Ridiculous or not? Airport parking fees start to multiply

Like many travelers, Hal Frost is accustomed to being hit with fees everywhere he goes, from the airport check-in counter to the hotel front desk. But long-term parking used to always be pretty straightforward: the rate he was quoted was the rate he paid.

Not anymore.

When he parked his car in New York recently through a site called NetParkFly he found several fees added to his bill, including a fuel surcharge fee, a customer service fee and an access fee. There’s no explanation of these extras on the company’s website.

“What are those for?” he wondered.

Just as an aside, sometimes you’re better off not knowing what fees are for, because it makes you even more upset. But the fact that airport parking areas have taken a page from the airline and hotel industry – well, that should surprise no one.

What is surprising, at least to me, is that the fee contagion hasn’t spread any faster.

I suggested Frost ask NetParkFly about his bill. He sent the company a brief, polite email, requesting that it explain the extras.

“Parking lots sometimes charge a fuel surcharge to recoup their fuel fees,” a representative responded. “Access fee is a fee that the airport charges and the parking lot has to give that to them. Customer service fee is a fee that we charge to each booking made on the website to cover our fees involved with the transaction.”

So the rate you’re charged for parking doesn’t cover the parking company’s own gas expenses. Nor does it pay for their rent, or the cost of providing “customer service.”

Kind of makes you wonder what the parking fee does cover.

NetParkFly is hardly alone. Another parking service, SmartParkJFK.com also charges a “one-time” fuel surcharge (but it promises a “low parking rate!”) Executive Valet Airport Parking at Bradley International Airport charges a four percent “airport access” fee. United Airport Parking at the Port of Miami is known to have charged a $5 customer service fee, too.

These extras are rarely disclosed to the satisfaction of customers, and are often only revealed at the last minute, inflating their parking bills by a few bucks. And while that may be a minor annoyance to air travelers, it can add hundreds of thousands of dollars to a parking lot operator’s revenues.

That strikes some travelers as dishonest and greedy.

What should happen? The price you are quoted should always be the price you pay for parking — the full price you pay — unless you extend your stay. Even then, you should only pay an all-inclusive rate for the extra day. (No late fees, please.)

I can understand why parking lot operators would want to add these surcharges. By breaking out the cost of parking, they can make their spots look extra cheap. We’re all familiar with this business strategy; airlines have perfected it with their often deceptive “a la carte” fees.

But customers are unhappy. Asked what he thought about the creative fees, Frost told me he thought they were “a lot of hooey.”

I think you shouldn’t have to bring a calculator along to the airport to figure out how much your parking bill will cost. I’m not sure if this kind of pricing is ethical, particularly if there’s no way to opt out of them.

Good thing there are lots of other parking lot operators in New York that don’t engage in these pricing tricks – for now.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or contact him at chris@elliott.org. Got a question or comment? You can post it on the new forum.

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  • ChrisY

    If you have to pay it to use the facilities, it needs to go in the quoted price.  I’m not a fan of airfare unbundling in general, but at least you can avoid certain fees like the checked bag fee and priority seating by taking the lowest possible rate and getting the most stripped down service.

    Now, if the rental lot provided directions for you to walk to the airport, then I suppose they could claim the shuttle ride as a bonus which warrants a fee.

  • http://sierralights.blogspot.com/ Sierra

    Yeah, that’s ridiculous. So many hidden fees associated with airline travel… makes me want to stop flying altogether.

  • Absherlock

    First, the fuel surcharge fee – either charge for the shuttle ride or don’t, but call it what it is. Suggesting the shuttle is included but the gas is extra is like having your cab driver hit you with a bill for gas used after you’ve paid the fare.

    As far as the access fee supposedly charged by the airport – why is the airport allowed to do this (if it is indeed real)? Shouldn’t anyone be able to drop off/pick up someone at a terminal? Or are the parking shuttles getting something extra (i.e. they’re allowed to park and wait for customers while everyone else is shooed along)? And are cabs assessed this fee as well? Do they pass it on? Sounds fishy to me…

    Finally, charging someone for the privilege of making a reservation or a payment through a website is the exact opposite of “customer service”.

  • http://oussamastake.blogspot.com/ Oussama

    So we now have a seamless travel experience from the parking lot all the way to the hotel and not forgetting the airline ticket , that is ancillary fees experience.

  • DavidS

    I voted yes. Why single out parking lots? Hotels charge fees, Travel agencies charge fees, car rental agencies charge fees, airlines charge fees, movie houses and theaters charge fees, taxis charge fees, limos charge fees…based on the wording of the question…why single out parking lots? Now…if the question was worded to encompass everyone, I would vote no.

  • Kairho

    I’m not a fan of hidden fees, far from it, but do we want the government regulating anything and everything under the sun?  Let the market decide as it’s done for thousands of years and prices will stabilize.

  • emanon256

    I hate the hidden fees that are added after the quote.  When a parking lot says $X upfront and then charges $X+Y, I think it’s wrong.  At least the airlines are better about disclosing the fees before booking is complete, or making them optional.
    I think the worst industry to charge these fees are the rental cars.  My recent rental car in San Francisco was $96.  When I asked what the total would be after fees, they told me $144. I begrudgingly accepted it. Then when I returned the car, my bill was $164!  I asked why I was quoted $144 after fees when I picked it up, and they said they just added a new fee.  A $20 per rental train use fee.  So now Avis charges $20 for a free public train ride? 
    I still take the train when I use public transportation, are they going to add $20 onto my bus ticket now?  You have to take the train to get form terminal to terminal.  This is the most ridiculous fee I have ever heard of.

  • Bill

    A fuel surcharge at a parking place is a bit out of line.

    I think the airlines started with all of this for advertising purposes and also, the compensation they are required to pay in some jurisdictions is a percentage of the fare when things go wrong.  They have made the fare a small component.  When I get an email saying 50% off fares, it is meaningless now.

  • Carver

    To compare this travesty to unbundling is to do violence to both the English language and economic principles.

    The concept of unbundling is that you can reasonably avoid a given charge.  You don’t have to check baggage, (I rarely do), you don’t have to have food on a flight (you can bring your own), you don’t need priority seating, and the list continues.  Let people who need these services pay for them.  I would gladly pay a few extra dollars to guarantee an exit row.

    But adding mandatory fees has nothing to do with unbundling since the fees are not unavoidable as a practical matter.  This is closer to the dreaded resort fee, which lacks any justification whatsoever.

  • Carver

    Yes, airport routinely charge private businesses an access fee to pick up or drop off at the airport.  Next note the signs warning against unauthorized taxis.  It because they didn’t pay the fee

  • Carver

    I think you are confused about fees.  We’re talking about charges above the base fare and taxes.  Hotels, except resorts, usually don’t charge fees.  Neither to theatres, cinemas, taxis, etc.  Some car rentals do, but at least the fees are fully disclosed upfront before you purchase so there aren’t any surprises.

    That’s why we are “singling” out parking lots, because these fees have no economic justification and are undisclosed prior to purchase.

  • Carver

    As a person who generally admires the free market, that’s BS.  Free markets require price transparency otherwise the market lacks sufficient information to work efficiently.

    One of the best uses of government power is to enforce truth in commerce laws, e.g. truth in lending

  • Carver

    You should have protested.  A new fee added after your reservation shouldn’t apply to you

  • franco

    I’m stumped.  If I park my car in your lot, exactly what are your fuel fees, and what do they have to do with my car?  And if a shuttle is involved, that fee should be included in the parking charge.

  • Tony A.

    I just arrived back for SE Asia yesterday and paid the long term parking lot at JFK $18 a day. Cost me $264 for 14 days plus extra hours. The rate was straightforward with no BS added. The OP was referring to private lots around JFK that advertise lower than $18/day rates but have added GOTCHA fees.

    Now if you don’t like or understand airport parking fees, I dare you to figure out what Manhattan parking lot fees charge extra. Drive to Broadway and watch a play. See what your parking lot bill is going to be. Maybe Elliott can make Manhattan parking lot fees more transparent.

  • http://twitter.com/travelingiraffe Crissy

    If there is a set daily fee that should be rolled into the price.  A fee for customer service and fuel is rediculous.

  • Stoyko

    The parking fee itself is apparently their pure profit. How nice, finally a business that clearly discloses to their customers what their pure profit is :)

  • Livermorebrianc

    This happened to me a while ago at a Park and Fly in Portland. Nowhere was the “fuel surcharge fee” posted on their website nor was it at the entrance. I protested the amount and the operator removed it.

    I think it’s ridiculous. 

  • Jim Zakany

    I ran into this $2 “gas fee” right after gasoline prices spiked a couple years ago. Didn’t know about it until I was already at the lot and parked. Paid, but wasn’t happy about it.

    And yes, Kairho, it’s entirely proper for government to regulate business practices. Businesses have proven, repeatedly, unable to perform in an ethical manner.

  • cjr001

    Once a fee or tax is allowed to take hold, it almost never goes away.

  • cjr001

    “A $20 per rental train use fee.”

    This sounds like a $20 that will be placed directly into an agent’s back pocket.

    If you still have time, I’d see if you can protest this little ‘fee’, because there’s no way they can possibly justify that. And if they say you can’t dispute it after the fact, then you inform them (and your credit card company) that they shouldn’t have added additional fees after the fact either.

  • Jim Zakany

    The last thing any business wants is a free market.

    Like Carver points out, obscuring the price of a service deliberately breaks this model.

    Businesses attempt to maximize their profit. Any benefit to society or to their customers from their activities is completely ancillary.

  • http://blogs.ocweekly.com/stickaforkinit Dave Lieberman

    $20 for a train ride? What bollocks. You can take Amtrak from Oakland to Sacramento for that price.

  • Steve Surjaputra

    Like Tony A., I park at the lots operated by the airport. They may be more expensive (though not usually) than the private lots, but at least the charge is straightforward. No additional fees.

  • DavidS

    I’m not confused about fees. Hotel resort fees are a perfect example of what I was talking about. Why do I pay more than my room rate for the ability to use the pool or beach at a resort? If I say I am not using the amneities, do I get a break? I have also been charged a fee for a “free’ breakfast for my child, even though I indicated a child in the initial reservation. The “free” breakfast was only for two. Car rentals charge fees for using their shuttle and facility as well as for the privlege of earning miles on their partner airlines, these are disclosed after making a reservation, not in the initial quote. Theaters and cinemas routinely charge “convenience” fees if you buy a ticket online, even if it through their website. Taxis charge fees for extra people and bags…and many drivers don’t even bother to get out of the car to load or unload the bags.

  • MVFlyer

    The ‘transportation’ fee is actually charged by SFO, not the rental car companies:  http://www.flysfo.com/investor/SummaryChargesFY1011.pdf

    SFO has an AirTrain system that runs between the rental car center, parking garages and terminals.  I guess they need someone to pay for it, and people who are renting cars must use the system since there’s no other practical way of getting from the terminal to the rental car garage, so they soak the out-of-towners.  $20/rental, however, is outrageous, but this is the fee and the rental companies keep not a cent of it.

    As an aside, looking at the Summary Charges document from SFO, they charge for everything from each taxi, hotel shuttle, and limo visit to using the jet bridges.  And we thought hotels were bad?

  • Dokeo

    The “fuel surcharge” is especially outrageous. They are charging you for the shuttle, plain and simple, yet their website claims the shuttle is free.

    Regarding laws/regulation, I think there ought to be just one law: that no one is allowed to sell anything in such a way that extra costs (other than local tax) pops up right at the end. Having a special rule for airlines, and another regulation for lots, and cell phones, hotels, and on and on and on is just inefficient nonsense.

  • noah

    I’m amazed that 94% of people think that these fees shouldn’t be allowed.  Thinking they are unfair and not consumer-friendly? Totally agree, of course.  But whatever happened to supporting the free market?

  • Brooklyn

    How is it free market to post one price and then raise it when it’s too late for the customer to make other arrangements?  You must run an airline!

  • Monica

    Well this was certainly a surprise to hear. I have recently parked in hourly at BWI, and I was charged $8. I was there for 2 hours, and their rates clearly show $4/hr. when you drive into the parking deck. No hidden fees.

    However, I will be using the long-term parking during Labor Day weekend, so I’ll have to keep a close eye on what the final bill is. The website and signs in the lot say “Maximum $8 per day”, and we plan on parking 5 days Thursday AM – Monday PM). If I’m charged more than $40, I’ll be PO’d.

  • Carver

    Respectfully, no

    If you check my post, I specifically excluded resorts because they  charge resort fees

    Breakfast:  Not sure what you mean

    Car Rentals:  Most of the fees are charged by the airport, and passed along to the consumer.  I just checked my Hertz rental for Friday.  There were four fees, all were either imposed by LAX or a government body.  None was a profit center for Hertz.  But more importantly, car rental agencies 1)disclose the total costs before you actually finalizie the reservation and 2) have the most generous cancellation policies in the entire travel industry.

    Cinemas:  This is an example of why I believe you misunderstand.  You don’t have to use the website.  You could buy the ticket at the cinema like 99 percent of the population.  And the fees are disclosed upfront.

    Theatres:  Most use ticketmaster which is a third party cite so they should get paid

  • Carver

    Its not that we are fundamentally against the fees.  Private business charges whatever they want.  It’s the lack of transparency that makes it a public outrage.

    Before I complete a financial transaction, I should know all of the terms and conditions.  If you can add a gotcha fee at the end, it makes a mockery of one of the cornerstones of the free market, i.e. the ability to comparison shop.

  • Alan

    There’s no need to pay for parking at JFKL at all. The city transit comes right to the airport, allowing you to leave your car at home.

  • djp

    Outside of airport taxes the rate you quote id what you pay.  

    If not then you will problems on the opposite side….say you book parking for your flight and then during travel you change your plans…like needing to come back early due to a storm coming. 

    But the parking lot will just charge you the quoted rate to you without adjusting for the fact you didnt park for the few days you had planned.

  • LFH

    There’s a difference between “taxes” and “fees.” Taxes are imposed by the government, for the benefit of the government, upon the purchaser or user of the service, and the merchant has no say on the matter. Fees are imposed by the merchant, for the benefit of the merchant, and the merchant has discretion over whether a fee is charged or not, and the amount of the fee. But in fact there is no difference between a merchant’s “fee” and a merchant’s “price,” especially when one considers that a “price” is nothing more that the sum of the merchant’s costs plus the merchant’s profit.

    Separate fees are appropriate only where the service associated with the fee is optional (e.g., a fee for parking a car at a hotel). But where a merchant makes the payment of a fee mandatory (e.g., a resort fee), then is is misleading and deceptive for the merchant to not embed that mandatory fee within the price of the service.

  • djp

    You will be likly charged the $40 plus airport taxes and sales taxes.

    These extra fees can also be found with hotels and airports where there is an extra tax on the charges.

    Recently there has been a story in Seattle of charging hotelers in the city some sort of fee to help fund projects.

  • flutiefan

    tell me about it! i think Manhattan garages are way worse than private airport lots!

  • flutiefan

    i agree, as i live in NYC. but what about coming from north Queens, where the buses are few and there are no subways? what about Long Island? is it just as easy? i really don’t know!

  • DavidS

    Is this over and above what NetParkFly discloses on their website during the booking process? used a two day rental starting next week to see what happens….

     Sub-Total$27.20 Taxes$2.82 Access Fee$4.00 Fuel Surcharge$0.00 Process Fee$0.00 Service Fee$5.00 Total$39.02 Due Now$15.00 Due At Lot$24.02

  • badbadwebbis

    We aren’t against the fee, per se…it’s the fact that the entire cost isn’t disclosed to the customer. If they say it’s 15/day but then whomp you with an additional $15.00 in fuel fees and shuttle fees and a-hole fees, that’s deceptive. Tell us upfront it’s $15/day plus $15.00 in ancillary fees and let us decide whether to park with you or at the airport. Or whether we just hand over the money to a friend and have her drop us off and pick us up. 

  • Bev Walker

    We missed the exit to a parking service and decided to go on to the airport and park there.  We called them as soon as we got to the airport (had an early, early flight).  They said they would still charge the fee for the whole time.  I couldn’t understand why we count not be charged for only one day and so protested via another phone call when we got to our destination and followed up with a letter to the head of the company when we got back home.  Eventually we did get a credit for the extra days, but to tell someone you cannot cancel is ridiculous!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JKYGE7MBEIT6DI67EBNYWOQSMY SirElmo60

    First they start charging you to talk to a person and now they charge you not to talk a person (talking in general – not just the parking places).  I thought the idea behind doing things online was to save the company money by not having to staff phones with real people to do it.  If it is cheaper using people, they do away from the online reservation.  If it isn’t costing money, then don’t try padding your wallet by stealing from ours.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_JKYGE7MBEIT6DI67EBNYWOQSMY SirElmo60

    In regard to the Theaters, if the only way to buy the tickets is through ticketmaster, then that fee should be in the ticket price.  The only time a fee should be allowed to be added on is if you have choice to accept and use the service or not.  If there is no choice, there should be no fee.  It should be built into the base cost.

  • Carver

    I would agree with that position but its irrelevant with respect to theatres.

    1) does it really matter how the numbers are broken out, the total price is what it is

    2) and there is no issue of comparison shopping as ticket master is basically the only online venue to purchase tickets on a nationwide basis.

  • DavidS

    Hotels: Not giving hotels that charge a mandatory fee, resort or any other type, a free pass. It should be in the price of the room. I have even been charged a Priceline fee of $5 by a hotel at check in!

    Breakfast: I have been charged by hotels for a “free” breakfast because we had two children in the room. Room for 4 only included breakfast for two, I had to pay for two breakfasts because kids stay free in the room, but still have to pay to eat. Still trying to figure that one out.

    Car Rentals: Most additional taxes and fees are not quoted up front, compared to airline tickets which have the govt taxes included. I have a car rental for this Friday with 3 surcharges and 4 taxes…National at O’hare. Makes a $40 rental turn into $70. Some of the surcharges are “per rental” and could easily be include in the initial quoted rate.

    Cinema: I see what you are saying, but if I wanted to see a popular movie on opening night, I would need to purchase my ticket in advance. I end up paying more to guarantee a ticket for a popular movie. This is the 21st century, why does it cost the movie theater more to process a transaction online?

    Theater: I have bought tickets to some theaters on their own website and paid a “convenience fee”. I called to avoid the fee and was told there was a phone fee!

    Looking at the parking website for the case in question, it appears these fees ARE disclosed in advance. The point I am making is that all these industries have fees, that are disclosed, before purchase. Based on the wording of Chris’ question, if you are going after a parking lot, why not go after all of the above?

  • MeanMeosh

    “As far as the access fee supposedly charged by the airport – why is the
    airport allowed to do this (if it is indeed real)? Shouldn’t anyone be
    able to drop off/pick up someone at a terminal?”

    Not all airports allow you to pick up/drop someone off free of charge.  DFW is an example.  There’s a minimum $1 charge just for going through the entry plaza.  Many airports also charge a separate access or license fee for commercial taxis or shuttles entering airport premises.  The private lots don’t have any control over the fee itself.  But, it should be fully disclosed upfront.

  • MeanMeosh

    Except the definition of “resort” has sure broadened over the years.  I’ve seen many an example of a hotel charging “resort” fees that wouldn’t meet the traditional definition of a “resort”.

    For the record, I agree that resort fees are pure evil and need to be dealt with.

  • MeanMeosh

    What Carver and the others have said.  I don’t think the fees themselves should be outlawed; any business has the right to charge whatever price it believes the market will bear.  However, mandatory fees, such as “resort fees”, that are not fully disclosed in the price are dishonest.  It’s nothing but a way of making your product or service appear cheaper than it is.

  • cjr001

    The fact remains that said fee was not disclosed ahead of time, regardless of whether the fee is passed along to somebody else.

    Many hotels and car rental agencies have to pass along taxes and fees that go back to the cities or states. These are disclosed ahead of time, not after the fact. It should be the same here, or the rental agency should be forced to eat the cost themselves.

  • Guest

    My God, get the government OUT of these trivial things.  You want to pay taxes to have overpaid bureaucrats inspect vendors for $2 fees????  You have got to be kidding.  How about you just don’t use them again. 

  • Ddet1956

    If you know about the “fee” in advance, it is just part of the cost to park there. People vote with their feet. If you don’t like it, don’t use it.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/J33YDTQYE5X4CXF3TMSRRCPA7Y NicholeM

    Some airports do charge a fee to either get in or get out.  Providence Airport is free, but Boston Logan is $3.50 to get out.  So there are some access fees involved. 

    I don’t agree with the parking companies charging the passengers though.  That should be cost of doing business since the charge is the same whether the shuttle has 8 people or 2.