Airport parking: top tips for a cheap deal and safe storage of your car

Going on holiday and driving to the airport? You'll need to park your car, so here’s our guide to the dos and don'ts of airport parking

airport parking

If you're heading to the airport to go on holiday, it's highly likely that you'll be driving, and therefore you'll need somewhere to park when you get there. Airport parking is a lucrative business; not only will you find parking at the airport terminal, there are numerous companies offering off-site parking too. Here we guide you through the different types of airport parking options available.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether it's necessary for you to drive to the airport. If it's just you travelling and you only have carry-on luggage, then most UK airports have decent transport links that mean driving to the airport is an expensive extravagance - especially at Heathrow with the proposed £15 ULEZ pollution charge.

Tips and advice for hiring a car on holiday

Again, if you live a short drive from an airport, then it might be a better option to book a taxi, as the fare could work out cheaper than on-site parking charges. But if you're a family aiming to get away with suitcases and carry-on bags, then it's going to make sense to travel by car. If you're doing this, then there are a number of options open to you. You can park at the airport, park at an off-site car park and catch a shuttle bus to the terminal, or use a meet and greet service that allows you to get to the terminal, but a professional driver takes your car away to be parked off-site.

One benefit of airport parking is that most of these options offer a 24-hour service, so you can drop off your car when you please, and it will be ready to be collected as soon as you return. One fringe benefit of this is that you will be able to book early cheaper morning or late night flights, safe in the knowledge that you can get to the airport without having to worry about overnight public transport closures.

The different types of airport parking

The simplest form of airport parking is on-site. Depending on which airport you're going to, the terminal building should have car parking facilities a short walk away. Larger airports such as Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted will also offer parking that's located further away, but still within the airport perimeter. Even at smaller airports like Luton, there's often the option of a free shuttle bus to drop you off at the terminal.

Of course, if there is a two-tier parking option, then you will pay a premium to park close to the terminal. This can be fine if you're only on a brief trip or you can claim it back on expenses, but it's prohibitively expensive if you're going to be away for a fortnight or longer.

Long-stay car parks within the airport’s perimeter are usually run by the airport, or contracted out to a secondary firm, and they usually offer competitive rates if you book early enough. You’ll usually get the choice of standard or ‘business’ car parks with the latter usually being a bit closer to the terminal and a bit more expensive, while some will offer a concierge service to business users, allowing you to drive to the terminal and passing the keys to a valet to park your car. In all cases, the car parks will be maintained to Park Mark standards (more of those later), while the convenience of the shuttle bus service is a bonus.

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Beyond the permiter of the airport, there are other companies that offer off-site parking. Again, due to their location, they will offer cheaper rates than airport-based parking, and they will still offer a shuttle bus service to get you to the terminal with your luggage. Usually these companies will ask you to leave your car keys so that they can arrange the parked vehicles to suit arrivals at a later date. If this is the case, do ensure that you sign an agreement with the company that confirms the condition of the vehicle inside and out, while you should empty all contents to guarantee that no items get lost for whatever reason.

The other option is concierge parking. With this you'll be met at the airport by a parking company representative, who will take your car away to an off-site parking facility once you've unloaded your car. The theory is that they take the car away, and when you return, you can call your representative and they will return with your car by the time you get back to the main arrivals exit, ready for you to be on your way. These concierge or VIP parking services are sometimes run by the airport and sometimes by private companies.

As with all airport parking where you leave your keys with the parking company, you should sign a form that confirms the condition of the vehicle when you left it, the mileage on the odometer and how much fuel is in the tank. Most airport parking facilities should be close by, so do take issue if your vehicle has any more than about 50 miles added to its odometer in your absence.

It's a bit of a leap of faith to trust a stranger with your car, but these concierge companies will be fully insured against damage to your vehicle, and the most reputable organisations will be able to answer any questions you may have at any time about your car or their facilities.

Whatever option you choose, don't simply go for the cheapest parking option available, as it could be a step into the unknown. A fully accredited and insured company may cost a little more, but surely that's money well spent for added peace of mind, especially if you want a relaxing holiday.

Choosing an airport parking company and getting a good deal

The one key recommendation we would give is to go with a company that is a member of the Park Mark safer parking scheme. Park Mark is run by the British Parking Association, and sets standards for car parks across the country. These include a well-lit parking area, clear signage for parking and pedestrian access, added security such as CCTV, the benefit of litter-free floors and graffiti-free walls, while on-site staff will give added peace of mind. If you're parking at any airport in the UK, you will find a Park Mark accredited organisation running a parking scheme nearby.

Your guide to driving abroad

There are always a wide range of discounts and money-off deals available on airport parking, and if you get your hands on a discount voucher or code (usually available when you sign up to email notifications from airport parking operators, or via discount code websites), cheap airport parking can be more cost-effective than the alternatives. However, it's worthwhile doing your research and keeping a few requirements in mind, rather than just looking for the lowest price.

Look at the distance from the airport, the frequency of the shuttle buses and check online for comments from previous customers. The airport parking industry has been given a bad name in the past by rogue operators who set up a convincing-looking website and then mistreat customer cars that are left with them, so be on your guard and think carefully before parking your car with a company that isn’t a Park Mark member.  

Have you ever had any problems with airport parking? Let us know in the comments section…

Senior test editor

Dean has been part of the Auto Express team for more than 20 years, and has worked across nearly all departments, starting on magazine production, then moving to road tests and reviews. He's our resident van expert, but covers everything from scooters and motorbikes to supercars and consumer products.

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