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As travel comes back, US airport parking makes a slow recovery

May 19, 2021
8 min read
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The COVID-19 pandemic has cost North American airports $23.3 billion, significantly setting back previously forecasted stable growth prospects, according to Airports Council International – North America.

Related: Prepare yourself: 12 unexpected but significant ways travel has changed

While aeronautical revenues are under pressure, the cost of operations remain unchanged since airports can’t close or relocate terminals during the outbreak. Plus, 90% of nonaeronautical revenue is passenger-dependent, based on ACI-NA research. As passenger activity level decreases, nonaeronautical revenue, including parking, also decreased proportionally.

(Chart courtesy of Airports Council International-North America)

As a result, airports were forced to cut the number of available parking spaces and slash prices. As an example, hourly parking next to Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI) went from $22 to $12.

(Chart courtesy of Airports Council International-North America)

As travel slowly begins to resume, and more travelers are driving and parking at airports, TPG took a look at four facilities across the country to see how hard hit they were by a sharp decrease in demand for available spaces and what travelers can expect going forward.

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Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)

Despite falling to the second-busiest airport by passengers served (the top airport is now China’s Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport), Hartsfield-Jackson (ATL) is still a major mover of passengers. In calendar year 2019, parking revenue was $151.3 million. A year later, revenue had plummeted to $55.7 million.

(Chart courtesy of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport)

“As more people become vaccinated and people feel more comfortable traveling, we are starting to see a significant uptick in passengers,” said Katie Stanciel, Hartsfield-Jackson’s airport director of parking operations.

The airport recently opened portions of its new ATL West parking deck, with 2,250 new spaces at a rate of $14 per day in a well-lit, secure and attractive facility, said Stanciel. “When fully opened this summer, the seven-level deck will have more than 5,000 spaces available for customers,” she said.

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With more than 5,000 new spaces, the ATL West parking deck is designed to be completely automated and efficient, with updated signage communicating the number of available spaces to customers, said Stanciel. “License plate readers, PeachPass holders, and online reservation users will enjoy contactless, easy access to and from the lot.”

As of May 2021, there are 27,718 parking spaces available now at Hartsfield-Jackson, and the rates vary depending on the parking location, said Stanciel. For the most updated parking information, travelers should visit the airport’s website.

Related: Atlanta knocked out as world’s busiest airport as pandemic shuffles 2020 rankings

San Francisco International Airport (SFO)

The long-term parking lot at San Francisco International Airport. (Photo courtesy of the airport)

The Bay Area’s largest airport also saw parking revenue take a nosedive, from $92.9 million in 2019 to $32.6 million in 2020, said spokesman Doug Yakel. Available parking broke down to:

  • Domestic Hourly/Daily Garage - 5,030 spaces
  • International Hourly/Daily Garage A - 1.601 spaces
  • International Hourly/Daily Garage G - 1,442 spaces
  • ParkFast Hourly/Daily Semi-Private Section - 53 spaces
  • ParkValet Valet Parking - 150 spaces
  • Long-Term Parking - 7,207 spaces

After the pandemic hit, the airport decided to decommission its valet and long-term parking lots, converting the latter into a mass vaccination center. Parking prices remained the same: $36 a day for hourly/daily lots and $40 a day for the ParkFast hourly/daily section.

SFO launched an online booking system in October 2020 that offered an $18-per-day online-only special parking promotional offer. “This online booking system with corresponding promotions would have been implemented even if the pandemic did not occur,” Yakel noted.

The airport is currently offering a special parking promotion: Customers who book for long-term parking receive half a day of free parking for every one day booked, starting on the second day. “For example, if a customer books seven days, they receive three days free,” said Yakel. “There are no caps to the number of free days customers can earn, so the longer the stay, the less paid per day.”

The airport’s long-term parking lot reopened on May 5, and the online booking system will offer the same special promotional offers, said Yakel. “We also extended our AirTrain people mover system to long-term parking, making it easier to get to,” said Yakel.

Looking ahead, SFO hopes to be at 65% to 75% of pre-pandemic parking volumes by the end of 2021, said Yakel.

Related: From LA to San Francisco: What it’s like driving one of America’s best road trips

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI)

Long-term parking lot A at BWI Airport. (Photo courtesy of the airport)

In its fiscal year 2019, BWI Airport earned $47.8 million in parking revenue. That dropped to $29.8 million in FY 2020, said spokesman Jonathan Dean.

Pre-pandemic, BWI Airport has nearly 25,000 parking spaces broken down accordingly:

  • Long Term A -- 5,500 spaces at $8 a day
  • Long Term B -- 4,600 spaces at $8 a day
  • Express Parking -- 1,400 spaces at $10 a day
  • Daily Garage -- 8,400 spaces at $12 a day
  • Hourly Garage-- 5,000 spaces at $22 a day

When COVID-19 hit, the Long Term A, Long Term B, and Express Parking were temporarily closed, said spokesman Jonathan Dean. This left BWI with 13,400 spaces in the daily and hourly garages, he added.

"Special rates were put in place at that time. The Hourly Garage went to $12 per day and Daily Garage went to $8 per day,” said Dean. “The special rates were put in place because demand significantly decreased, as well as to give customers the convenience of parking closer to the airport terminal.”

BWI’s Long Term A reopened on April 1, 2021. “That was an acceleration of the plan, which had been to reopen Long Term A in July. A strong rebound in passenger traffic this spring led to the reopening,” said Dean. Currently, there are 18,900 total spaces open for public parking.

When Long Term A opened, it stayed at its usual rate of $8 per day. “On April 15, 2021, the Daily Garage rate moved to $10 per day and the Hourly Garage rate moved to $16 per day, said Dean. “Resumption of the regular rates for the Daily Garage ($12 per day) and the Hourly Garage ($22 per day) is currently scheduled for Oct. 1.”

Related: Road trip! 5 cities to check out from Baltimore

Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ)

A map of the parking lots at Albuquerque International Sunport. (Photo courtesy of the airport)

The airport watched its 2019 parking revenue go from $10.5 million in 2019 down to $3.9 million in 2020, said spokesman Jonathan Small.

Albuquerque Sunport (ABQ) has 3,390 spaces in a four-level parking garage, 450 spaces in the Premium Economy Lot and 352 spaces in the Basic Economy Lot. Unlike other airports, ABQ did not cut any parking spaces, nor did it reduce prices. The Basic Economy Lot is $7 a day, the Premium Economy Lot is $9 a day and the garage maximum daily rate is $12 a day.

“Due to recent increases in passenger traffic, our parking revenue has already increased by 39% from February 2021 to March 2021,” said Small. “During spring break, our Premium Economy Lot was up to 95% full, which was really encouraging to see.”

Forecasting is still very difficult these days, said Small. “But we see our parking program finishing fairly strong this year,” he said. “We won’t be back to pre-pandemic levels, but as long as people continue to get vaccinated, COVID-19 cases continue to decrease and air travel trends continue to improve, we hope to see our program back to 70% of our yearly revenue by the end of 2021.”

Bottom line

Now that travelers are getting vaccinated, many of them are taking to the skies. In March 2021, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) screened more than 1 million passengers for the first time since the pandemic began. This compares to 2019's spring travel season — which hit more than 2.5 million people per day screened.

Air travel is increasing and hotels are seeing bookings rise. So before going to the airport, check on the parking section of its website to ensure that there’s a spot waiting for you before take-off.

Featured image by Shutterstock
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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If you are looking to take your premium rewards to the highest level, this card is really a no brainer in our eyes. Chase's Ultimate Rewards make points easy to redeem, with a wide range of 10 airline and three hotel transfer partners and a friendly user interface. Despite the high annual fee, Chase is consistently adding new benefits to keep the card competitive in a fierce premium rewards field.

Pros

  • $300 annual travel credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year
  • Access to Chase Ultimate Rewards hotel and airline travel partners
  • Unlimited 3x points on the broad category of travel and dining
  • 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • Broad definitions for travel and dining bonus categories

Cons

  • Steep $550 annual fee
  • May not make sense for people that don't travel frequently
  • You must spend the $300 travel credit before earning 3x points for travel and dining
  • No automatic hotel elite status
  • Earn 80,000 bonus points after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening. That's $1,200 toward travel when you redeem through Chase Ultimate Rewards®
  • $300 Annual Travel Credit as reimbursement for travel purchases charged to your card each account anniversary year.
  • Earn 5x total points on flights and 10x total points on hotels and car rentals when you purchase travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards® immediately after the first $300 is spent on travel purchases annually. Earn 3x points on other travel and dining & 1 point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Get 50% more value when you redeem your points for travel through Chase Ultimate Rewards®. For example, 80,000 points are worth $1,200 toward travel
  • 1:1 point transfer to leading airline and hotel loyalty programs
  • Access to 1,300+ airport lounges worldwide after an easy, one-time enrollment in Priority Pass™ Select and up to $100 application fee credit every four years for Global Entry, NEXUS, or TSA PreCheck®
  • Count on Trip Cancellation/Interruption Insurance, Auto Rental Collision Damage Waiver, Lost Luggage Insurance and more