Holidaymakers face being ripped off when parking their car at the airport this summer – adding to a catalogue of woes that already includes flight cancellations, delays, queues, lost luggage, strikes – and even melting runways.
Desperate to recoup heavy losses suffered during the coronavirus crisis, cash-strapped airport bosses are introducing new parking fees to pick our holiday pockets. Charging for dropping off or picking up family or friends at an airport is just the latest cash cow. Another is to charge extra for parking spaces that have not been booked in advance.
Even anyone who thinks they are being smart by booking ahead is getting stung by computer glitches that force them to pay twice and then claim a refund – as I recently found out when taking a flight from Luton airport (see box, below).
Take-off: Airports are increasing charges for drop-offs at terminals
NO BARRIERS… BUT YOU HAVE TO PAY A FIVER TO PICK UP
In recent weeks, airports have been stealthily introducing new charges for dropping off friends or family – or picking them up.
At the start of this month, Heathrow began demanding £5 to drop off travellers at terminal four. Other Heathrow terminals have been charging the same amount since November.
The car driver can pre-pay – online or by phone – giving their car registration number and credit or debit card details. Or they have until 11.59pm the following day to pay.
There are no barrier controls so despite signs you may not know about the new fee until an £80 Parking Charge Notice lands on the doormat a few days later – after spy cameras have captured your car details. This penalty is reduced to £40 if payment is made within 14 days. For pick-up at Heathrow, you pay £5.30 for up to 30 minutes at a designated short-stay car park – £11.40 for one hour.
Gatwick also demands £5 for dropping off.
Number plate-reading technology grabs details of your car, with no barriers to alert unsuspecting motorists.
You have until midnight the next day to pay via the internet or phone. What’s more, people only have ten minutes to drop off – every minute beyond this costs an extra £1 up to 20 minutes with a £25 maximum charge for 30 minutes.
Failure to pay will incur a £100 Parking Charge Notice – reduced to £60 if you foot the bill within 14 days. The charge was introduced in March last year. Pick-up is £5 for 30 minutes at a short-stay car park.
Luton also wants £5 for parking ten minutes at drop-off – a charge set in January 2021 – and £1 a minute thereafter. You pay at the barrier.
Since November 2020, Stansted has demanded £7 for picking up or dropping off outside the terminal – but you only have a 15- minute window. Stay any longer and you are stung with a £25 levy. Payment is done at gate barriers when leaving the airport area.
Manchester charges £5 for five minutes and £6 for ten minutes for terminal drop-offs – again, since November 2020 – paid at a barrier gate. Exceed ten minutes and there’s a £25 fee.
Birmingham offers a free drop-off for up to 20 minutes. There’s a £20 fee for 50 minutes – and £5 per five minutes thereafter. These charges were set in March 2019. Also, it provides a ‘premium’ set-down service. This costs £3 for 15 minutes and is paid at the barrier.
Pick-up from a short-stay car park is £6.50 for an hour.
Fliers using Glasgow have since December 2020 been paying £4 at its pick-up and drop-off point for less than ten minutes – before ramping up the cost. For 20 minutes waiting, it is £10 and for half an hour, £15.
Consumer campaigner Martyn James says these charges are not just wrong – but unfair. He says: ‘The airports are raking in profits from a service that has traditionally always been free.
‘It is deeply unfair that airports are being allowed to treat passengers like cash cows.
‘This particularly penalises the vulnerable, such as the elderly and disabled who need close access to airport terminals.’
EXTRA CHARGE FOR JUST TURNING UP TO PARK
Driving to an airport without booking car parking can be an expensive mistake. Heathrow demands £77.10 for 24 hours if you just turn up at its short-stay car park – it can be £73.20 if you book in advance online.
Gatwick charges £45 a day for turning up on the day to its short-stay car park, but may charge £36 if parking has been pre-booked.
Luton charges £67.50 for its short-stay terminal one or two car parks on the day – but may charge £58.99 and £53.99 respectively if pre-booked. Stansted can charge £62 for 24 hours in a short-stay car park – it can be £60 if pre-booked.
The fee in Manchester for short stay is £58 but in advance can be £55.
At Birmingham, you pay £49 a day if you simply drive up on the day. Glasgow wants £36 to park in the official car park for a day as a motorist who drives up on spec.
It is possible at all airports to cut parking charges by more than two thirds if you book weeks rather than days ahead.
And if away for a week or more, a long-stay car park works out much cheaper – even if it means taking a shuttle bus to the terminal rather than walking. For this, give yourself 30 minutes extra time for waiting for the bus and then it taking you to the terminal.
For example, at Stansted a pre-booked short-stay car park slot might cost £60 a day.
While long stay – a 15-minute bus ride away – might also initially start at £60 a day, the charge reduces if you stay for a week.
Pre-book a week and you can pay £130 in short stay and £106 long stay. Other online discounts are also occasionally made available.
OTHER WAYS TO CUT CAR PARK CHARGES
Official airport car parks might seem convenient – but you could save money by using a ‘meet-and-greet’ service instead.
Comparison websites such as Parking4Less and Airport Parking Shop offer a guide to operators which typically charge half the price of short and long-stay car parks.
The idea is that you drive to the airport and hand your car key to an attendant at an agreed drop-off point. You then walk into the terminal while they take your vehicle to a secure car park a few miles away.
On return, you call the car park firm after picking up your luggage and an attendant returns with your vehicle to an agreed point – and you drive home.
The further ahead you book, the cheaper the stay should be. But be extremely careful if you choose to use this service.
It is an unregulated market where cowboys have been known to take vehicles for an unauthorised spin or park cars on the side of a street.
So if you do take the plunge check reviews and opt for operators that use a police-approved safe parking service, identified by a ‘Park Mark’ logo.
Another option is to use a website such as Park On My Drive or Your Driving Space where you might find homeowners in the area where you are flying from willing to rent out a space on their driveway.
You can then get a lift from them or take a taxi to the nearby airport terminal.
If you have an early morning flight and must drive a long way to the airport, hotel parking might prove better value – allowing you to stay at the hotel the night before you travel and keep your car there for a small fee as you head off on holiday.
Chains offering this service include Holiday Inn, Travelodge, Ibis, Hilton and Sofitel.
I was charged twice for day’s parking
Planning a domestic flight earlier this month, I visited the website of London Luton Airport and clicked on the ‘official on-site parking’ link and tapped in my vehicle car registration details, writes Toby Walne. I was charged £61.99 for a one-day stay at ‘terminal car park 1’.
On arrival the next day, I picked up a ticket at the automatic barrier and reinserted it when I left on my return later that same day. But the barrier would not rise. With a queue behind, I had to pay by credit card in order to leave. A few days later, I looked at my bank statement to see that I had been charged twice – £129.49 instead of £61.99. Rectifying the mistake was not easy.
First, I was forced to wait on the phone for half an hour listening to a ‘your call is very important to us’ recorded message before finally getting through.
Driven mad: Toby Walne was charged twice for a day’s parking
Then, I was told I would have to email my personal and vehicle details, booking reference plus proof of purchase to receive a refund. It was as if the mistake had been mine and not that of the airport.
To add insult to injury, I was also told that the repayment could take more than two weeks to process.
The woman who took my call admitted that I had been the victim of a ‘common problem’ the airport was aware of and was ‘looking into’ – but had not yet resolved.
My pre-booking details – which included my car registration plate number – had not been recognised by the barrier due to a computer system glitch.
Ten days after I contacted Luton airport car park, I have yet to receive my refund.
London Luton Airport said: ‘This is not an ongoing problem, but can happen on occasion when the system may not recognise a registration number – so when a ticket is entered, it does not match it to a booking.’
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