On a recent three-week trip from my home airport, I chose to stay the night before departure at an airport-area motel. Why? Even though the airport is only 25 minutes from my home, the motel's stay-park-fly package was the best deal. The room rate was $80 for one night, with shuttles to/from the airport and up to 30 days of parking included. The airport's long-term parking lot charge would have been $180 and the round-trip taxi fare from my home would have been close to $100.
My situation wasn't unique. Airport parking at even long-term or "economy" lots can be pretty expensive. At Seattle-Tacoma, for example, the least expensive parking is $28 per day or $130 per week, and costs are in the $20 range at many large fields. Independent off-airport lots typically charge just enough less than the airport to generate business. And even when you live relatively close to your airport, taxi and shuttle rates can often cost more than one night in a motel.
If you have to drive more than 50 miles to catch a flight, a parking package can look even better. Also, by staying at an airport-area motel, you can pretty much assure yourself that you won't encounter any unexpected delays in catching your flight.
Hundreds of airport-area hotels offer packages that combine one night's accommodation with up to 30 days of "free" parking, although most stop at seven, 10, or 14 days—in the hotel's parking area, with shuttle service to/from the airport. If you plan to arrive back home on a very late flight, most hotels also let you take the overnight stay at the end of your trip instead of the start. Most also provide for parking beyond the nominal limit for an extra daily charge.
I know of three online agencies that specialize in parking packages at airport hotels:
* Park Sleep Fly, the pioneer in the field, currently lists participating hotels near about 150 large and medium-size airports in the United States and 33 in Canada.
* Stay 123/Hotel N Parking, apparently the same outfit, provides similar coverage.
* BuyReservations posts accommodation/parking packages near 70 U.S. airports plus Montreal.
Park Sleep Fly and Stay 123/Hotel N Parking list mainly the same hotels, but the overlap isn't total. You might as well check all three agencies just in case any one agency doesn't cover all your options.
Also, many airport-area hotels and motels independently offer similar packages. If you don't find what you need on one of the nationwide sites, you can Google something like "airport hotel parking packages (city)" to find other choices. Also, your travel agent may have access to deals.
Although the online blurbs often boast "free" parking, the one-night package room rate is almost always higher than the hotel's lowest available rate. But the difference in rates is much less than the cost of parking for a week in an airport-area parking lot. I've usually found the premium for a week or more of parking works out to only a few dollars per day, and much less than you'd pay at most big airports for just the parking.
At an airport with high long-term rates, a parking package is a no-brainer. But at an airport such as Charlotte, where long-term parking is just $5 per night, the airport is likely to be a better deal.
The online airport parking specialist agencies listed also say they offer similar deals at major cruise ports. But when you take a closer look, you find that most of the "cruise port" listings are actually for airport-area hotels with shuttles to/from the actual port area. And, in many cases, the "free" shuttle is one-way only: You pay for the return trip. Only a few hotels are actually near the port.
Ed Perkins Seniors on the Go is copyright (c) 2014 Tribune Media Services, Inc.
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This article was originally published by SmarterTravel under the title Avoiding Airport-Parking Gouges. Follow Ed Perkins on Google+ or email him at email@example.com.