Parking at the airport is a pain. And an expensive pain at that! How would you like to avoid it, and maybe even make a little money instead of spending it? If your car is less than 13 years old and has fewer than 150,000 miles, here’s what you can do:
Two years ago, three college kids created FlightCar, which now operates in Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco (and coming in a few weeks to Seattle). A similar service called RelayRides has also branched into many more airports, competing head-to-head with FlightCar.
But for this post, let’s focus on FlightCar.
The basic idea behind FlightCar is this: Instead of driving to an airport parking lot and paying to park your car, you drop it off at the nearby FlightCar lot instead. While you are away, FlightCar will try to rent your car to an inbound traveler. If it does, you’ll get paid. If it does not, you’ll get free parking and a free car wash! How does that sound?
Here’s how it works.
First, you’ll make a parking reservation online by filling in some basic information about your departure/return dates and your car.
On the day of your trip, you’ll drive your car to the FlightCar parking lot near the airport. There they’ll make copies of your proof of insurance and title, and a black car will drive you to the airport. (What makes Relay Rides different is that it uses airport hotel parking lots and hotel shuttles to get you to/from the airport.)
Back at the lot, FlightCar takes a photo of your car and posts it for rent on its website. You’ll receive an email advising you whenever your car is rented.
When you return, call for an airport pickup. Back at the parking lot, if your car was rented while you were away, you are notified that you will receive a check in the mail based on the number of miles your car was driven (here’s how payment is calculated). If your car was not rented, well, then as always–Parking is absolutely free, as is the mandatory car wash.
That’s the standard program, but FlightCar also has a program specifically for business travelers. It’s the same setup, except that you pay $15 a day for parking but make up to six times as much per mile on rentals.
So, if you live too far from the airport to take Uber or a cab, you might find yourself driving. If that’s the case, here are a few scenarios where FlightCar makes sense:
When you can’t expense parking. Lots of solopreneurs and business owners aren’t going to be putting airport parking on an expense report. Use the standard program and you’ll park for free. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to calculate this can be a huge savings depending on how long your trips are.
When you can expense parking but wouldn’t mind making some cash while you’re away. The business traveler program charges for parking but gives you back much more on rentals. So, your employer will be smiling as the parking fee is reasonable/average, but you’ll smile, too, as you drive away with a personal check. FlightCar claims the average business traveler returning from a five-day trip makes $120. And don’t forget the free car wash. “We are answering the demand and giving frequent business travelers who treat their parking as a business expense an opportunity to turn their unused vehicle parked at the airport into a personal revenue generator,” Rujul Zaparde, FlightCar CEO said to Travel Weekly.
When the trip is for leisure. You can put away your Platinum card when you’ve got the family in tow and pull it out instead for something more fun on your vacation. I first took advantage of FlightCar when embarking on a two-week vacation with my family. We saved $250 in parking during that trip and came home to a rental check for $60. Not bad! For leisure trips, use the standard program.
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When you just really like the idea. I know, we have to be practical as business travelers, but there is a small subset of us that just wants to support a cool idea or the underdog. Consider FlightCar an underdog, since, like other sharing-economy companies, it’s having its battles over theoretically dodging the taxes rental car companies pay. Founder Kevin Petrovic told TravelSkills, “Right now, the only battle of significance is our lawsuit with the SFO airport. While we work to come to a resolution on that, our San Francisco operations are not affected and will continue as normal. We have been engaged in the litigation since May 2013.”
If your brain is flooded with “what if’s” as you read this, check out the company’s FAQ. They’ve got you covered in every way I could think of, from accident liability to parking tickets. While in my experience, FlightCar is subject to a few of the occasional missteps of airport parking—once I even had to wait because a car with manual transmission blocked mine and none of the employees knew how to drive a stick–I’m unabashedly a fan. In the right set of circumstances, it’s a brilliant idea that’s a money-saver, too.
For this post I’m only highlighting the parking program, but if you’re on a tight budget, you might also look into the rental side of things.
Certainly, if you have a new or expensive car you don’t want a stranger driving, FlightCar is not for you. But for some others, it can be a viable option.
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