Planning to use an airport car park for the first time? Or haven't used one for a while? If so it can be a daunting experience, especially at a large airport like Heathrow.

There are two types of airport parking: short stay (for pick-ups and drop offs); and long stay, whereby the vehicle is parked for the duration of the holiday or business trip.

In this article we'll share useful tips on using both types of airport parking options, with a view to saving you time, hassle, and perhaps money.

Underground airport car park

Choose the right car park

If you're leaving the country for a few days (rather than, for example, picking someone up) choose long term airport car parking - not short term (1 hr etc).

Parking in the wrong place could result in overstay charges. There is usually two hours of leeway before a full daily charge is applied.

Airport short stay car parks

Short stay airport car parks are designed for picking people up or dropping them off. They might also be used for short one or two day trips overseas.

Short stay car parks are usually very close to the terminals. For example, in Heathrow Short Stay Parking it takes 1-2 minutes to walk into the terminal.

Airport long stay car parks

Airport long stay car parks are normally located a little further away from the terminals compared to short stays. However, bus shuttles which coincide with the day's departures are laid on to make getting to the airport terminal as quick as possible.

Think about airport lounge access

With central airport parking (i.e. on-site parking) you may be able to add lounge access to your parking fee. This can make waiting for your plane more relaxing and often includes:

  • Relaxing seating and surroundings
  • VIP treatment
  • Food and drink
  • A peaceful environment
  • Shower facilities
  • Free wifi and charge points
  • Quiet zones
  • Business facilities
  • Wellness spas (optional massages, steam room access etc.)


Can I just turn up without pre-booking my airport parking?

Most airports allow drivers to simply arrive and park up without pre-booking. However, this may be more expensive. For example, Heathrow Parking charges its "on-the-day" prices if you don’t pre-book - which are higher.

There may be time limits on parking

There may be restrictions on how long you can park in a particular car park. For instance, at Heathrow there is a 99-day limit for pre-booked parking, and no limit for on-the-day parking.

Consider third-party car parks

You may be able to get cheap airport parking if you book with a third party car park. These include free shuttle services to and from the terminal.

It may take a little effort to work out where the shuttle pick up point is, and depending on the schedule you may have to wait a while.

When you return you'll also need to find the shuttle pick-up point in the terminal.

Shuttle trips can take a long time as the bus may stop for different people who have parked in different locations.

Some third party car parks offer ‘valet’ or ‘meet and greet’ services (see below).

A variety of airport parking deals are available at any given time - with more choice near the larger airports.

Local car parks

Businesses located near an airport may offer parking on their spare land. This can be one of the cheapest options, but there’s a catch: security is often very poor compared to on-site and third party options.

Additionally, once you’ve parked up, you may well need to book a cab or use public transport to reach the terminal, which, if you've got a lot of luggage, could be an additional hassle.

Car parked on private land

Private airport car parking

In recent years, services such as ‘Park On My Drive’ have enabled private homeowners to rent out parking spaces on their driveways and in their garages.

Prices can be significantly lower than on-site and third-party locations, but they offer less convenience (you’ll still need transport to the airport) and may not be as secure as airport parking. However, if you hunt around you may be able to find a secure parking spot near the airport.

Money-saving express airport parking

When it comes to airport parking, the terms ‘money-saving’ and ‘express’ rarely go together. This is because cheaper options (local car parks, third party car parks, hotels), are usually further from the terminal buildings and so will take longer to reach your gate.

For true ‘express’ airport parking, consider valet parking (explained below).

If you're on a tight schedule the airport's central parking may be a better option.

There is usually a time/cost trade-off with cheaper third party deals.

Cheap airport parking comparison

A number of comparison sites allow you to hunt down deals on airport car parking. These include TravelSuperMarket and Airparks.


Do you need valet parking?

While it’s something of a luxury, there’s no doubt valet parking makes life simpler and easier.

For an additional fee, you can drop off your car at your chosen valet parking location. The valet will then make a quick visual/digital automated inspection of your car, to make sure it is in the same condition when it is returned to you. The valet service will then ensure your car is ready when you return.

But all this comes at a cost: not to be considered if you're seeking cheap airport parking.

Airport Meet & Greet car park service

Do you need ‘meet & greet’ parking?

Some airport car parks - such as Heathrow - offer ‘meet & greet’ parking. This is similar to valet parking, but you must park the car yourself in a designated space. You then hand over your keys, and your vehicle will be waiting for you when you return.

You may also be able to have your vehicle cleaned for an additional fee.

Do you need business airport parking?

Business airport parking is designed for those for whom time-efficiency and comfort are key.

Airport parking for business users includes things like: short waiting times for shuttle pick ups; choice of pick-up/drop-off locations; free wifi on shuttles so you can continue working; and a high level of security.

But if you’re on a budget, these benefits may not be worth the additional premium.

Understand the cancellation/amendment policy  of your airport parking booking

Be aware of the minimum cancellation/amendment period for a given airport car park service. Some may allow changes/cancellations up to 2 hours before the booking, while others may only allow it up to 24 hours beforehand.

Recent events have shown that flexibility is key when it comes to travel - so look for generous cancellation/amendment policies.

The cheapest deal may not have the best cancellation policy (i.e. they may charge you a cancellation fee).

Will my travel insurance cover airport parking?

If you need to cancel your airport parking and end up being charged a fee, get in touch with your travel insurer to see if they can help. However, most insurers regard car parking as an ‘extra’ and do not cover it.

Beware credit card fees

Some car parking services may add a fee for using credit cards. Something to be aware of if you’re on a budget.

Hotel and parking deals

If you need a hotel room before your departure, there are deals available that include a night's stay plus parking for the duration of your time away.

Upon your return you simply go to the hotel car park and pick up your vehicle.

Add-ons such as shuttle bus tickets and buffet breakfasts are usually available.

If you’re planning a hotel stay head of your flight anyway, this could be a great way to save money.

Woman walking through airport car park

Practical airport parking tips:

Some practical tips for secure, hassle-free parking at the airport.


Park near your departure gate (if applicable)

Choose a car park that is as close as possible to your intended terminal. Signs in the parking facility will tell you which terminals/gates are nearest.

Park away from other vehicles

By choosing a parking spot away from other cars you will reduce the chances of any accidental damage - for example somebody hitting your car when they open their door.

Reverse park

Whether or not there are adjacent vehicles, it’s a good idea to reverse park so you have a clear view when you leave the parking space.

By contrast, reversing out into the car park increases the chance of a collision - not a pleasant thing to happen at the end of your overseas trip.

Park near lifts

Pick a parking spot close to the lifts, since this will make it easier to move your luggage around.

This is particularly important if you're carrying a lot of luggage.

Photograph your parking location

Today, airport car parking works by number plate recognition, meaning there is no need to show a ticket when you arrive/depart, as was the case some years ago. While the automated system has many advantages, the old system of having all the necessary information printed on a physical ticket meant you knew where you were parked, and which courtesy bus to take to get there.

In the absence of a physical ticket, it’s a good idea to make notes of where your car is located. It’s not uncommon for those using airport parking for the first time to forget where their vehicle is parked.

Take a photo of your parking spot to make it easier to locate after your return flight. Also take a photo of any signage next to the lift, as this will also help you find your vehicle.

You may be physically and mentally tired upon your return, so these memory cues could be of great help.

You might also send yourself a note detailing where you’re parked via WhatsApp, email etc.

Note visual landmarks/features

Larger airport parking facilities can be confusing to navigate. Many drivers, after their return flight, waste time wandering around vast airport parking facilities, hunting for their car.

While you may be eager and excited to catch your flight, it's worth spending a little time and effort fixing your car's location in your memory - so your return is problem-free.

So, when leaving your parking spot, take note of landmarks/features that can help you find your parking spot later on. Are you parked on the departure level with baggage reclaim? Do you go up or down escalators when entering the airport?


Beware airport drop-off fees

Some airports charge a fee simply for dropping someone off at the designated drop-off zone. In the case of Gatwick this is a £5 charge which must be paid online in advance, or within 24 hours.

Such fees are likely to apply even if a driver enters a drop off area accidentally.

In the case of Gatwick, the fee was introduced to bolster airport revenue which dropped off sharply during the pandemic, and to help meet sustainability targets.

Leave extra time

As a rough guide, give yourself an extra 30 minutes when using central airport parking, and 45 minutes extra if using a third party car park.

Leaving additional time is especially advisable if you have never used airport parking before.

Drive at lower speeds

This will give you more time to read airport signage and road markings - so you'll be less likely to take a wrong turn (which could lead to delays).

Consider watching guide videos on airport parking

If you're unfamiliar with a particular airport's car parking facilities, you may be able to find a video guide online to help. Here are a few example videos that show you exactly how and where to park - covering everything from quieter parking locations to using the correct entrance/lanes.

A little research could save you time and stress later on.

Heathrow Terminal 3 (T3) Parking Guide


Manchester Airport Multi-Storey Parking


Glasgow Short Stay Car Park 

Coach parked outside airportConsider alternatives to airport parking

While travelling to the airport in your own car can be convenient, it does require a certain degree of planning - and of course it can be costly.

Then there's the stress of finding a parking spot and parking up.

Instead, you may decide to reach the airport via one of the following (or a combination):

  • Train
  • Tube
  • Bus/coach
  • Taxi
  • Uber/ride-hailing app
  • Getting dropped off by a family member or friend

Such alternatives may have the following advantages over airport parking:

  • Cheaper
  • Less stressful
  • Quicker
  • No security concerns about leaving your vehicle alone for several days