Before you park and fly, make sure you shop around and find the right airport parking at the right price
Booking a foreign holiday is never as straightforward as you think - and airport parking is usually pretty near the bottom of the "to do" list, along with travel insurance.
It always seems like one of the least important elements of the package, but there's a huge variation in prices and some options are safer and more convenient than others.
At the end of the day, you're entrusting one of your most valuable possessions with a company or individuals you probably know little about, so it makes sense to do some extra research.
"Airport parking horror stories are very rare but when things do go wrong we get headlines about lost cars, speeding valets and unexpected parking fines," says Nick Caunter, Chairman of the Independent Airport Parking Association (IAPA).
"A car is one of the most valuable things most of us own, so it's shocking how little time we spend checking out the companies we are relying on to care for our cars while we are away."
Read on for advice on how to save yourself money, time and stress...
Different types of airport parking
It might sound obvious, but it can be a lot less hassle to book a taxi, get a family member or friend to take you to the airport and pick you up - or use public transport. However, it's not always possible, especially if the flight times are in the early hours or you have lots of luggage, and taxis aren't always the cheapest option.
If you do opt for airport parking, there are usually a few different types to choose from.
Official long-stay car parks
Long-stay areas are usually within the airport perimeter and serviced by regular shuttle buses.
Independent car parking
These are generally sites further away from the airport, again serviced by shuttles, but often on an on-call basis.
Also known as concierge parking, this is where you're met at the airport by a parking company representative who will take your car away to a secure place, then return when you arrive back in the arrivals hall. Always check the level of insurance cover that the parking representative has when driving your car.
Compare airport parking prices
It's always a good idea to start the booking process by researching the options available using price comparison sites, which will show you the range of parking available and the pricing. Try sites such as holidayextras.co.uk and parkbcp.co.uk, plus gosimply.com, parking4less.com and travelsupermarket.com.
Depending on your budget, you can then choose the best option for you. However, just because an option is cheap, it doesn't mean it's right for you.
How to find the best airport parking option
Broadly speaking, meet-and-greet will be the most expensive option, followed by official airport long stay, while private operators are likely to be the cheapest.
Before booking an off-site company, read customer reviews on travel review sites, check where the cars are kept, if shuttle buses run 24 hours and their frequency.
With all options, it's best to choose one that's flexible (e.g. includes the ability to change dates or car registrations) and has a free cancellation policy of up to 24 hours before departure.
"Only choose operators that display the blue Park Mark logo. This means that their parking facility has been police assessed and is properly managed and maintained with appropriate levels of security and surveillance. An easy way to check out their facility is to use Google Maps," adds Nick Caunter of IAPA.
"The easiest way to make sure you've picked a company that covers all of these points it by booking with a member of the Independent Airport Parking Association (IAPA). All members are vetted to ensure they meet the highest standard, giving you complete airport parking peace of mind."
When is the best time to book airport parking?
You'll pay the highest prices if you just turn up on the day. Even if you book up to 24 hours ahead, it can make an enormous difference. You may even find that official long stay is booked up if you leave it to the last minute, especially during peak holiday times in the summer.
Before booking, always search for discount vouchers - think of that 10% saving as more money to spend on your holiday.
If you opt to book a long stay, on or off-site, always allow more than enough time to arrive and catch the shuttle, so you're in the departure hall in good time. Equally, factor in enough time to reach your car - don't just opt for your flight arrival time. Delays are not uncommon, especially on flights later in the day.
When you arrive in a long stay, make a note of the row and bay number - there's nothing worse than trying to find your car in the middle of the night at the end of a tiring journey.
Before leaving your car, take a picture of it, its mileage and the surroundings. If you return to your vehicle after your holiday and find that is not in the same condition as you left it, at least you have some evidence. The same applies for meet-and-greet, where you know your car is going to be driven somewhere else.
Also take a photograph of the ticket issued at the barrier. This is especially useful if you lose the original!
Don't drink and drive
It's very easy to stay in holiday mode on your last day, but if you're the designated driver it's best to stay away from alcohol during the final hours on holiday, at the airport or on the plane. UK drink-drive limits still apply when you get back in your car and head home.
Of course, you can never be sure that everything will work out fine, but with a little planning and common sense, you can certainly do your best to avoid an airport parking horror story. Have a safe journey and enjoy yourselves!