On a recent trip to North Carolina, an IndependentTraveler.com staffer found herself circling LaGuardia Airport -- but she wasn't on a plane. Instead, she was driving her car with growing irritation from one airport parking lot to another, searching for an empty space to leave her vehicle while she was gone. With no prior reservation, she came up short at both LaGuardia's long-term lot and several off-airport locations. Finally, desperate and in danger of missing her plane, she found an attendant willing to accept a hefty bribe and landed a space at an off-airport lot.
Anyone who's had a similar experience knows that the hassle of flying can start well before you arrive at the terminal. If you know you'll need long-term parking -- especially at busy travel times like holiday weekends and Monday mornings -- then it's best to plan ahead. How can you ensure your spot in a crowded lot? Read on for our tips.
Discount Airfare Deals
At the Airport
Your closest, most convenient parking options are usually the airport's own lots and garages. Unfortunately, you often pay more for that convenience, even when you park in the more economical long-term lots. We've put together a sampler of the lowest available long-term parking rates at major airports around the country. If yours isn't listed, check your airport's Web site for up-to-date parking prices.
And these are "economy" lots! Shorter-term parking at the airport can cost you well over $30 to $50 a day and are a rather exorbitant option for trips longer than a couple of days.
Unfortunately, in high travel seasons the economy lots fill up quickly, and most airports won't let you reserve a space there ahead of time. Some airport Web sites do let you check the current status of their parking lots before you leave for your flight -- so if the lot you want is nearly full, you'll have time to consider public transportation or call a few off-site lots.
16 Ways to Get Through the Airport Faster
If you're willing to travel a bit farther from your car to the terminal, you can often save money by parking at an off-airport lot. Run by private companies, many of these lots offer perks like valet parking, car washes and even oil changes (extra fees may apply). Even when their rates are higher than those at the airport, one major advantage of the off-site lots is that you can reserve your space ahead of time -- a good idea during peak travel times.
Private lots may be farther from the airport, but they often offer a more pleasant experience than lugging your bags across an enormous economy lot and crowding into a shuttle bus to get to your terminal. Frequent flier Andrew Bartels, who regularly travels out of Newark for business, has used both the airport's economy lot and private off-site parking -- and got far better service at the latter on his last trip. "The experience was great," said Bartels. "You pull in, leave your keys in the ignition, someone grabs your bags out of the car and puts them on a small shuttle. They give you a ticket and off you go to the airport, normally within five minutes. When you come back home, you call an 800 number and they send a shuttle for you. When you arrive, your car is running with the heat on. You pay via credit card and you are on your way."
You can find lots near your airport with a simple Internet search or a flip through your local phone book. One useful site is LongTermParking.com, which offers coupons from its affiliate parking lots around the country. Typical offers include free nights and discounted rates. In a test of several airport locations, the coupons provided by this site yielded lower total prices than those at the airport's own lots.
We also like AboutAirportParking.com, which offers user reviews and ratings for hundreds of independent airport parking lots. Airparks.co.uk is a good source for parking in the U.K. and Ireland.
Airport Security: Your Questions Answered
Airport Hotel Parking Packages
Many travelers stay at airport hotels the night before a trip, usually to avoid getting up at 4 a.m. for an early flight. While that hotel stay is typically thought of as an extra expense, it doesn't need to be -- particularly if you're going on a long trip and the hotel offers parking while you're gone. In fact, staying at a hotel could even save you money.
We tested a few different cities on the most popular site for hotel parking packages, ParkSleepFly.com. In Chicago, the lowest hotel rate we found near O'Hare was $67.99 a night at the Days Inn O'Hare West with up to seven days of parking. Say we spent one night at the hotel and then traveled for a week; since seven days of parking at the airport alone would cost $63, combining the two meant we were essentially paying only $5 (plus tax) for that hotel room -- not a bad deal.
We did even better in Portland, where a one-night stay at the Rodeway Inn started at $74 plus taxes with up to seven days of parking. The weekly parking rate at PDX is $130, so staying in a hotel the night before would actually save you about $50.
You May Also Like
--written by Sarah Schlichter