Parking prior to air travel can be an adventure all its own — and quite an expense to boot. Luckily, travelers have choices, and making smart ones can yield not only savings but traveling peace of mind. Consider these smart choices when it comes to airport parking:
1. Choose long-term over close-in or garage parking
Airports have multiple parking lots, and you'll pay more for parking with closer terminal access. Additionally, you'll pay more for garage-kept parking than available surface parking. For instance, at Austin Bergstrom International Airport, garage parking costs $22 a day, in contrast to their very reasonable long-term surface parking rate of $7 a day. Shuttle buses or trams will still take passengers and their luggage where they need to go, so don't think you'll have to drag that roller bag the equivalent of several city blocks to get where you need to go. Plan ahead, give yourself a little extra time cushion, and save money using the cheapest airport parking option.
2. Choose a lot with perks
When you pay to park in a lot, know what else you are getting. If you need a jump start, tire inflation, or ADA assistance, will an employee of the lot be able to accommodate you? At some airports, these services are complimentary with on-site parking; off-site lots may have different perks, or none at all. Sometimes, paying for the peace of mind of basic vehicle services through a slightly higher per-day price from a lot is worth it, especially if you are traveling alone or will be arriving back at night or during inclement weather.
3. Choose a lot with sensible policies
Even if a rate for parking initially seems cheap, consider the whole picture. In addition to a daily parking fee, might you be expected to pay a transit fee or tax? Expected to tip? Charged for a full-day even if you only use half? Do your homework by being informed on these policies by reading about them online before you travel, and don't be afraid to ask questions of a parking attendant. That way, there are no financial surprises when you retrieve your car at the end of your trip.
4. Choose a lot that offers discounts
Airport lot franchises sometimes offer coupons, promotions, a frequent parker program (like this Park Perks program or this one with Parking Spot), or other discounts, including some to select groups like active/ex-military and senior citizens. If a discount is available, take advantage of it. And even if one isn't offered, ask an on-duty attendant about any monthly promotions, codes, or special offers (for referrals, for instance, that might be offered).
5. Choose a lot that's safe
Some financial decisions can easily be made in life by choosing the most economical option…but when it comes to individual safety while traveling, the cheapest is not always the best. When choosing a parking lot, consider its safety features: the type of fencing, the security of entrances/exits, the lighting, the available cameras and the employee assistance. If you feel safe entering and exiting the lot, place your faith — and money — with it. Otherwise, opt for another choice. Safety shouldn't be compromised to save a few dollars when traveling. Always travel (and park) smart.
6. Choose a friend
If the cost of vehicle parking is trip-prohibitive, ask a friend, relative, or neighbor for drop-off. Granted, this is not possible in all travel circumstances, but when it's practical to do so, ask. My saving-for-college teenage neighbor is more than happy to taxi me to the airport for half of what I'd pay a cab and a fraction of what I'd spend on by-the-day airport parking for a week's time — and I'm happy to forgo the hassle of parking when I can!