Saving Money on Parking at the Airport and Beyond

Airport parking lot
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Cheap parking can make a difference at the airport or any other place where space is at a premium.

Few fees provide less satisfaction than those paid for parking. It is important for anyone concerned with budget travel to minimize such costs. Those on tight budgets can sometimes pay for meals or admission fees with the money saved on parking charges.

But how does one save on parking? It's not as if you can negotiate with a parking attendant for a better rate.

Cheap parking is connected with good planning. As is the case in so many budget travel situations, the people who neglect planning pay the highest parking prices.

There are at least four places where parking fees can be outrageous: at the airport, in the downtown area of a major city, with valet parking at a hotel, and at theme parks.

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Cheap Airport Parking

Airport parking garages are priced according to their distances from terminals.
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Budget travelers know that airport parking is priced according to convenience. The closer the parking space is to the terminal entrance, the more you're going to pay. Air travelers who will be away for a week or more look for parking that is cheap — often called long-term parking at many airports.

Many private parking businesses have sprung up near major airports. There are entrepreneurs who will store your car, wash it while you're gone, and provide efficient transportation to-and-from the terminal.

Your experiences with these private lots will vary greatly. When the weather is cold and you're waiting for that ride to their lot, the money saved won't seem to matter.

But there are private lots that excel in the areas of customer service. When you find such a place, stick with it.

Another alternative to paying for airport parking is the Park and Fly Hotel option. You spend the night before your flight at a hotel near the airport. The next day, your vehicle remains in the hotel parking lot. You ride a courtesy van or some other transportation to the terminal. Bear in mind that you must make arrangements to do this at the hotel, lest your car wind up in a towing company's claim lot.

The cost of the room might exceed what you'd pay for a week of parking at the terminal. But you are getting something in addition to parking for your money. If it's an early flight, wouldn't it be great to wake up a mile or two from the terminal? 

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Cheap Parking Downtown

Downtown parking often comes at a premium.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

If you're going to be downtown, where it can get busy, consider booking parking online through a website like Park Whiz. You may get a deep discount on the standard rate. It always pays to shop for a parking space when you'll be in an expensive place. But don't do the shopping by driving around for 20 minutes. Go online, find a good location, and make your arrangements. 

This is especially true when staying at a downtown hotel. 

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Cheap Parking: Hotel Valet Service

Valet parking can become a budget-buster.
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Hotel valet parking can be a great convenience, and there are budget travelers who are willing to pay for this service.

But for others, a $60/day parking tab negates the great deal they got on their downtown room from Priceline, Hotwire, or some other hotel search.

Always check on the parking situation at your intended hotel (preferably before bidding, if that's your strategy) and plan accordingly.

Frequently, a budget traveler can find several parking garages within a short walk of the hotel that are substantially cheaper per night than what the valet arrangements will cost. It's best to start your search with municipal garages, which tend to be cheaper.

If you select a city garage, look for a place that is well-lit and either under surveillance or frequent police patrol.

Always hide your valuables. Breaking into a car is quick and easy for professional thieves, even in the best-patrolled parking garages.  

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Cheap Parking at the Theme Park

Parking at a theme park can be a significant expense.
(c)Mark D. Kahler

If you visit a theme park frequently, it often makes sense to buy a season parking pass. This will greatly reduce your costs if you visit at least three times.

Another strategy for out-of-towners is to stay in a hotel near the park entrance. Parking at the hotel is generally free, and you walk the short distance to the front gate or arrange for a ride.

Sometimes public transportation options serve theme parks. In Orlando, for example, you can park and ride for far less than what it costs to leave your car on the property. Take advantage of such arrangements whenever practical to do so.

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