Airports can make more from parking and shopping than planes. Leave your car there while you're on holiday and it can cost a fortune.
But by doing a quick comparison and booking the right way, even on the day, you can nearly halve the cost in minutes.
Airport parking deals, incl:
Before you start looking for a cheap deal, here are the key must-knows:
Parking's often pricier than a train, taxi or coach
Even done right, airport parking can be pricey. The longer you're away the more it costs, so quickly weigh up alternatives. Aside from bribing a relative to drop you off with promises of duty-free goodies, it's often cheaper to:
Use non-specialist train services. Dedicated 'airport express' trains are costly. But the same lines are often used by normal rail services, so you can travel the same route more cheaply (it's likely there'll be extra stops). See Cheap Train Tickets. (In London, the Tube may be cheapest – see our London MoneySaving guide.)
Consider a pre-booked taxi. Local taxis can be cheaper if you've heavy luggage. Don't rely on getting a return taxi at the airport though. Airports can give a monopoly to one firm, bumping up prices as there's no competition. Book ahead with your local firm, giving your flight number so it can vary pick-up time, and it's often 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.
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 to do 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 using one of Martin's links for a four-day break. By parking in the short term parking, it's only costing just over £40 instead of £115! Granted we booked for the August bank holiday in March, but it goes to show there are bargains to be had by booking ahead.- Bigdaddy1210
Not all car parks are the same
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.
Beware hidden pitfalls – check transfer times, security and cancellation
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.
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 while 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.
If your trip isn't set in stone, it may be worth adding a 'cancellation waiver' to your parking booking. Some sites offer this as an 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.
Parking companies can charge through the nose if you drop off too early or collect too late. Yet often rates are done per 24-hour period - either from midnight or the time you arrive - in which case it costs no more to book your parking until later than you expect to return.
For example, if drop your car off at 10am and are due to fly back and land at 6pm a few days later, you can often book to pick your car up until midnight or sometimes 10am the day after without paying any more.
The advantage of this is that it protects you from being charged more if you return a bit late - in some cases, parking firms will charge a full day's rate if you stray over. See MSE Guy's Airport parking warning blog for a full explanation.
Always check with the company you've booked with as airport parking firms have different policies and this won't always work - it mainly applies to traditional long-stay car parks. 'Meet and greet' services will usually give you up until midnight on the day of your return regardless of when you book until, while if you book a hotel stay package you'll need to check the hotel's policy.
Check out the parking firm – and know your rights if something goes wrong
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.
Some are small names so search for some online reviews first if you’re unsure. If there's only a few pence difference, it may be better for your peace of mind 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 cover for any damage to your vehicle while they're in charge. Damage is unlikely, but it's worth checking the parking company's terms before you buy. If you're flying from Gatwick and want extra peace of mind you can check the airport's approved off-airport parking scheme run in partnership with the British Parking Association.
If the company goes bust, the total comes to under £100 and you 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. Other than this it's unlikely you'd be protected, so paying less for parking means you've less to lose.
If you DON'T park at the airport, watch where you leave your car
Watch out if you usually park on the street using a residents' parking permit or equivalent. Sadly, 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. If you're leaving your car at home, there are tips to help.
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. Yet it's worth considering the insurance position of this though.
If they have fully comprehensive insurance then often, though not always, it includes what's called driving other cars cover. This provides them with third party cover in case there's an accident. Always double-check your own insurer's terms though.
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 council.
Check comparison sites with discounts
The easiest way to find cheap parking is by using one of the special comparison sites that search the web to find you the best deals. They'll often give you a cheaper price than you'll get booking direct – but we've also blagged a few extra per cent off the following comparison sites' prices.
We've ranked the sites here by the size of the discount they offer, factoring in fees and range of airports covered too, but it's not an exact science and of course a bigger discount doesn't necessarily guarantee you'll get the best overall price. Prices change daily therefore it's well worth checking a few to find the best price.
Extra 10-30% off and covers wide range of car parks
Holiday Extras* – the biggest of the sites
The biggest of the companies, Holiday Extras* has been running since 1983 and sells a wide range of car parking options at most major airports. Plus go via the link above for an extra 10% off most car parks, which we've blagged, and up to 30% off some.
You'll also get 14% off all airport hotels, 15% off all lounges and it won't charge any booking fees with our link.
The offer's ongoing, but won't work for most airport-owned car parks. Holiday Extras won't always have the cheapest price, so check the others below too.
Extra 20-35% off, but £1 booking fee
Looking4Parking* – no cancellation fee
We've blagged up to 35% off airport parking with Looking4Parking.com* – you need to enter AWMSEPLUS in the promo code box, though this should be done automatically after you click through. This discount gives a guaranteed minimum 20% off at the majority of the 300-odd airport car parks in the UK.
Bookings can normally be cancelled up to 24 hours before the date of parking, except for certain "non-flexible" bookings which are clearly marked.
There's a £1 booking fee, and text confirmation can be added for 49p. Some airports impose a forecourt charge for meet and greet services – be aware that Looking4Parking may pass this charge on.
Extra 13-35% off, with useful maps
SkyParkSecure* – no booking fees
We've blagged at least 13% off most airport parking, if you book via this SkyParkSecure* link. At 36 car parks including those at Luton, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Heathrow you'll get at least 20% off, while at Gatwick and Manchester airports it's up to 35% off. The deal we've blagged also means you pay no booking fees.
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.
Extra 12-30% off – incl smaller firms
FHR Airport Services* – no booking fees
Go through this FHR* link for a further 12-30% discount on most airport hotels and car parks, which we've blagged (though not all are participating, so check before you buy – discounts will be shown automatically). The offer is ongoing and there are no booking fees via our link.
An up-to-15% discount also applies to airport hotels and parking packages and there's a 10% discount off UK and international airport lounges.
Some airports impose a forecourt charge for meet and greet services. If so, FHR will include this in the cost and you'll be shown the breakdown before purchasing.
FHR is a provider as well as a comparison site, so you may also see it listed on some rival sites.
12-30% off – no cancellation charge
Trusted Travel – also offers free SMS reminders
Go via this Trusted Travel link to get a blagged 12-30% off most airport parking in the UK (the code should be applied automatically when you click through). Certain airport-owned car parks aren't included as they don't offer discounts through comparison sites.
As well as the discount on parking it's waiving all booking fees, the SMS reminder fee and the charge for cancellation cover (though some car parking firms won't allow you to cancel your booking under any circumstances, so check). Trusted Travel compares prices for airport lounges and hotels, but these aren't covered by the discount.
To do a really comprehensive search, it's worth also checking the following:
- Airport Parking & Hotels* – use our link for a blagged extra 20% off APH's own car parks at Gatwick, Stansted, Luton, Manchester, Birmingham and Edinburgh, plus 16% off the other airport car parks listed – and no booking fees.
- Airparks* – go via our link for a blagged extra 25% off Airparks-branded car parks and 12% off other car parks – with no booking fees.
- BCP* – offers a blagged 13% off most airport car parks, with no booking fees. If, after searching one of the comparison sites above, a BCP car park comes top, it's worth checking the direct cost via this BCP link to see if it beats the price.
Check directly with parking operators too
It's sometimes possible to beat comparison sites by going direct. Compare direct prices with those you were quoted from the comparison sites above, then go with whatever's cheaper.
Special offers at Heathrow
Heathrow Airport Parking* – no booking fees
If you want to park directly at the airport, it's rarely discounted, but Heathrow Airport Parking* has a slick website promise: you won't find our parking for less.
We've checked out comparison sites, and this claim seems to stand up, but do your own comparisons before you book. Look out for occasional special offers too.
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Armed with the cheapest price for the big car parks, it's worth trying smaller, private ones to see if you can cut the cost further. eBay-style parking marketplaces allow those living close to airport car parks to offer parking on their own drives or spare land.
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. Check out Just Park*, Park Let*, and Your Parking Space, but for full help first read the Rent Your Parking Space guide.
Probe local knowledge for other options, eg train station car parks
It's also worth checking other local car parks in the vicinity of the airport as they may work out cheaper. For example, some forumites have reporting that parking at nearby train stations has saved them some cash.
Always carefully check the terms of any car park you leave your car at and consider whether the level of security it provides is satisfactory for you.
Plus 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.
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 sometimes even cost less – so you could view this as parking with a hotel room thrown in for 'free'.
As well as the airport parking comparison sites listed above, it's worth checking Superbreak* which has some limited availability. Just select airport extras from the tabs at the top of the screen and choose from the options under the 'With or without parking?
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.
Typical prices and savings
On-the-day price p/w
With hotel (1)
Saving by pre-booking
|1. Prices from APH, including one night in double room pre-flight & transfer. Prices for March 2018.|
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.
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