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Tips for Cheaper, Safer Airport Parking

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Over 500 million passengers flew in the U.S. in 2011, and we would guess that around 90% of them hate airport parking. Airport parking is a pain. It can be exorbitantly expensive, infuriatingly hectic, and unnecessarily confusing. Nothing’s worse than frantically driving from lot to lot searching for a last-minute spot when you’re late for a flight. And when you do finally find parking, you could very well end up paying upwards of $100 for a week in a dubious locale.

Next time you travel, protect your wallet and mental health alike with these airport parking tips.

Do your homework
The biggest mistake you can make is driving to the airport without doing a little research. It’s not hard. If you’re looking for parking in a United States airport, check out TravelNerd’s airport guide. Simply enter which airports you’re flying to and from and choose the airport parking option. You’ll find an extensive list of parking choices with prices, coupons, addresses, and amenities (valet parking, security, etc.). You can filter your results and sort by price or distance from the airport. For airports not listed on TravelNerd’s guide, hop on Google. Google knows all.

Make reservations
The second biggest mistake you can make is not booking a spot in advance. This is particularly important at peak travel times. Going to the airport without reservations will work out fine most of the time. But once in a while, unforeseen circumstances will set you behind schedule and you don’t want your plan A to fall through – especially if you don’t have a solid plan B. So, when you have decided on the best parking lot, be sure to just reserve your spot online. Don’t risk losing your spot. Surprisingly enough, booking parking through an aggregator can be cheaper than booking directly with the lot. This isn’t always possible at airports but is fairly common with offsite locations.

Park offsite
You will almost always find cheaper parking when it’s not on airport property. Sure, the distance between your car and your plane is greater, but offsite garages sometimes offer shuttle service directly to and from the airport. This is actually quite nice because you’re dropped off exactly where you need to be and don’t have to lug your luggage across a giant parking lot. If the lot does not offer a shuttle service, you’ll have to determine how parking offsite and calling a cab compares in price to paying for a spot at the airport.

Take advantage of hotel parking packages

This is a really neat life hack that most people don’t know. Sometimes, if you book a night at an airport hotel, your reservation gets you free parking and a shuttle to the airport. And sometimes, booking a night at an airport hotel is cheaper than paying for a week of on-site parking. Seriously! You can save a solid $50 at certain airports. It’s worth checking out.

Expect delays
This is both an airport parking tip and a good piece of advice for flying in general. Leave early. Expect everything to go wrong. Expect to get lost on the way to the airport. Expect to get a speeding ticket. Expect that all the airport parking is taken. Give yourself plenty of time to get settled and recalibrate your plan if need be.

Thief-proof your car
Most lots have at least minimal 24-hour security. Verify the security situation before you fly and scan online reviews for past patrons that had problems. Remember, you’re leaving your car in an unfamiliar place for an extended period of time. Hide your valuables from view (or better yet, take them with you) and triple check that your doors are locked. A stolen GPS can sour even the best vacation.

Keep your parking ticket safe
If your lot dispenses time-marked parking tickets, don’t lose your ticket! Otherwise, you could have to pay a lot of money to retrieve your car. Put it somewhere safe within the car itself. Placing the ticket on the dashboard in plain sight will make it easy to remember.

Make note of where you park
You don’t want to spend the end of your journey wandering around the airport parking lot in search of your vehicle. Text yourself or a travel companion where the car is parked, and write it down on a piece of paper as well. When you come back from your trip, you won’t have to struggle to conjure up the floor number or lot section.

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About nerdwallet

  • MC

    Leaving your parking ticket on the dash in your vehicle is a big mistake and an invitation to car thieves. The easiest way for your vehicle to be stolen is for a thief to get into your car, drive it to the exit, pay the parking fees with the ticket and drive off. At a minimum lock the ticket out of sight in the trunk or glove box. Better yet put it in your wallet.