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Avoid the Holiday Airport Parking Crunch

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If you’re heading out of town during the holidays, you know you can expect packed airports—and packed airport parking lots. With all the other stresses of travel, you really don’t need to arrive at your departure airport only to see a “parking lot full” sign. Fortunately, you can pretty well avoid those problems with a little forethought.{{{SmarterBuddy|align=left}}}

If you fly from an airport a long way from your home, the best way to avoid parking, highway, and maybe weather worries is to drive to your airport the night before you leave. Hundreds of airport-area hotels offer packages that combine one night’s accommodation with up to 14 days parking at the hotel plus shuttle service to/from the airport. Most hotels let you take the overnight at either the beginning or end of your trip. I know of three online sites that arrange these parking packages at airport hotels:

  • Park Sleep Fly was the pioneer in the field, with participating hotels near 100 large and medium-size airports in the United States and Canada.
  • Stay 123 lists participating hotels in about the same number of airports.
  • BuyReservations posts accommodations/parking packages near 71 U.S. airports.

In addition, many airport-area hotels and motels independently offer similar packages, including several near my home airport of Medford, Oregon. Unfortunately, they’re hard to find if they don’t list on one of the nationwide sites.

The typical hotel-park package includes a room for one night, parking for seven to 14 nights, depending on location, and shuttle transfer to/from the airport for departing and arriving flights. Although the sites boast “free” parking, the one-night package 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 of parking is well below $5 a day—much less than you’d pay for just the parking.

If you just want to lock in a parking spot, several online sites allow you to reserve (and prepay) parking at off-airport sites close to most big U.S. airports and lots of smaller ones. Rates at participating lots almost always include shuttle service to/from the airport terminal(s) for both departures and arrivals. A few offer the choice of either self-park or valet park; a few the choice of outside or indoor parking; some arrange optional while-you’re-away service and minor maintenance for your car. They claim they offer lower rates than on-airport long-term lots, but that’s not always the case: You have to check. Even with no price advantage, you can reserve space at most off-site lots, usually not an option at an airport’s lot. Here’s my current list of sites where you can book and pay for offsite airport parking:

All serve the country’s major airports, but coverage of smaller cities varies somewhat. These sites solicit listings from parking lots—some independent, some owned by parking chains—and they earn fees for online bookings. As with vacation rentals, many lots list on multiple sites.

The discount-parking business seems to be ignoring the large and growing cruise market. The last time I checked, I found no low-cost off-port cruise parking in most of the country’s major cruise ports. That may be because cruise ports tend to be in downtown areas where parking space is at a premium. If you just want to compare prices, however, you can check on port parking prices in advance: CruiseCheap posts at-port parking rates for most major ports.

The hotel-parking packaging sites have also moved into cruise parking in a big way. But many cruise packages do not include no-charge, two-way transfers to/from the port. In spot checks, I found quite a few deals with no-charge, one-way transfers, but none that covered both-ways shuttles. There may be some, however.

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