.com, which combines one-night hotel stays with long-term parking offers. But many airport hotels also advertise park and fly options.
“I saved $20 on the parking portion compared to using only a private off-airport parking lot as I usually do,” says Madden. “The hotel used a private off-airport lot with frequent shuttles. Very convenient.”
The experience made for a less stressful trip.
“I was rested and relaxed at the airport instead of frantic,” he says. “A bit of an indulgence.”
This site finds spare parking spots
If you’d rather park closer to the airport, you have lots of choices. You can visit an off-airport parking facility (coupons are readily available online to reduce your price). A site like AirportParkingReservations.com negotiates with parking vendors across the country, too. Choose a reputable, covered parking spot with a trusted parking provider for the best results.
But there are other ways to avoid parking at the airport. When Lauren Keys and her husband needed a parking spot at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport for a few days, they worried about the cost. As budget-conscious travelers, they usually rideshare to the airport or ask friends to drop them off. And they were nervous about parking their van just anywhere.
They discovered a site called Way.com that helped them find unused parking spaces near the airport.
“We thought it felt a little scammy, so when we showed up with our parking voucher, we talked to the manager, security, and valet folks at the hotel to confirm that what we were doing was legit,” says Keys, who writes a personal finance blog. “They confirmed Way.com was a partner, and it was a breeze.”
She estimates she would have paid $30 a day to park at the airport. Way.com’s cost was just $20 a day.
Note: Some sites charge reservation fees, so pay close attention to the fine print before you book.
Essential advice for airport parking
Here are some expert tips for finding the best spot close to the airport.
Go for a trusted name. That’s the advice of Thomas Spagnola, the vice president of supplier relations at Fareportal, a travel technology company. He prefers Park N’ Fly, The Parking Spot or Wally Park. “I use the big three is because they have more shuttles are running consistently to and from the airport, so my wait time isn’t too long,” he says.
Make a reservation. If you’re flying during a busy time of the year, parking fills up quickly. “During holiday seasons and peak tourist season, on-airport options are usually very full and the cheaper parking options are at capacity,” warns Taylor Randolph, a spokesman for Parkfellows, a site that helps travelers shop for airport parking. “Parking rates will increase for off-airport parking due to the increased demand, so it’s best to reserve airport parking before this happens if travelers want the best price.”
Run the numbers anyway. John Rose did on a recent trip from Rochester, N.Y., from Dallas. “Normally, when we fly, we stay at a Comfort Inn hotel, which typically doesn’t charge much to park while we’re gone,” he says. “However, this time, things changed. We called various hotels and they said they now charge $8 to $10 per night to park, in contrast to the previous policy of about $25 to $50 flat rate for a week or more. Not good.”
If you’ve made it this far in the story, your local airport is not happy with you. Because now you’ll save money on parking and avoid those high airport rates. It’s as easy as finding the best option for your next flight and always doing the math.