A Pricey Lesson in Airport Parking — Reader Mistake Story
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Today, I want to share a story from TPG reader Terrence, who paid the highest daily rate for airport parking when he couldn't find a space in the lots nearby:
My wife and I live in Cleveland and fly several times a year to visit family and friends. We always arrive early and allow ourselves plenty of time to take a parking shuttle, check our bags, and make it through security. We park at the cheapest airport-managed lot, the Brown lot (a 5-10 minute shuttle ride from the terminal). Occasionally it's full, but the airport has three other lots (Orange, Blue and Red), and we'd never had any issue going to the next most expensive option and still making our flight until this particular trip.
We were delayed by traffic due to inclement weather and discovered the Brown lot was full. Drove to the Orange Lot, which was also full. Red lot, Blue lot... you get the picture. At that point, we were getting nervous and frantically trying to look online for other options, because plans Brown through Blue had already failed. We ended up having to pay for the curbside valet at the terminal (the most expensive daily rate) or risk missing our flight. We consoled ourselves that at least it was only a weekend trip.
Once we were through security, we started researching parking options and learned to our surprise that we could book a guaranteed parking space online, at a lot 10 minutes away, for only $1 more than the cheapest airport lot rate. I always assumed third-party lots were either horrendously expensive or far away with limited shuttle access, so I'd never seriously considered them. And I had no idea you could guarantee your spot! Now we always book parking in advance — I've even been able to do it with less than 24 hours notice. That peace of mind is worth way more than the extra $1 per day.
Driving to the airport isn't exactly a novel idea, but if your local airport lacks quality public transit service or makes the process of hailing a ride unnecessarily complicated, driving yourself and paying to park can be surprisingly economical, especially for shorter trips. You can save on airport parking by searching for coupons online (Groupon in particular offers frequent discounts), or through a dedicated website like Spot Hero or CheapAirportParking.org. If you feel like deal hunting, check with nearby hotels; they sometimes offer low rates that aren't well advertised and include shuttle service to the terminal.
You can make airport parking a slightly better deal by making sure you get a good return from your purchase. Parking fees tend to count as travel purchases on cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card and Citi Premier® Card, so you can earn bonus points like you would with Lyft or Uber. You can earn more rewards by using a shopping portal to book through Park N Fly. For example, the AAdvantage eShopping portal is currently offering 3 miles per dollar, and cash-back portal rates are as high as 8%. Just remember to check a portal aggregator to find the best deal, and shop around to make sure Park N Fly offers competitive rates.
I appreciate this story, and I hope it can help other readers avoid making the same mistake. In appreciation for sharing this experience (and for allowing me to post it online), I’m sending Terrence a $200 airline gift card to enjoy on future travels, and I'd like to do the same for you. Please email your own travel mistake stories to firstname.lastname@example.org, and put "Reader Mistake Story" in the subject line. Tell us how things went wrong, and (where applicable) how you made them right. Offer any wisdom you gained from the experience, and explain what the rest of us can do to avoid the same pitfalls.
Feel free to also submit your best travel success stories. If your story is published in either case, I’ll send you a gift to jump-start your next adventure. Due to the volume of submissions, we can't respond to each story individually, but we'll be in touch if yours is selected. I look forward to hearing from you, and until then, I wish you a safe and mistake-free journey!