YOU arrive at the airport the day before Thanksgiving. You've made all your plane, hotel and car-rental reservations online. You're feeling mighty smug knowing you have saved your family a bundle by doing it all yourself.
You turn to pull into your favorite off-airport parking lot and find it's sold out. In a panic, with planes to catch and kids to corral, you find a spot at an airport parking lot near the terminal. Upon your return, you find you owe $150 for parking -- $30 per day for five days, about half the cost of a cross-country plane ticket.
Fortunately, the world of online travel booking has grown to encompass airport parking. You can now reserve a spot online in advance at many lots off airport grounds, even for the busy holiday travel periods. (LAX's own parking lots do not accept reservations.)
"Airport parking is coming into the [online] mainstream, no doubt about it," says Tom Lombardi, president of AirportParkingReservations.com.
The company began five years ago when Lombardi was doing marketing work for privately run remote lots in Hartford, Conn. He hit on the idea of creating a website, and it took off.
"If it works here, it has to work everywhere," Lombardi remembers thinking at the time.
Lombardi's company now manages online reservations for more than 200 privately run remote parking lots around the nation, including sites at LAX, Burbank, Ontario and San Diego.
The idea has become so mainstream, in fact, that travel websites Expedia and Orbitz allow you to add parking reservations when you book a plane ticket. Orbitz works with AirportParkingReservations.com's network, and Expedia works with the Park 'N Fly network. Besides avoiding hassles and worry at the airport, you can also save money over the drive-up cost of parking.
Expedia's fees are typically 10% cheaper than the standard drive-up fee, says spokesman David Dennis.
At AirportParkingReservations.com, parking lots are listed next to one another and compete for a traveler's attention using price, even sometimes undercutting their own websites' pricing. For example, one lot that usually charges $6.25 on its site was offering a daily rate of $5.25 on AirportParkingReservations.com. If a traveler booked with this lot, he could have saved more than $100 for five days of parking compared with lots on airport grounds.
"It's really competitive, almost like an auction where the lowest price sells," Lombardi says. "Fifty percent of people say they chose a particular parking lot because of price."
Of course, price isn't the only factor in choosing off-airport parking. Location, security and shuttle service all rank in travelers' minds when selecting a remote lot.
The ParkNFly.com network of privately owned remote lots consists of screened sites that business travelers frequent. Its choices are not as extensive as those offered by AirportParking Reservations.com, and it has only two lots in Southern California, one each at LAX and Ontario. It is selective about the privately run remote lots that it represents.
"Our service standard is shuttles every three to five minutes," says David Grocer, Park 'N Fly's senior vice president of marketing and sales. A Park 'N Fly employee is charged with making sure standards are met.
AirportParkingReservations .com handles quality control by soliciting user reviews of parking lots and assigning a five-star rating system. For example, Johnny Park gets a four-star rating based on feedback from more than 2,000 users. Quik Park LAX, which charges more than Johnny Park, gets a five-star rating.
"You get to look and compare what other customers have experienced," Lombardi says.
At LAX, Park 'N Fly operates the Park One facility, a short walk from Terminal 1. Booking online saves about $1.50 per day off the $16.45 drive-up rate. And although everyone wants to save a buck online, peace of mind is often just as important.
"The value for many people is that it's great to know you've got a guaranteed space," Grocer said, "especially around the holidays."
Lombardi reports that -- three weeks before Thanksgiving -- three lots serving LAX already were sold out. Last Thanksgiving, Park One sold out, and Grocer expects the same this year, although it will continue to take reservations until the Tuesday before the holiday.
Booking policies differ between the two websites.
At Park 'N Fly, you pay in advance for your stay. If you cancel, you are assessed a $10 fee, and you must cancel 24 hours before your reservation. If your trip is extended, you pay the difference on checkout. If you arrive early, there are no refunds. There are no added fees for booking online.
At AirportParkingReservations.com, you pay a refundable deposit of one day's fee plus a $5 service charge. The deposit (minus the service charge) is deducted from your final tab.
James Gilden writes the Daily Traveler blog at latimes.com/thedailytraveler.
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Finding a spot
*--* ParkNFly.com AirportParking Reservations.com Reservation guaranteed Yes Yes Cheaper than drive-up Yes Yes Pay in advance Yes No Can compare lots online No Yes Refunds 24 hours' notice, 48 hours' notice, no plus $10 fee fee