One of the most common airport mistakes is paying too much for parking.
How many travel expenses are less satisfying than airport parking fees? In my estimation, that list would be quite short indeed.
There are ways to lower the cost. Some travelers don't pay enough attention to the words "long-term parking" in their haste to get inside the terminal, through security and to the gate. Parking in short-term parking for two weeks will result in a bill of several hundred dollars in most larger airports.
Sometimes it's best to park off the airport property at nearby lots catering to travelers. Parking coupons and other discounts can take a bite out of the bill, just as low-cost carriers help with airfare expenses.
Another alternative that is especially attractive to people with early morning flights is to consider hotel park and fly options. You book a room for the night and simply leave your car in the hotel's parking lot. A shuttle bus takes you to the terminal. Hotels frequently have special rates for such arrangements. If you'll be spending $100 or more on parking anyway, the hotel room becomes a free perk.
In short, it pays to consider your cheap airport parking options long before you leave home.
Impulse Buys during Duty Free Shopping
When you have time to kill between flights, those duty free shopping signs are mighty tempting.
The idea behind duty free shopping is to offer merchandise with greatly reduced or eliminated sales taxes. Airports are frequently in special trade zones that permit such cuts.
But do you really know if the merchandise is a bargain?
If you encounter familiar products, perhaps the answer is yes. But with local specialties, it often pays to get prices off the airport property before making a duty free shopping purchase.
Write it down: not all duty free shopping buys are genuine bargains.
Buying Expensive Meals at the Airport
Whenever possible, avoid eating at airport restaurants. Although the selection of terminal eateries has improved in recent years, food here tends to be greatly overpriced.
It costs a lot to operate an airport restaurant, and those added expenses are built into every hamburger, salad or mini-pizza you order. But eating at the airport is more common these days, since plane food is free far less frequently -- if it's served at all.
This situation has forced businesses to provide greater food choices in the terminals, but you should try to limit your restaurant needs to small snacks and light refreshments. Your budget will benefit.
Paying Too Much for Airport Car Rentals
As with airport food, airport car rentals are generally overpriced. If it's possible to arrange cheap transportation to nearby car rental locations, there is money to be saved by picking up and dropping off in a place that doesn't have "airport" in its name.
There are times when airport car rentals simply cannot be avoided. But if you can book elsewhere, it frequently saves money to do so.
Paying Too Much for Ground Transportation
Ground transportation costs are fairly predictable. Taxi fares can be estimated before leaving home, but they usually wind up as the most expensive alternative, followed by express trains or an airport shuttle. Public transportation such as trains or bus lines usually present the cheapest option, but can be difficult if you have several large bags in tow.
Be careful to account for time as well as money when solving the ground transportation equation. In London, for example, the Heathrow Express train costs twice as much as taking a standard train, but it whisks you to Central London far more quickly. In Chicago, CTA trains to O'Hare or Midway provide cheap, efficient ground transportation. But if you don't catch an express, you'll make a lot of stops that will cost time and try patience.
Skipping Alternative Airports
Most travelers always choose the close, convenient airport when they price and book low-cost carriers or bargain airfares. That can be among the costliest of all airport mistakes.
Alternative airports can save money on airfares. The trick is calculating whether the savings will justify a few extra hours of driving. Sometimes, a slightly cheaper airfare at one of the alternative airports winds up costing travelers more in driving costs.
This bit of shopping is so easily done -- it frequently requires nothing more than clicking a box for alternative airports during your online fare search.
But if you have several people in your travel party and you can save significant amounts on airfare by driving for an hour or so to one of the alternative airports, it's at least worth considering whether or not the more convenient terminal will be too costly.
Failing to Plan for Sleeping in Airports
Sleeping in airports is not recommended. These are not good places to find peace and quiet, and in some settings it can be unsafe to sack out in a terminal.
If you do manage to fall into a restful sleep, do you have a fail-safe way to wake up in time to catch the next flight?
Despite all these drawbacks, some budget travelers plan on spending a night in the terminal to save on the cost of a hotel. If that's your plan, know the risks involved. Find out if stretching out with sleeping bags is permitted in your airport of choice. Those last-minute hotel bookings can be quite expensive when a plan fails for sleeping in the airport.
Showing Up Late to the Airport
This is a common mistake that results in lots of wasted money. Failing to allow adequate time can mean missed flights. If you're booking on low-cost carriers or snagging non-refundable fares, you'll be charged $100 or more to rearrange your itinerary.
This problem crops up frequently at large airports, where security lines are almost always slow-moving. It also presents itself during the holidays, when novice travelers slow the flow through those checkpoints.
Arrive early, bring along some reading material, and relax.