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4 things to know about how valet parking works right now

Oct. 29, 2021
6 min read
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Valet car service can be a dependable service, especially for travelers who don’t want to deal with the hassle of parking fees or tickets.

But, as I explain below, it can be a costly (and sometimes unreliable) service. For some travelers, the hassle of finding a valet to bring your car to you isn’t worth the cost. Alternatively, the high price can be worth it for others who just want a safe place to store their vehicle.

Whether you’re new to the service or splurging for the first time in a while, here’s what you need to know about valet car service right now.

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How do I arrange for valet service during the pandemic?

It’s important to note that there are several types of valet services, like at hotels and airports. In most cases, valet service is as simple as driving your car up to the valet section area and informing the attendant that you’d like to use the service.

They’ll take your car and hand you a slip of paper with your vehicle’s information. If you’re staying at a hotel, you can ask for your vehicle to be brought to you at any time. And if you’re valeting your car at an airport, the company will generally arrange for your pickup and dropoff at the terminal.

However, you’ll want to ask about the price to valet your car before you hand over your keys, which I’ll talk a little more about below. Also, ensure that you’ve secured all of your valuables in your car before you hand over the keys --- and make sure the person you’re handing your vehicle to is actually a valet attendant.

Keep in mind that many valet services were cut during the pandemic, especially at airports, so it’s helpful to call ahead if you know you’ll want to stow your car away for a while. But some airports with valet service used the pandemic to upgrade facilities to make the travel experience smoother for passengers. For instance, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport updated its Terminal 1 valet entrance area, passenger waiting area, restrooms and curbside zone. (Valet parking is available at the airport for $45 per day).

How much does valet service cost?

Valet parking isn’t cheap and is seen as an unnecessary luxury by some. You’ll really pay a hefty price if valet parking at a hotel. I ran a search on several hotels in big cities in the U.S. and found some hotels, like the Park Hyatt New York, charging as much as $65 per night to valet a car. And if you have a luxury car or a larger vehicle such as a truck, you can expect to pay an even bigger premium in some cases.

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In New York, where I’m based, all three major airports offer similar valet services.

JFK Airport uses a service called SmartPark (temporarily closed at LGA), a long and short-term valet parking lot. The company also offers shuttle buses to and from the airport terminal. I ran a cursory search for dates in early November, and I was quoted $134 -- or $19 per day -- which seems like a decent deal considering how expensive parking is in and around New York City. LaGuardia has several valet services, including some hotel valet parking, and prices hover around $16 per day. There are several valet parking options at Newark, with rates starting at $17 per day (but keep in mind that some of the cheapest options are at least a mile away from the airport, which may not be the best option if you're running behind.)

Screengrab from Vista Parking

But while you won’t pay much to valet your car in the Big Apple, the same can’t be said for other locations. For instance, valet parking at several airports in high-priced cities, such as Miami, can set you back a whopping $30 a day. If your budget is tight, it may be significantly cheaper to take a cab or rideshare to and from the airport to save some cash.

How can I save money for valet parking?

While valet parking isn’t cheap, there are ways to save money, especially if you’re staying in a pricey city such as Las Vegas. Like airline status, it can pay to hold hotel elite status with select chains, as several offer complimentary valet parking for loyal members.

Elite members of MGM’s M life rewards program (which you can status match if you’re a World of Hyatt elite) with Gold status or higher qualify for free valet parking. You can get Gold status if you’re at least an Explorist through Hyatt, which was much easier to attain this year through credit card spending and a lower threshold for qualifying nights.

As we wrote earlier this year, Caesar’s Rewards offers free valet to those with Platinum status or higher. In contrast, the Cosmopolitan’s rewards program offers free valet parking for those with Gold staus or higher. Just bring your rewards card and show it to the attendant to take advantage of this benefit. Parking is free to all guests at The Cosmopolitan.

Other properties in the Sin City with free valet parking include The Palazzo, Venetian, Tropicana, Sahara, Stratosphere and Treasure Island.

Am I required to tip?

According to Zippia, a career services website, valet attendants earn an average annual salary of just $21,000 per year. And the majority operate in some of the most expensive cities in the U.S., such as New York and Los Angeles. All that's to say, it’s a job that’s underpaid and underappreciated.

In my earlier post about tipping room service workers, I suggested hotel guests tip between 15% and 20% of their meals. I would suggest tipping valet workers between $10 and $15 per week, even if parking is free, and a little more if you drive a luxury vehicle. Remember, valet workers -- like most in the travel industry -- have had their livelihoods significantly impacted by the pandemic. So I would strongly advise you to tip generously and be patient and kind if it takes a little longer to get your car back.

Featured image by Valet parking at the Hotel Thompson San Antonio. (Photo by Benét J. Wilson/The Points Guy)
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.