My Experience With a Less Expensive Alternative to Airport Parking

personally have never understood why anyone would use on-site airport parking unless he or she absolutely needed the convenience of just walking into the terminal. Off-site airport parking lots are often less expensive and simultaneously offer airport shuttle service and a frequent parking program where you earn free days of parking your vehicle — and sometimes you might even get a few extra complimentary benefits, such as bonus frequent flier loyalty program miles, an ice-cold soft drink or water, and perhaps a newspaper…

…but what if you do not need those benefits? What if you want an alternative which is as inexpensive as possible where saving money is your primary goal?

A Less Expensive Alternative to Airport Parking

As soon as I run out of free parking days at the parking lot near the airport which I currently use — which includes a frequent parking loyalty program where what is earned eventually expires and therefore has the potential for savings to be accidentally unrealized — I may consider simply using an even less-expensive alternative when parking my vehicle at the airport. That alternative is usually parking your vehicle in the parking lot of a hotel property — with permission, of course. Think about it: there are usually parking spaces at hotel properties near airports which are unused for the entire night — and most airport hotels already operate a shuttle service to the airport anyway. Other than the sunk costs, the only extra cost to the hotel is the miniscule amount of fuel caused by your extra weight to transport you to the airport in the airport shuttle of the hotel, which is already going to the airport anyway with regularity.

What you might expect to be inherent with airport parking could include:

  • Low cost
  • Convenient location
  • Secure well-lit area to park your vehicle
  • Dependable shuttle service
  • Service free of hassles

My Experience

My first time using one of these less-expensive airport parking alternatives cost me $27.20 to park my vehicle for a full week. That amount included all taxes and fees, including a service fee of five dollars — and every seventh day of parking is free of charge. This meant that my rate of $3.70 per day would up costing me less than $3.89 per day total.

I challenge you to find a comparable rate at a more “traditional” airport parking facility — even after you factor in whatever benefits you earn and use.

The service was simple to use as well: go to the official Internet web site of the low-cost alternative parking service and choose the parking facility where you would like to park — but read the reviews of other customers and read the provided details about that parking facility before you pay for your parking, which must be in advance.

Once you pay, you receive a receipt which you print to present to the facility on the day which you park. The receipt has all of the information you need on it, including times that you expect to arrive and depart, the service information of the airport shuttle, the address and telephone number of the hotel property, directions to the hotel property, your transaction identification number, the rate per day, and the total cost.

In my experience, the hotel property at which I parked was so loose with the procedure that I probably could have parked there without going through this service — but I would not recommend that, as the management of the hotel property has a right to call a towing company to take away your car if it sits in the parking lot unattended too long. Besides, to do so is unethical.

I had my choice of parking spots when I arrived. I chose a corner spot under a lamppost where only one car could park near my vehicle. The weather was warm — but in case of inclement weather, you have the option of relaxing in a comfortable chair in the climate-controlled lobby of the hotel until it is time for the shuttle to depart to the airport. Additionally, the hotel will most likely offer free access to the Internet with high-speed Wi-Fi service so that you may work while waiting — if you wait at all.

I am certain that the management of the hotel property would not mind if you purchased lunch or a snack at one of their facilities on premises. They certainly would not mind if you booked a room for one night if your flight is scheduled early in the morning and you are not based near the airport — but then again, you might be able to work out a deal with the management personnel at the hotel where you could park free of charge in their parking lot for the entire duration of your trip if you reserve one or more nights to stay as a guest at the hotel property. If you need use this option anyway — which would be significantly more expensive that solely paying for parking your vehicle — then you most likely do not need to pay for an airport parking facility of any kind.

Potential Disadvantages

My experience suggests to me that I did not miss more traditional parking facilities at airports — but I do see some potential pitfalls with using a less-expensive alternative to parking at the airport:

  • You must pay for your parking in advance, meaning you must calculate in advance how long you expect your vehicle to be parked there
  • If you retrieve your vehicle earlier than scheduled, you do not get a refund for the days you would have used but did not
  • If your vehicle is parked beyond the date when you were scheduled to pick it up, you could incur additional charges — depending on the facility
  • If you must cancel your reservation, you can receive a full refund before the date of when you expected to park your vehicle — but the service fee of five dollars is not refundable
  • You may be parking in different facilities, some of which may be unfamiliar to you — and the facilities with the lowest rates do tend to sell out quickly at times

Companies Which Offer Parking at a Low Cost

This list of companies — which include links for your convenience — is by no means an official endorsement by me; nor is it meant to be exhaustive. Rather, it is provided to give you options so that you may choose the best one for you. If I am missing any companies, please let me know in the Comments section below.

Summary

If your schedule is firm with little chance of deviation and you do not miss the familiarity of parking in the same facility — and, most importantly, you want to save a potentially significant amount of money with each time you park your vehicle at the airport — using a airport parking service alternative will most likely make sense to you.

If, on the other hand, you like to park in a familiar parking facility every time and enjoy the benefits and amenities that particular facility has to offer — and if you want to take advantage of optional services offered at an additional charge, such as car washing and detailing or having your pet watched while you are gone — then using a airport parking service alternative will most likely not be right for you, nor might it fit your needs.

There is actually a third option where you not only can park your vehicle near an airport at no cost to you; but you can actually profit from it. I intend to report on that option in more detail in a future article.

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

11 thoughts on “My Experience With a Less Expensive Alternative to Airport Parking”

  1. Beck says:

    I’ve done this and it was cheaper butI won’t do it at my home airport where cars need to be in gated, secured, monitored lots. Also to note is that it might be harder to get a jump if your battery is dead. This happened to me on my last trip. Official lots are quick to come to the rescue. Just some downsides to consider.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      That may be true, Beck — but I usually have jumper cables in the car with me wherever I go; and I cannot imagine that it would be difficult to get someone at a hotel to help jump the battery of my car if it died.

      In fact, I cannot recall the last time I had a problem getting someone to take a few minutes and help me jump a battery back to life — not that anyone would want to be in that position in the first place.

      Although wait times could be significant, another option is to belong to a roadside service club — such as that of the American Automobile Association, or AAA…

  2. Captain Kirk says:

    Brian,

    I like the article. I think it all depends on your departing airport. If you are flying out of EWR like I do, I would never use those off-airport lots. My best method is NJ Transit to the airport but for a 6AM flight it doesn’t work so in the event I do drive, I use lot P3. I can park, and boom I am on the airtrain and into the terminal in a few minutes. The lots are patrolled so the risk of theft and vandalism is very low. The off airport parking is certainly cheaper, but requires getting on a bus/shuttle, and that may only get you to an airtrain stop, not even the terminal. Add in the fact you travel in the winter, and they do a lousy job of plowing the off-airport lot, you could be in a bind. The on-airport lots are always well plowed.

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I used to have a favorite parking spot at Newark Airport, Captain Kirk.

      I forget which parking lot it was specifically; but I parked in the corner of one particular parking lot where there was a hole in the fence. A lot of people knew about it because I saw people using it all of the time. A simple walk of five minutes got me to Terminal C, which was appreciated — especially when I was carrying more than I usually do; or when it was bitter cold with a biting wind…

  3. Kira says:

    The last couple of flights we’ve taken, I’ve actually done the 1 night before at the hotel. With all of the end of the year promos going on, the cost paid for itself back in points, plus I got another night/stay toward elite status for the year.
    I’ve even done it at hotels that don’t offer a free shuttle, since Southwest was offering promo credits on Lyfy not to park at Love Field, we really only paid the tip!
    Doesn’t work as well of course for paid rates this time of year, but I’m doing a reward night at a Hyatt Place near the airport in Houston the day before our flight which is tons cheaper than the lot for 10 days. Free parking, free shuttle, oh and since it’s Hyatt Place, free breakfast. 🙂

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I am glad to read that you are benefiting from — and enjoying — the promotions and offers of which you are taking advantage, Kira. Keep it going!

      Sometimes spending a night at the hotel where you are parking your car prior to a trip can be a good idea — especially if your flight is scheduled to depart extremely early in the morning; and you are located in a city where traffic is a significant problem…

      …and, of course, the room rate and amenities included with it are favorable…

  4. escot says:

    Nice post, and I concur with the general positive tone. I’ve often used the hotel lots and service near richmond, VA airport (RIC)…. Only caution there I’d add is timing…. the shuttle service, while usually friendly as can be, often must make multiple stops at the several hotels in that area. (Even though they’re competing “brands,” the same company owns all of them) Same thing can happen on a return — you’ll have to call for the shuttle, then wait, the risk hitting multiple stops.

    I do like staying at the HI Express — esp. on points (10k less return)…. even for early flights, they so nicely provide an early bird breakfast option. (beginning at 4:00 a.m. or so)

    But back to my original concern, when pressed for time…. the economy lot at RIC airport is a winner. (the shuttles there pick you up at your car — and return you to the same spot) Time, for some of us, can be money.

    1. escot says:

      Going to contradict myself…. It no doubt depends on the airport. If you’re flying out of Dulles (IAD), then YES, even the economy lots at the airport are very expensive — and shuttles slow. The service with nearby hotels, like Crowne Plaza, super quick. (but prices can vary)

      Washington’s National Airport, yes, the airport hotel area hotels in theory can save you even more big money, as even “economy” parking at DCA is a huge expense, and shuttles (while short) there are quite unreliable. (I waited 45 minutes one early cold morning.) Far better if you can take a train to National (local or even amtrak ALX) Problem with DCA area hotels — many don’t participate with the on-line parking companies you mention.) The cheaper options that do can be rather far away — half hour or more in traffic.

      Last comment, relevant to all, be sure of the shuttle service hours…! Not much good to buy a ticket to a hotel parking shuttle — only to find out you need to hire a cab to go the two miles to the airport during twilight hours.. (been there, done that)

      1. Brian Cohen says:

        I should have read this subsequent comment first before posting my response to your last comment, escot. Thank you again for a very thoughtful comment.

        I will give one slight advantage to those parking lots which are far away from the airport: yes, they are usually cheaper; and if you used those parking lots often enough when gasoline prices were higher and you were driving in from that direction anyway, you saved a little bit of money on fuel — as well as some minuscule wear and tear on your vehicle.

        It is not much; but I try to look on the positive side…

    2. Brian Cohen says:

      You raised an excellent point, escot. Thank you.

      While many hotels do offer a proprietary shuttle service to the airport, there are also hotels — typically low budget to mid-range hotels; but higher-end ones have been known to be included as well — which pool together to share a shuttle service to the airport; and yes, the multiple stops can be a significant drain on time.

      It is best to call the hotel property at where you are thinking of parking your car and ask about whether or not their shuttle service is shared or proprietary — as well as how often the shuttle operates — for the purposes of saving time.

      I will counter your point with this one: there have been times where the shuttle bus of an airport parking lot has been known to circle the lot several times in search of passengers to take to the airport — which does consume time — or will drop off every passenger at their vehicles before me, when I get to be the last one to get to my vehicle, which can lead to me waiting behind a line of cars when paying while exiting the parking lot…

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