Travelling to an airport by car is crucial for many travellers. They’ve got too many bags and often there is little public transport, especially when taking an early-morning flight.
But arriving by car at UK airports has become increasingly fraught. The charges are such that it’s more like dodging a minefield of fees and penalties than a joyful departure for a well-earned holiday.
This year, ‘drop-off’ charges at UK airports have soared as fast as energy prices, adding another potential bill to the cost of your holiday. Other airport parking charges are rising too, so now more than ever it pays to compare the latest costs.
The above graph compares the cost of different types of parking at UK airports
This new charge is for simply stopping at the kerb near the terminal to let passengers out. Only Cardiff, Belfast City and London City have free drop-off zones.
Dropping passengers was free at Heathrow and Gatwick before the pandemic — now both charge £5. Stansted charges £7, plus a £25 fee if you stay longer than 15 minutes.
Airport bosses say they are trying to control a growing traffic problem outside terminals. Beware that there can be hefty fines if CCTV spots you trying to let passengers out in other airport zones.
If you pay £7 per drop off and collection, that’s £14 on a round-trip. The RAC warns: ‘Minute for minute it could almost be as high as the air fare’.
There is a way round the charge at many airports: drop passengers at or near the long-stay car park for free, then they can catch the courtesy bus to the terminal.
There is no obligation to use drop-off zones. So if you are familiar with the airport area you may know a perfectly good place to let passengers out. But if you aren’t sure, don’t assume you will find one that is safe, legal and within walking distance.
Short-stay car parks are designed for those who need to wait a while for someone or want to accompany passengers into the terminal to say goodbye or help with luggage. These are close to the terminal but charge by the hour and can be truly expensive. One hour at Gatwick South Terminal’s short-stay multi-storey costs £21, while 60 minutes at Heathrow Terminal 3 Short Stay is a hefty £73.30.
‘Generally it pays to book airport parking as early as you can’ (stock image)
Charges for long-stay are calculated per day — so it’s usually the cheapest way to park while flying off on holiday.
There are still great variations between official parks within the airport perimeter — and cheaper independently run parks that can be several miles away.
With these, it’s important to check frequency and length of transfers to the terminal.
Comparing prices can be hard because many of the charges fluctuate daily.
Generally it pays to book as early as you can. For example, if you turn up and park at the Multi-Storey T3 car park at Manchester airport you could pay a whopping £385 for a week’s parking. If you book in advance with a travel broker like Holiday Extras, this price can go down to just £57.99.
Similarly, turning up to use a week’s official long-stay off-peak parking at Heathrow is £194 at the time of writing — but £48 if pre-booked.
Meet and Greet
A ‘meet and greet’ valet service is an increasingly popular option – but the geography of sites means it’s much cheaper at some airports than others
An increasingly popular option, especially for those with a lot of baggage or elderly passengers, is a ‘meet and greet’ valet service. Large airports offer a choice of meet and greet providers which are typically about 10 to 50 per cent more expensive than normal long-stay parking.
Usually you drive to a parking spot near the terminal and hand your keys to a driver. You walk to check-in while they take your car to an off-airport car park for the duration of your trip.
When you return, you call them when you get through baggage collection. Your car is brought to the terminal ready for when you step out of arrivals. Prices fluctuate with demand, and vary with times of year and between operators.
The ultimate airport parking treat is valet parking that includes your car being delivered back to you outside the terminal sparkling clean after an expert hand-washing. It’s available at Gatwick and Heathrow from mapleparking.co.uk/car-cleaning
The geography of sites means meet and greet is much cheaper at some airports than others. A snapshot of charges for a week’s meet and greet in November came up with this range of prices: Cardiff £50.40, Gatwick £63.90, Stansted £85.50 and Heathrow £114.21.
Daily Mail readers can get a 20 per cent discount with mapleparking.co.uk, just put in the code Mail20.
The Middle Man
It can pay to consult a middle man when booking airport parking. Holiday Extras are the UK’s biggest airport parking broker offering discounted prices with most car park operators and free booking cancellation, holidayextras.com.
The ultimate airport parking treat is valet parking that includes your car being delivered back to you outside the terminal sparkling clean after an expert hand-washing. It’s available at Gatwick and Heathrow from mapleparking.co.uk/car-cleaning.
One night in an airport hotel with an inclusive car-parking package can be surprisingly cost-effective and make an early flight less of an ordeal.
Check transfers to the terminal though, many hotels charge extra for this. Visit holidayextras.com/airport-hotels for deals.
Finally, only the bravest bargain hunters will try renting a space on a private driveway near an airport. There are thousands of people living near airports advertising spaces on their drive or garden on websites like justpark.com. There is, however, little security or recompense if things go wrong.