Airports often make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave your car there while you're on holiday and it can cost a fortune.
Yet by doing a quick comparison, and booking the right way, even on the day, you can nearly halve the cost in minutes.
Travel Money Checklist
Do you need airport parking?
Even if you do it the right way, airport parking can be expensive. The longer you're away the pricier it gets, so quickly weigh up the alternatives. Aside from bribing a relative into dropping you off with promises of duty-free bounty, it's usually cheaper to:
Use non-specialist train services
Dedicated 'airport express' train services are costly. But the same lines are often also used by normal rail services, so you can travel the same route much more cheaply, though it's likely there'll be extra stops. See Cheap Train Tickets.
Consider a pre-booked taxi
Local taxis can be a cheap option if you've heavy luggage. Don't rely on getting taxis at the airport for the return leg, as most airports generally give a monopoly to one firm, which bumps prices up as there's no competition.
Arrange with your local firm in advance to be collected, giving your flight number so it can vary pick-up time accordingly, and it's usually MUCH cheaper.
Get a coach
Dedicated airport coaches are often cheapest for getting to the airport, but there's a trade-off, since they usually take the longest. Book in advance and the savings can be huge. See National Express* and Megabus* (which also serves Edinburgh, Birmingham International and Southampton airports).
Leaving your car at home can be costly
While alternative transport methods are cheaper, watch out if you usually park on the street using a residents' parking permit or equivalent. Outrageously, if the parking bay your car is in is suspended, councils don't usually accept the excuse that you were on holiday and didn't check. So here are a few quick tips:
Check your council's website
Many councils have a part of their website that lists forthcoming roadworks and suspensions so it's always worth doing a quick check, and moving the car to somewhere unaffected if necessary.
Allow a trusted neighbour who has their own car insurance to move it for you
An obvious alternative is to give a trusted neighbour a key so they can keep an eye out and move the car for you. It's worth considering the insurance position of this though. It's likely it'll be covered by your insurance's 'third party emergency' driver's cover, though it's debatable whether avoiding a parking fine is an emergency.
If not and they have fully comprehensive insurance then often, although not always, it includes what’s called driving other cars cover. This provides them with third party cover in case there's an accident. Though always double-check your own insurer's terms.
Park in a council's special car park
Some councils operate special car parks where for about £5-£10 a day you can leave your car when you're on holiday to guarantee no fine. This is an ill-disguised money-making scheme which boosts council funds through the fear of parking penalties, but it may be a necessary evil for some - check with your local council.
For some, airport parking works out as an economical and hassle-free route, yet without a little prior thought you can end up paying substantially over the odds. There's a simple golden rule:
The earlier you book your airport parking,
the more you're likely to save
Book well in advance and you could cut the cost by up to a third, though the exact saving depends on when and where you're booking. But even if you've forgotten do to this:
Don't just turn up at the airport - booking first, even on the day of your flight, can save you money
The most expensive prices are almost always for those people who just drive in, park and pay. If you get on the web and book first, even if it's just before you head out (or your partner does it from a smartphone in the car) you'll usually save. Some inspiration from the MSE forum:
Just got a brilliant deal through BAA using one of Martin's links for a 4 day break and by parking in the short term parking it's only costing just over 40 quid instead of £115!! Granted we have booked for the August bank holiday in March, but I think it goes to show there are bargains to be had by booking a long way ahead.
Step 1: Use screenscrapers
The easiest way to find cheap parking is by using one of the special screenscrapers that search the web to find you the best deals. There are a number of these, but most of them tend to turn up similar results. However, due to commercial relationships some share with certain parking operators, it's possible to shave a few percent of the cost here and there.
Top airport parking screenscrapers
Here are the best, plus a couple of standalone operators that can offer cheaper rates if you go direct. It's well worth trying a few to find which offers the best price for your needs.
Holiday ExtrasOffers an extra 10-21% off & no card fees - the biggest of the comparison sites
The biggest of the sites, Holiday Extras* sells the whole range of major car parking options at each airport. It's been running since 1983 and has solid feedback. Plus go via the link above for an extra 10% off most car parks, as well as all airport hotels and lounges.
You'll also get an extra 21% off 25 car parks, and no credit or debit card fees. This is a handy extra as it usually charges 2% for credit cards (min £1.50, max £4), or for debit card payments, 9p for parking or 26p for hotels.
The offer's currently scheduled as ongoing, and won't work for most airport-owned car parks. It won't always have the cheapest price, so check the others below too.
SkyParkSecureOffers an extra 13-22% off & no booking fees
Get 13% off all airport parking, plus no booking fee (usually £1.95) when you book via this SkyParkSecure* link. The discount's currently scheduled as ongoing. Plus it'll also get 22% off 27 selected car parks.
If you're keen to avoid a long transfer, SkyParkSecure also has a useful 'show on map' search feature that lets you know how close the car parks are to your airport. It won't always come up with the cheapest price, so check the others below too.
APH (Airport Parking & Hotels)Get an extra 10% off (17% off APH Gatwick, 15% off APH Manchester & Birm)
Book through this special APH* link to get 10% off, plus 17% off APH's own car parks at Gatwick, and 15% off its car parks in Manchester and Birmingham. The discount's valid on airport parking, as well as airport parking with hotel packages, and is scheduled to end on 30 June 2013.
Of course, the discount doesn't guarantee you'll get the best overall price, so ensure you try the other comparisons too before buying. Watch out for the 99p credit card fee, though there's no charge if paying by debit card. It won't work for some airport-owned car parks.
FHR Airport ServicesOffers an extra 12% off. Includes some smaller operators & no card fees
Go through this FHR* link to get a further 12% discount on most airport hotels and car parks (though not all are participating, so check before you buy - discounts will be shown automatically). The discount's currently scheduled as ongoing.
FHR features as a provider on some of the other comparison sites, but go direct through it and you'll get a better deal, plus there's no charge for paying by credit or debit card via the link above. It'll also send registered users offers by email.
Cheap.co.ukOffers an extra 10% off & no card fees via code
Formerly Airport-Parking.co.uk, Cheap.co.uk offers a further 10% off its airport parking prices when you enter SAVE123 in the promo code box.
It won't work for official on-airport car parks at Gatwick, Heathrow, Stansted, Southampton, Glasgow and Aberdeen, and there are a few other terms and conditions to watch out for - check its site for more. There's normally a £1.50 card fee if paying online by debit or credit card, but use the code above and this is waived.
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Direct airport parking operators to check separately...
It's sometimes possible to beat comparison sites by going direct.
BCPPossible direct savings
One of the cheaper operators, BCP* is also worth a look.
If, after searching one of the comparison sites above, BCP comes top, then it's worth checking the direct cost via the BCP link above to see if it beats the price.
LHR AirportsOccasional special offers
LHR Airports* (formerly BAA), which runs some of the UK's airport parking, has a slick website promise: you won't find our parking for less. This claim stands up, but nobody sells it for more either, and where other parking options are available it's rarely cheapest. However, occasional special offers make it worth a quick check just in case.
Step 2: Check hotel-with-parking deals
Many airport hotels offer room packages that include parking for the length of your trip. This is great if you live a long way from the airport, or have a super-early flight. Better still, they often only cost a little more than the parking alone and occasionally have even been cheaper in the past - so you could view this as parking with a hotel room thrown in.
The airport parking screenscrapers above also list many of the hotel parking deals, and it's also worth trying Superbreak* where availability is limited. Just select your airport and choose from the options in the 'With or without parking?' dropdown when you search.
Do check how transfers to the terminal are arranged; while some hotels offer a 24-hour complimentary service, others may charge separately for the journey. It's also worth looking at the more general Cheap Hotel Deals guide to see if you can beat the price.
|Airport||On-the-day price p/w||Pre-booked p/w||With hotel (1)||Saving by booking|
1. Prices from Holiday Extras, incl 1 night in double room & transfer. Correct at time of writing (Jan 2013).
Once you've found the lowest price at your chosen airport, it's worth checking if you can get cashback on top. If you've never used cashback sites then read the Top Cashback Sites guide first for a full explanation.
Step 3: Find hidden local deals
Armed with the cheapest price for the big car parks, it's worth trying smaller ones to see if you can cut the cost further. Often, people who live close to airports offer their own parking services on any spare land they have.
Overheads are low, which means prices are too, but there's a trade-off here. They usually lack anything like the level of security offered by the dedicated car parks.
There are numerous sites that list parking spaces, and you should be able to find a competitive price in a couple of minutes. Again though, consider how you'll get from the space to the airport, and if it'll involve spending more, factor this into the overall cost. For the top sites, and how to find the cheapest spaces, read the full Parking Rental guide.
To help you find the best local car parking we've set up a range of special discussions focused on each airport; please read them and add your suggestions. There's some great savings to be found. One forumite even reports finding a week's parking for Heathrow for just £25 through paying to park privately in someone's drive:
Step 4: Choose the right airport parking spot
There are lots of different types of car park. Once you've found the cheapest price it doesn't necessarily mean it'll be the best for your needs, so use this quick guide to unravel the terms.
On-site parking. The airport operators' own car parks
This is the name given to car parks operated by airport companies. It can be something of a marketing trick, as occasionally 'off-site' car parks can be closer to the terminal building.
Off-site parking. Any car park not in the airport complex
This is simply any car park that isn't part of the airport complex itself. In other words, this is the name given to the invariably cheaper car parks operated by third-party companies, which lay on regular transport to the terminal building. The best of these are just as quick and convenient as on-site parking.
Meet and greet. Valet parking by another name
You drive to the terminal, and are met by a driver who you give your keys to; they then park it for you. When you land, the car's waiting at the terminal again. Great service, but usually more expensive (though not always, especially if you'd have to pay for separate travel to the terminal after parking - do check).
Warning! After you've handed your keys over to the valet, there's often only limited coverage for any damage caused to your vehicle whilst they're in charge. Such damage is a remote possibility, but it's nonetheless worth checking the parking company's terms before you buy and only going with this option if you're comfortable. It's also well worth taking any valuables out of your car, just in case.
Local car parks. Private, smaller places to park
Often, people and businesses close to the airport which have a bit of spare land will offer their own parking services, grabbing themselves a slice of the pie by undercutting the competition on price. On the downside, they generally don't offer anything like the same level of security, and availability is more limited.
What to look out for
Granted, there are more fun ways to spend time than comparing airport car parks. But to be forewarned is to be forearmed, so here's a quick checklist.
Transfer times to the terminal
The time taken by, and frequency of, the shuttle buses from car parks to the terminal is an important factor. If you're travelling at an unsociable hour, check buses stay regular throughout the night.
It can be a worry to leave your car parked anywhere whilst you're away. Thankfully, most airport car parks should have 24-hour CCTV and guard patrols. Local services may be less secure, so check first, and weigh this up with the price if considering one. Usually though, if there's a problem it's your responsibility, not theirs. To be on the safe side, don't leave valuables in your car while you're away.
Can you cancel?
If your trip isn't set in stone, it may be worth adding a 'cancellation waiver' to your parking booking. Some sites offer this add-on, where for an extra quid or so, you can be guaranteed a refund on parking costs if you need to cancel at short notice. Otherwise, you'll generally have to pay more to cancel a booking.
How safe are these companies?
As with all airport parking services, unexpected problems can arise. So it's about finding the best balance between lowest price and established reputation for your needs.
Make sure you only go with a parking company you've heard of and are happy to use. If there's only a few pence difference, it may be better to go with the established company with a reputation than a totally unknown name.
If you're going with meet and greet parking, after you've handed your keys over there's usually little coverage for any damage to your vehicle whilst they're in charge. Damage is unlikely, but it's nonetheless worth checking the parking company's terms before you buy, and only going with this option if you're comfortable.
If the company went bust, the total came to under £100 and you'd paid on a Visa or Mastercard debit, credit or prepaid card or an Amex credit or charge card, you may be able to get a refund under Chargeback.
Pay on a credit card and the Consumer Credit Act also offers protection but only for purchases over £100, unlikely for the cheapest parking. See the Section 75 guide for full info.