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Deciding where to park your car when you fly can be a complicated proposition. Choosing between onsite, offsite, covered, uncovered, or even valet parking are all factors to be considered. Your decision is often based on cost and convenience. When you factor in the length of your trip, the best choice may not be at an official parking facility at all.
When does hotel parking make sense?
Hotel parking is especially attractive when your departure flight is particularly early or your arrival time is late at night. This is especially true if you don’t live near the airport. If you need to overnight in a hotel anyway because of the flight times, it's often easier and cheaper to leave the car at the hotel.
Hotel parking on long trips is almost always cost effective. For example, off-site parking near DFW airport for a fourteen-night trip would cost an average of $150. One night in a hotel that offers fourteen nights of free parking and a free shuttle to and from the airport starts at $79. That's a bargain even if you don’t ever set foot in the hotel room.
Hotel parking seems to be most advantageous in areas where there is an abundance of hotels near the airport. But even at JFK, a room at the Radisson including fourteen nights of free parking, will only set you back $319. If you need the hotel room, you will come out ahead when you factor in the average cost of the parking alone to be more than $200.
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The break-even point seems to be five to seven-night trips, where you need the overnight hotel. There are exceptions, of course. Notably, areas where airport parking is cheap, like Ft. Lauderdale or Denver where parking averages well under $10 per day.
How to find the deals
Not every hotel near an airport will let you leave your car in their lot. Some do it on an unadvertised basis, others only for their top-tier points club members. The first place to start your search is on Park Sleep Fly. A quick search of your trip dates will help you find the possibilities. If Park Sleep Fly doesn't turn up a suitable hotel near your airport, use Google Maps to locate all the hotels near the airport in question. Scour the hotel websites, keeping in mind that many will not include parking information, so a phone call may be needed.
Check the shuttle times
When searching through the possible hotels, be sure to check and verify the shuttle times. There is nothing worse than finding out after your flight lands at 11 p.m. that your hotel shuttle service stops at 10 p.m. Of course, even without the free shuttle, if you find a good enough deal, it may still be cost-effective to take a taxi or ride share to or from the hotel. If possible, schedule your shuttle time in advance.
Check the reviews or do a drive by
The Park Sleep Fly website includes hotel reviews. Be sure to read those and a few from dedicated review sites before you choose the hotel. If possible, do a drive by to evaluate the security of the parking lot. Most of the hotels that offer free parking are reputable chains simply utilizing an alternate method of filling empty rooms, but as with any hotel reservation, when in doubt, check it out.
Pack an overnighter
Whether you plan to stay in the hotel the night before your flight or the night after, it is always easiest to pack a separate overnight bag that you can leave in the parked car (out of sight). It will keep you from needing to rummage through your larger trip suitcase to get the handful of things you need for the first or last night of your journey.
Secure your car
There are a few extra things to consider when you will be leaving your car in an unattended parking lot for several days while you are out of town. Always look for the worst-case scenario in the parking lot. I once read a review from someone whose car was flooded by a swollen creek behind the hotel parking lot. Study the layout of the lot, where the best lit spots are and where sprinklers on timers are not likely to spray the car every morning. Backing the car up to a wall or fence makes breaking into the trunk or hatchback more complicated. Leave nothing visible in the car to attract thieves and don’t forget where you pack the car keys.
Note the hotel’s contact information
Hotel parking is not quite as brainless as traditional airport parking. There’s no ticket stub reminder of where you parked, so the last thing to do before you leave your car is to make sure you have the name of the hotel with you. It will make getting back to the car a tiny bit easier at the end of your trip.