Why Is Airport Parking So Expensive ?

There are few things more infuriating than being charged an airport parking fee more expensive than the flight you have just come off.

It’s the ancillary fees around travelling – bag fees, booking fees, and seat fees, that leave a bad taste in people’s mouths. Whilst airport parking fees are the responsibility of the airport itself rather than the airline, high airport parking fees can sour the entire travel experience.

Why is airport parking so expensive
Why is airport parking so expensive ? Photo: Pexels

If you’re after a pricey short term park, London City Airport (LCY) has a reputation for having the most expensive short term parking in the world, charging a toe curling £17 to use their car park for just one to two hours.

If you’re parking for longer, the 2018 Global Airport Parking Index found these 10 airports to be the most expensive in the world for a one week park.

Why is airport parking so expensive
Source: 2018 Global Airport Parking Index

But why is airport parking so expensive? The cost of airport parking is a function of several factors ; real estate costs, maintenance and upkeep costs, competition, distance from the terminal, and convenience.

Real estate costs

Airports take up a lot of acres. Usually all these acres are within reasonable proximity of a city. Size and proximity alone make the land expensive. Much of the space airports use is dead space in terms of generating revenue – the grass verges, taxiways, and roads.

But much of this revenue dead space costs money to build and maintain. This burden falls on the two big users of airports – airlines and passengers. Airlines pay landing fees, apron fees and terminal fees to name but a few. Passengers often have charges inbuilt into their tickets. Airport concessions and parking are also choice places to pick up further revenue from passengers.

Why is airport parking so expensive
Airport car parks like this one at Luton are big drivers of airport revenue. Photo: Adam James via Flickr

Airport real estate is valuable and airport parking fees are an important way of offsetting this. In 2018,  Heathrow made 4.24% of its total revenue from airport parking. This may seem a fairly small percentage, but it equated to £126 million in total – hardly chump change.

Maintenance and upkeep costs

One of the arguments put forward about the high costs of airport parking are the maintenance and upkeep costs.

While it isn’t disputed that car parks cost money to upkeep, the cost of maintaining a soulless concrete bunker is substantially less than say, the cost of upkeeping a terminal or runway.

Airport car parks, being solid drivers of airport revenue, help cross subsidise the maintenance and upkeep costs of other parts of the airport.

Competition

The cost of airport parking is a function of competitive forces. The cost to park at Carpark A will depend on other car parking options nearby, as well as decent public transport options to the airport.

When an airport carpark is in a monopoly or near monopoly position, it’s likely to charge more than an airport car park situated next to other transport and parking options.

Why is airport parking so expensive
Good public transport links, like those at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport, can help push airport carpark charges down. Photo: Andrew Nash via Flickr

New York’s JFK airport isn’t in the top ten list of most expensive airports to park at (it came in 12th). Arguably, one reason it isn’t in the top 10 are its reliable and inexpensive public transport links into New York.

Or, as Simple Flying has just reported, you could whizz out to JFK in a Blade helicopter. That’s likely to cost a fair bit more than the USD$2.75 subway fare though.

Distance from terminal

How far your airport parking is from the terminal will also be a factor in the cost. It costs less to park in an outdoor carpark two miles from the terminal than it does to park undercover a two minute walk from the terminal.

This writer can pay USD$3.50 a day to park a five minute shuttle bus ride from Melbourne airport. Alternatively, I can pay USD$54 to use the airport valet parking and stroll undercover into the terminal.

Convenience

What price do you put on convenience? It’s it worth paying USD$54 to drop my car off, have someone park it for me, and wander into the terminal. Do I really want to wait 20 minutes for the shuttle bus to the distant carpark when I get back tonight ?

Why is airport parking so expensive
Airport valet parking is expensive but super convenient. Photo: brittreints via Flickr

There is an intangible value to the convenience of parking close to the terminal. What it’s worth will depend on factors like how much luggage you have, whether you are travelling with kids, what the weather’s like, and how good the public transport links are. The convenience value of airport parking can be hard to determine, but there is a very real value to it.

After a long flight, when you just want to get home, have a meal, a shower, and be greeted by some small people whose faces light up when you walk in the door, would you rather pay a premium to drive home in 30 minutes or do the two hour public transport haul?

Overall

It may give you some satisfaction that passengers aren’t the only ones complaining of being price gouged at airports. The airlines complain about it too.

Nobody is arguing that it costs nothing to provide airport parking. The land is valuable. The car park has to be built, maintained and staffed. But airport parking is a substantial revenue source for most airports and helps cross subsidise other aspects of airport operations.

Why do passengers pay the high car park fees? It’s convenient. It’s usually far easier to drive to the airport than to get there by other means. Particularly when you return, when you just want to get home, most people will pay a premium to do so as quickly as possible. That value of that premium can be hard to determine but it most definitely exists.

Why is airport parking so expensive
Bangkok might have awful traffic but it also has cheap airport parking. Photo: David McKelvery via Flickr

For the record, Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport had the cheapest parking fees, charging just USD$28.70 to park for seven days. After the trauma of driving in Bangkok’s traffic, a cheap space for your car is probably the least you deserve.

What’s the cost of parking at your local airport? We’d love to know at Simple Flying. Post a comment and let us know.

5 comments
  1. Manchester (UK) AIRPORT now charges people £3 just to drop or pick someone off! Is that just pure greed or what?!?!?

    1. I saw this flying into Manchester a few weeks ago! Crazy! Though it does promote public transport use, I don’t think they realise a lot of Manchester Airport’s catchment area is very rural and people have to travel by car.

      1. “Very rural”? Really though? There are always alternatives to driving unless one is in the sticks in the very north of England.

  2. It’s expensive because they can make more money. They have minimal overheads and people will pay it. Nothing to do with all the reasons in your article

  3. I work at ORTambo intl airport (Johannesburg) I park in underground level 2 parking . From having parked my car , walk to + up the escalator up to the offices on the fourth floor , takes 5 – 8 minutes from car to the office! Nine hours later at the end of a shift , is a cost of R120. Peanuts. Nothing when you convert into £s.

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