I just got back from a weekend in Little Rock, Arkansas, and was faced with the usual travel decision about car parking. From official airport lots to private lots, you can pay a lot or a little to park at the airport.
The Budget Option
For a long time, I always parked in the shuttle lots at Denver International Airport. The shuttle lots are a couple of miles from the main terminal and cost $7 per day. When you park, you walk to a bus stop and wait for the first ride to the terminal. After your flight, you wait, usually quite a while, for a bus back to your lot.
I remember the good old days when this lot was $5 a day, then $6 a day. Now, at $7 a day, it is not that much cheaper than the next option.
If I were going for a long trip, there is no question I would use a shuttle lot. I would not want to pay a higher rate for anything longer than a couple of days. However, it is slow and inconvenient. Waiting for the busses can be frustrating, and waiting for them on a cold winter day can be miserable.
The Middle Option
Lately I started parking with the middle of the road option. For $11 per day, only $4 more than the shuttle lots, I can park within walking distance of the terminal. At the economy lots, you can hop on a shuttle that takes you to the door, which takes about two minutes, or you can walk the three minutes across the lot to the main building.
When you are ready to head back to your car, you never have to wait more than a couple of minutes for the next shuttle, or you can walk.
For my most recent trip, parking in these lots cost me $12 more than parking at the farther lots. I saved something like 20-30 minutes each way parking closer in. My time and the frustration of parking farther away are worth it.
The Luxury Option
If you want to be a big spender, for $21 per day you can park in the attached garage or for $30 per day you can use valet. Not worth it to me.
I can justify an extra $4 per day, but paying another $10 on top of that is ridiculous. The garage might save you 3-5 minutes and can save you from scraping snow off of your car, but I can handle that myself.
I have parked in the garage once when someone else way paying, but it made me feel kind of sick to my stomach wasting their money on it. Not worth it to me.
Around the airport, there are also some private parking companies. They offer a higher level of service than the shuttle lots but at a higher price. For $8 per day for uncovered or $14 per day covered, one local private lot will pick you up at your car and offers faster busses than the public shuttle lots.
To me, this is not really worth it. You end up farther from the terminal and still have to deal with busses. Some people must do it, because there are several private lots in business today, but I would rather go with the option offered by the airport.
If you live in a city where it is an option, you can always take the train, bus, or pay for a cab. This is either expensive or slow, depending on the situation, and is not really practical here in Denver. However, I have taken the light rail, subway, or a cab to the airport depending on the city I am visiting.
Or Just Get a Ride
If you have awesome friends, you can always try to get a ride. If I am going on a trip more than a few days, I always try to get a ride. I also happily help friends get to/from the airport if it works for my schedule, so it all comes out in the wash.
This is not always an option, but it can save you a lot of money, particularly on a long vacation.
How Do You Handle Airport Parking?
Do you drive yourself or go another route? How much do you spend getting to the airport and back? Please share your experiences in the comments.
Image by jeffwilcox / flickr