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Doing some holiday traveling this fall or winter? You might be wondering whether it’s worth it to take a taxi or van, or if it’s better just to go with airport parking in terms of price, convenience and points-earning opportunities. There are plenty of ways to maximize your point/mile earnings by knowing exactly where to park and what programs to do it with. TPG contributor Nick Ewen guides us through several parking programs and shares tips on how to save money and earn points, miles & more by parking your car at the airport when you travel.
There’s no question that part of the allure of travel loyalty programs is the thrill of chasing down that perfect routing or securing that ideal hotel room that you would never be able to (or willing to) purchase on your own. However, there are also many benefits to the points & miles game that simply result in less cash coming out of your bank accounts. Sure, these tend to be less glamorous than jetting around the world in first or business class, but for me, taking advantage of any and all rewards programs means more disposable income to spend on my travel adventures. One of my favorites involves airport parking. In this post, I will go through some ways to maximize point earning and redemption every time you travel.
For starters, parking (in cities, on- or off-airport) does qualify as a travel expense on some cards, so you should always use a credit card that offers point bonuses for those purchases. Everyone obviously has their favorite points & miles currency, but some of the one of the most popular options is the Sapphire Preferred since you earn 2.14X points per $1 on travel purchases, which include parking.
Obviously these bonus points can be very valuable for future travel. However, an even better way to maximize these purchases is by parking at an off-airport facility. These lots tend to offer a significant discount when compared to on-airport options, and with regular shuttle service, most travelers won’t notice a significant drop in the convenience. Even more importantly, many of these facilities offer loyalty programs that allow parkers to accrue points or credits that can be redeemed for free parking. Some even offer bonus miles on certain airline partners! Here’s a rundown of some of the more wide-reaching chains and their respective rewards programs.
One of the more prevalent off-airport parking companies, ParkRideFly USA has 52 locations at major and mid-sized airports across the country, including LAX, Miami, Washington-Dulles, and all three New York City airports. Members of their frequent parker program earn one point for every online reservation, and they are currently offering 5 points just for joining. Ten points can then be redeemed for 1 free day of parking; these rewards must be booked online. Since their program rewards travelers for each stay rather than each day of parking, this is a better option for short trips. Ten trips lasting two days each would accrue the same number of points as 10 week-long trips. If the daily rate was $10, the former scenario offers a 5% rebate, while the latter only gives you 1.43% back.
If you do park at any of these locations, be sure to check their website for discounts or sign-up for e-mails with special offers. They are currently offering 10% off for stays of three days or more with the coupon code “COLUMBUS10.” Just book by November 5 and complete the trip by December 15.
The Parking Spot:
The yellow and black spotted shuttle vans of The Parking Spot currently take patrons to the airport and back from 33 locations at 21 different airports, including 3 different lots in Atlanta, as well as lots Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston-IAH, and St. Louis among others. Their loyalty program (The Spot Club) offers one free day for every seven paid days. Like ParkRideFly USA, these rewards also must be redeemed online prior to the stay. Members can also link their account to a credit card for seamless checkout, and most locations provide various car care packages (washes, detailing, etc.) that can be completed while you travel. Nothing like returning to a freshly washed and/or detailed car!
Another angle to play with The Parking Spot is for anyone with a premium membership to Milepoint. According to the list of benefits, premium members can get one day of free parking per visit to any Parking Spot location. The T&C do indicate that it cannot be combined with any other offer, which I assume would include free nights from The Spot Club. I would also venture a guess that the free night wouldn’t count as a “paid day” for accruing credit in the program, but I would love to be proven wrong by anyone with personal experience. It’s still up to you to decide if the $49.95 annual fee for the premium membership is worth it, but for frequent travelers who enjoy leaving their car at The Parking Spot, this can be another great moneysaver.
The Fast Park:
The Fast Park chain actually includes four separate brands under its umbrella: Airport Fast Park, Fast Park & Relax, Park Place Airport Parking, and Fast Park 2. All 17 locations at 13 different airports (two each in CVG, BWI, CLE, and IAH) are united under the Relax for Rewards program, which offers 1 point per day of paid parking. Travelers then have two redemption options: 8 points = 1 free day (12.5% rebate) or 40 points = 1 free week (17.5% rebate). Like the previous two, rewards must be redeemed online ahead of time. However, the points earned can be redeemed at any location, offering certain lucky customers the chance to earn points at a cheaper location and then redeem them at a more expensive one. I did this exact thing in May. I earn all of my points at the Orlando facility ($7.50/day) but then took a personal trip out of Miami due to routing needs. My two-week free stay at the Miami facility ($9.50/day) came after 80 days of paid parking at the lower rate, offering me a return of 22.2%. If I had redeemed those same 80 points in Orlando, the return drops to 17.5%.
Park ‘N Fly:
The Park ‘N Fly chain has 16 locations at 13 airports, including five California locations and three separate lots in Atlanta. Parkers earn 1 credit for each day, and 8 credits can be redeemed for a free day, providing the same 12.5% daily rebate offered by The Fast Park. Points must be redeemed online, not at the airport. However, according to their website, they are currently revamping the program, though no further details are provided. Interested travelers can sign up to be notified as soon as the new program is up and running, but it doesn’t appear that you can sign up for the current program online, nor is it clear that existing members can still earn and redeem points. I reached out to clarify these items but have yet to get a response.
Note that Park ‘N Fly also has numerous locations that do not participate in the loyalty program; most of these are “affiliate” facilities with different names, but the Baltimore location is one that doesn’t participate despite sharing the “Park ‘N Fly” name. Be sure to double-check the website and make sure that you are parking in a lot that will earn you points, and if your airport has a lot listed as an affiliate location, see if they have their own loyalty program (like Diamond Airport Parking in Anchorage and Salt Lake City).
The WallyPark network of parking facilities has 14 locations at 11 airports around the country, including two at LAX and three in Seattle. Unlike the others already mentioned, each WallyPark facility actually offers its own loyalty program, but they have the same earning and redemption rates. Parkers earn one point per dollar, and those points can then be redeemed for free parking at a rate of 7 points = $1 (or a rebate of 14.3%). Note that points can only be redeemed in full day increments (in other words, if the daily rate is $10, you can only redeem them in increments of 70). However, unlike the others, points at WallyPark can be redeemed at checkout.
This chain provides an interesting opportunity for business travelers out there. Some locations offer different types of parking, but they all accrue points at the same rate (1 point/1$), and those points are redeemed at the same rate (7 points/1$). If your company will pay for the more expensive options, you earn more points that then go further towards the cheaper option.
As an example, my home airport of Orlando has three options: valet at $8.95/day, covered self-parking for $6.95/day, and uncovered self-parking for $4.95/day. Since redemption rates are consistent (7 points/$), a free day of valet costs 63 points (7 points x ~$9/day), a free day of covered parking will set you back 49 points, and a free day of uncovered parking requires 35 points. Let’s say you take a four-day work trip and your company pays for valet; this will earn you 36 points. Right there, you have a free day of uncovered self-parking. Buy four get one free sounds like a pretty good deal to me!
Thrifty Airport Parking:
Thrifty isn’t just a car rental company. Thrifty Airport Parking also has 10 parking locations at various airports, including several smaller ones in the northeast (Burlington, VT, for example). Their Preferred Rewards Program offers 10% or more off parking (rate varies by location) plus 1 point for each day. Every 12 points = 1 free day, a flat rebate of 8.33%. However, this isn’t the extent of the earning opportunities with Thrifty. After 3 visits, travelers can earn 250 miles with Alaska, American, or US Airways, or 600 points with Southwest. Alternatively, parkers can get credits towards free Thrifty rental cars with Blue Chip. Every 3 visits in a 12-month period = 5 Blue Chip Rewards credits, and 16 credits = 1 free rental car day. Even with the limited footprint, this is a nice way to further diversify your points & mileage earning.
This chain is also limited, with just 8 locations around the country. However, the PreFlight Parking earning rates are quite lucrative. Parkers earn 1 free day for every 5 paid days, a flat rebate of 20%. In addition, travelers earn 1 mile with America, Delta, United, or US Airways for every dollar spent. Another way to pad those mileage accounts while still earning free parking.
This list certainly isn’t meant to be exhaustive, as many other off-airport parking lots offer rewards. Be sure to ask your favorite parking facility if they have a loyalty program, as they aren’t always advertised. I used to park at Payless Parking in Orlando, for example, and their website makes no mention of their loyalty program. However, every 30 days of paid parking earned me a free week.
In addition, any loyalty program will only be part of the parking decision you make. One of the reasons I switched my business to FastPark & Relax in Orlando is because of the service they offer, including free bottled water plus shuttles that typically run much more frequently than Payless. Be sure to take everything into account as you are choosing a lot in which to park.
Another consideration is that if you do decide to park at the actual airport, be sure to see if the facility offers easy check-out. In Florida, for example, many airports provide dedicated lanes for SunPass customers that will automatically charge your linked credit card and save you the hassle of keeping track of a ticket and streamline your exit process.
Please feel free to share your experiences with any of these chains (or share details on your own local parking operators) in the comments section below.