The Utlimate Guide to Airport Parking

No matter the airport, the one constant is parking options as far as the eye can see. But, not all parking lots are the same. In fact, where you park at an airport can make your trip more or less stressful and costly.

The best game plan is to determine your airport parking options before you leave for your trip, and this website is your one-stop guide for getting all the information you need to find the best parking deal that meets your preferences.

Table of contents

    Types of Airport Parking

    At most U.S. airports, you have the choice of three main types of airport parking:

    1. Airport owned and operated lots
    2. Privately owned airport parking lots
    3. Hotel parking near the airport

    Overview

    Lot type Location Cost Security Amenities
    Airport owned On airport grounds, close to terminal Most expensive Large area to secure & watch Very few, if any, beyond a free parking shuttle
    Privately owned 3rd party lots Off-site, around perimeter of airport Moderate More compact area to secure, generally fenced-in These companies often set themselves apart with amenities & service
    Hotel lots Short distance from airport Inexpensive Less secure, open access Rarely anything outside the hotel shutle

    Take a look at more in-depth information to help you decide which option is best for you.

    Airport owned & operated lots

    Distance from the airport

    These are the parking lots and parking garages you see within the airport grounds.

    They are owned by the airport itself and are super close to the terminal, often within walking distance.

    For lots farther back from the terminal entrance, most airports run a parking shuttle from designated parking shelters near those lots to the terminal. However, many airports have limited shuttle service during late evening hours.

    Pros / cons of airport owned lots

    Pros

    • Usually closest option to terminal
    • Short term / hourly parking available
    • Parking shuttle

    Cons

    • Busy area, long term lots may not be as secured
    • Higher cost than 3rd parties or hotels
    • No advanced reservations

    Cost

    The airport authority or an airport commission in the state or municipality in which the airport is located runs the airport and sets parking fees.

    Parking at the airport is the most expensive option. The reason may be simple economics – the closer you are, the more you pay for that convenience – or dictated by the airport’s operating expenses or bottom line margins.

    The parking fee structure offers:

    • Hourly rates for those who are picking up or dropping off passengers and want to go into the airport with them
    • Short-term rates for a few days of parking
    • Long-term parking for a week or more

    Using airport lots

    No reservations are accepted, with parking spots on a first come, first serve basis. To help minimize congestion, some airports offer a parking update status on their website so you can see before you leave which parking lots are filled or nearing capacity.

    Basically, you pull up to the parking area, where there is either an attendant or an automated ticket machine. You get a ticket, enter the lot, park your vehicle and head to the terminal.

    When you leave, you hand the attendant your ticket or insert it into the automated ticket machine. The price you pay is based on the number of hours or days you were parked there.

    Expect to use a debit or credit card to pay for parking, since only lots with attendants except cash.

    Some airports offer valet parking, which features curbside service. Airports typically outsource valet parking to a third-party parking service.

    With valet airport parking, you drive your vehicle up to the terminal and a valet will park it for you. Parking fees for premium valet parking are nearly triple the cost for regular parking.

    Security of airport lots

    The security of parking lots and parking garages within airport grounds could be an upside or a downside, depending on the airport and where your car is parked.

    I’d love to hear if anybody has any stats on this, but if I had to guess, the amount of vehicle and foot traffic so close to the airport can actually make airport parking a lot less secure. With so much activity going on, it’s less likely people would notice someone trying to break into your car. I don’t have any objective evidence of that so take it with a grain of salt but something to think about.

    At first glance, you would think these types of lots are the most secured because they are on airport grounds that have security all over the place.

    But, security has to contend with a lot of traffic and movement, the vastness of the exterior area itself, and a whole lot of parked cars to monitor.

    Plus, most airports do not have a security fence around the grounds, so pretty much anyone can get into the lots, especially those farthest away from the terminal, and look for unlocked doors or break a window without anyone noticing.

    Airport lot amenities

    Very few amenities are included with parking at the airport. Most airports have parking shuttles for those who have to park in lots quite a distance away from the terminal. And some airport parking lots have electric vehicle charging stations.

    Privately-owned airport parking lots

    Distance from airport

    Privately owned airport parking lots are off-site, generally around the perimeter of the airport grounds or really close to the airport.

    In some cases, you’ll find these dedicated airport parking facilities physically on property owned by the airport or just outside the general passenger pick-up and drop-off areas.

    Pros / cons of 3rd-party lots

    Pros

    • Less congested area
    • Lower costs than airport
    • Reserve parking in advance

    Cons

    • Have to take shuttle to terminal
    • No hourly options
    • Space restrictions

    Cost of 3rd party lots

    Because they are privately owned, the owners of these lots set their own parking fees. As such, the cost varies among companies, but because of the close competition, you can find some really low rates.

    In some cases, you can save as much as 70% on parking rates versus parking at the airport.

    As a general rule of thumb, expect third-party owned airport parking facilities to be cheaper than the airport owned lots, but more expensive than hotel parking.

    Also expect to pay an airport tax fee, a tax municipalities or airports set and privately owned airport parking facilities pass on to consumers.

    Using 3rd party lots

    Unlike parking at the airport, you can reserve a parking spot with advanced online reservations. This comes in handy during peak travel times, like holidays.

    When you drive into a privately owned parking lot, you obtain a ticket when you enter and then pay upon leaving for the number of days your car was parked.

    The parking fee structure is daily, with discounted pricing for prepay and long-term parking.

    Privately owned airport lots emphasize service. As soon as you park, don’t be surprised to see the free shuttle service at your vehicle ready to assist you with unloading and loading your luggage and taking you to the airport terminal.

    Security of 3rd party lots

    Because these lots are a little bit farther away from the airport, their locations, in general, discourage people from meandering around.

    There’s less foot traffic and other hectic activity going on, making their security more manageable.

    There’s usually only one entrance and exit, they are staffed 24/7, there’s good lighting, and security cameras all around.

    Additionally, high fences around the lot keep people out, so it’s harder for someone to get into the lot unsupervised and wander around without personnel noticing.

    And with shuttles constantly going through the lot, it’s pretty hard for someone not to notice suspicious activity.

    3rd party lot amenities

    You’ll find a broad range of amenities with privately owned airport parking providers that offer convenience and service.

    Some free parking amenities are:

    • Covered parking
    • Indoor parking
    • Bottled water and a newspaper
    • Electrical charging stations
    • Luggage assistance
    • Free shuttle service, with the drivers loading and unloading your luggage
    • Cleaning off your vehicle if it snows

    In addition, you have the option of choosing fee-based amenities, such as a valet parking service, car wash and detailing, oil changes, and other vehicle maintenance.

    Hotel airport parking

    Overview

    Hotel airport parking lots are at hotels, usually one to five miles from the airport, but still farther away from the other two types of airport parking.

    Basically, the hotel makes extra money by charging you to park in their lot.

    Pros / cons of hotel lots

    Pros

    • Inexpensive
    • Can make advance reservations
    • Away from hustle & bustle of aiport

    Cons

    • Must reserve via online sites that take a book fee
    • Long wait time for shuttle
    • Open, generally unsecured lots at hotels

    Cost of hotel lots

    Fees vary since most hotels use an online parking service. These sites have a revenue sharing agreement with hotels where they split the revenue so both parties make money.

    Online reservations are required, but not directly through the hotel. Hotels only book reservations for airport parking that include overnight accommodations, like a stay, park, fly package.

    While fees vary among sites and hotel locations, you can expect to pay a booking fee, which can be fairly high.

    As such, hotel parking is probably not the best value if you’re parking for only a few days because the added fees make it more expensive than the daily rate at the airport or privately owned airport parking lots.

    But, if you’re staying for a long period of time, hotel parking can be the cheapest option because the daily cost is much lower.

    Using hotel lots

    Unlike airport and privately owned airport parking lots, you must reserve hotel airport parking in advance.

    Upon arrival at the hotel, you park in the area designated in your booking reservation. The hotel shuttle then takes you to the airport.

    Most hotels only have one or two shuttles, so expect to wait.

    Leave yourself at least 45 minutes for the hotel shuttle to arrive. I’ve almost missed a flight before because it took 30 minutes just for the hotel shuttle to show up.

    Even with a lot of airport parking reservations, hotels are not going to add on more shuttles because it’s not their core business. With parking fairly cheap, hotels don’t make enough money to justify the expense.

    Security of hotel lots

    Hotel parking lots are generally unsecured. The parking area is not fenced in and there may or may not be security walking or driving around.

    Hotel lot amenities

    Except for the free shuttle to the airport, there are no amenities with hotel airport parking lots.

    Some free parking amenities are:

    • Covered parking
    • Indoor parking
    • Bottled water and a newspaper
    • Electrical charging stations
    • Luggage assistance
    • Free shuttle service, with the drivers loading and unloading your luggage
    • Cleaning off your vehicle if it snows

    In addition, you have the option of choosing fee-based amenities, such as a valet parking service, car wash and detailing, oil changes, and other vehicle maintenance.

    Short term vs. long term lots

    At some airports, very little distinguishes short-term and long-term parking. At many airports, both options are available in the same garage, but maybe on different levels.

    What is short term airport parking?

    Short-term airport parking lots are the closest lots to the airport and are priced by the hour. You can usually stay for multiple days, but the cost will be significantly more at most airports than the long term lots.

    Short-term parking is generally used to stay longer when picking up and dropping off passengers or greeting family members in the terminal.

    Generally, short-term parking is a term you’ll typically see only at airport parking lots to differentiate price and location.

    For example, at ATL, parking at the short term lot is $2 – 3 per hour and $32 – 36 per day, compared with $9 – 16 per day for the long term lots.

    There is generally no limit on the number of days you can park in short term parking.

    What is long term airport parking?

    Long-term parking means overnight and is usually priced by the day rather than by the hour like short term. All three types of airport parking facilities covered above (airport lots, privately owned lots, & hotel lots) offer long-term parking.

    Long-term parking is always cheaper than short-term parking. Sometimes, the longer you park, the lower the rate.

    But, be sure to check long-term parking policies. Some airport parking facilities may limit parking to 10 days or less, while others specialize in parking two weeks or longer.

    What are airport cell phone lots?

    Cell phone lots are for people picking up passengers from arriving flights to wait until their passengers arrive.

    If you’ve ever picked up someone from the airport, you know that airports don’t like you waiting in front of the terminal for your passenger to arrive. Cell phone lots solve that problem and are so named because you can wait there for your passenger to call you on your cell phone when they’ve exited the terminal.

    These lots are usually free, but most airports want you to stay in your vehicle and not to remain in the lot for more than 30 minutes.

    Airports use signage to clearly direct arrivals to the cell phone lot. Simply pull in and check the information display in the lot to see if the plane has arrived at its gate.

    Allow time for passengers to go through baggage claim before driving up to the terminal. Or, you can arrange for your passenger to call you.

    Cell phone lots are well lit, however, they are typically not well secured since vehicles do not park there for very long.

    Cell phone lots are a great little option for picking up passengers that many people don’t know about.

    Other ways to get to the airport

    Depending on the locale, there are other ways you can get to the airport so you don’t have to worry about parking at all. Below are some of those options.

    Public transportation

    In many areas, public bus or train service makes a stop at the airport.

    Do a Google search for "bus to [airport name]" or "train to [airport name]" to find options.

    These options are often cheap and, depending on where you live, easy.

    One way car rentals

    If you’re traveling for a long period of time, a one-way car rental might be the way to go. It’s kind of a crazy option but can actually save you money in some scenarios.

    Here’s how it works: You rent a car to take to the airport, then drop it off at the airport. Then, upon your return, you rent a car to drive you back home and have the rental company pick it up.

    Granted, it’s going to be about $100, but if you’re going to be gone for two to three weeks, it can actually save you money because airport parking starts to add up at that point.

    Taxi, limo, lyft, etc.

    Calling a ride service can be another inexpensive option, depending on how far the airport is. It could be $10 or $100, but definitely worth looking into as a cost-saving option, or if you just don’t want the hassle of driving and parking at the airport.

    Where to find airport parking coupons & deals

    Whatever type of parking you choose, or other means of getting to the airport, always look for deals beforehand because they are out there.

    Loyalty or corporate programs

    Airport parking is pretty competitive, especially among privately owned lots and booking sites of hotel parking.

    Many of them have loyalty programs, discount programs, or special deals, so look into them when planning your trip.

    Airport parking coupons

    Some hotel parking booking websites offer coupons from time to time, and sometimes you’ll find coupons for airport parking online.

    But be warned, some of these coupon sites are scams, just trying to get your e-mail address to spam you. For whatever reason coupon sites must be big money-makers online, so there are lots of them claiming to have coupons for lots that don’t really have them.

    Daily deal sites

    Sites like Groupon, Travelzoo, Living Social, and the like have deals on just about everything. If you have the time, it’s worthwhile to look for airport parking deals.


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