Why Airport Parking Is Such A Rip-Off

Why Airport Parking Is Such A Rip-Off
airportcarparkAirfares might still be pretty cheap, but parking your car can be an expensive exercise. Is there any way out of the bind?

As a non-driver, I rarely have to worry about airport parking fees. But occasionally a family member or friend picks me up in a remote city, and I can’t help noticing that getting to put your vehicle near an airport is an expensive exercise.

Recently, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission rounded up airport car parking prices in Australia’s five major cities. The results confirm some obvious trends (the bigger the city, the higher the price) and also show that making the choice between a short-term and long-term car park is fairly important. And they show that airport cark parks are big business, raking in around $244 million in the 2007-2008 financial year.

Parking for an hour typically costs $14 in Sydney, $12 in Melbourne, $10 in Brisbane, $5.20 in Perth and $4 in Adelaide. Park for 24 hours in a short term car park and you’ll pay $46 in Sydney, $45 in Melbourne and Brisbane, $30 in Adelaide and $20 in Perth. Park for a day in a long-term park and Sydney actually loses its top perch: Melbourne and Brisbane each charge $25, Sydney charges $24, Adelaide $20 and Perth $17.

While those prices are high, they have slowed down a bit in recessionary times. “The results showed that both average prices charged and car parking revenue increased significantly during the four years prior to 2007–08,” ACCC chairman Graeme Samuel said. “Price increases slowed however during 2007–08.”

Unfortunately, the ACCC can’t do anything about these prices other than point them out. As it primly notes in its release announcement: “The ACCC’s role does not extend to setting or approving airport car parking prices or conditions of service.” So the only practical option is to vote with your feet.

How can that be done in practice? One obvious option is to ditch the car altogether and use public transport. However, in most Australian capitals the price of an airport bus or train is higher than the cost for an hour’s parking. (That’s not strictly a fair comparison, since you’ll need petrol for the car as well, but most people are too lazy to factor that in.) The one exception I’m aware of is Adelaide, where the main airport buses (J1, J2 and J3) are part of the regular transport system, not a high-priced alternative service. But then again, Adelaide has by far the cheapest regular parking. Taxis face the same challenge — given current airport locations, they’ll almost never be cheaper than the parking option.

The final option — and it’s a popular one based on the calls I see getting made at luggage carousels — is to ring your pick-up when you land so they can swoop past and grab you out front without parking at all. That’s fine if you’re on time, but a nuisance if you’re delayed — and again potentially involves a lot of looping around consuming petrol.

Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • You’re half way there on having the friend wait for your call before picking you up.

    Instead of them circling the area, they just find a park 5-10 minutes away from the airport, and wait for your call.

    Depending on who’s time is more precious, you might suggest a pick up time that is a good 30 minutes are your expected arrival, to allow a bit of late time, getting your bags, etc etc.

  • When arriving back into Sydney, having my wife swoop by in our car is my favoured option. But traffic nazis are getting more aggressive about this practice.

    I get collected at the far end of the departures level, where the minibuses stop (infrequently) to collect aircrew. If a dayglow-jacketed traffic nazi is strolling some distance away, you’re in with a chance for a quick getaway.

    But a friend of mine recently received a parking infringement notice when his partner collected him. We haven’t sorted through the legalities of that infringement, however.

    Perhaps a (financially) safer place to pick up is the secondary Qantas set-down area on the inner loop of the airport road.

    Oh – and there’s plenty of free parking outside the Mascot underground railway station in Bourke Road while your driver is waiting for your arrival.

    Of course, the only thing Sydney Airport isn’t charging you for at the moment is the air. But rest assured, they’re working on it!!!!!

    Good luck!


  • This article does not really say “Why Airport Parking Is Such A Rip-Off”. I goes over the costs and the fact that the alternatives are also expensive but does nothing to explain why they charge so much. Merely because they can. Or is it related to economic principles such as supply and demand… I guess you will have to do you own research to find the answer to this.

  • I live in Adelaide and travel regularly from the airport. It works like this, cab fare to and from airport $90.00 to $95.00. Time away three days or less, therefore drive and use the short term car park, which unfortunately is not undercover. Long term car park… too hard! Brave the rain, oops sorry we haven’t really had much over the last few months, OK brave the the blazing sun, drag luggage across car park, take lift to upper deck. level of discomfort 6 out of 10.

    Travel greater than three days, grovel to wife or kids to drop me off and pick me up. If not take cab…discomfort level 9 out of 10.

    By the way nobody travels on that bus service with their luggage… give me a break. The normal work day punters hate the families that get on with all their luggage… it’s like having to check in twice!

  • What’s the reason you can’t pick-up people coming out of the International Terminal in Sydney?

    I’ve always thought it was to get people into the car parks but perhaps there’s another reason. Anybody know?

  • Rather than looping, just pop into McDonalds (or what ever else is around the airport) and wait for the phone call. You may have to purchase some fries or something small, but take your time to consume it.

  • You overlooked the Capital of Australia’s airport, Snowtown as is commonly known by locals. $2.50 for 60 minutes or $3.00 for an hour (what is that?) 24 hrs short stay is $25 and long stay $17. And, don’t entertain getting someone to blow through and pick you up, the parking gestapo’s will nab you….

  • I like the last option and is the one that I use most often, however, this option is ruled out for Sydney International Airport as the pick-up zone does not exist. It used to, but was removed and therefore forcing you to park.

  • Around here, North America, we have “cell lots” at between the freeway exits and the airport entrance, or situated on the side street adjacent to the airport passenger terminals.

    What I do is arrive at the cell lot a few minutes before the arriving passenger should be ready to pickup. Then wait for them to call and tell me they are at the curb. Then it takes less than minutes to pull around, pause while they load luggage, and move on.

    Never the less, we still get insistent morons attempting to park – yet “not parked officer” – at the terminal exit.


  • The quick pick up option at the International Terminal has always been my option until the Airport officials banned anyone from waiting at the Departure Terminal (even for a very short and quick pick up). They have placed signs all over the Departure area.

    Why get picked up at the Departure area? Cos it has less people waiting.

    They have also removed any point where you can pick up passengers at the Arrivals area. Which means you still have to pay parking fees just to pick up someone at the airport – because you would need to enter the Arrivals area even for a quick pick up then pay the parking fee.

    Ive always wondered how we can all protest to this sneaky money making scheme. THis is highway robbery!

  • Actually I have found the Melbourne Airport Skybus service to be very useful and inexpensive assuming you can get out of the CBD easily enough.

    Its usually just as fast as hunting your car down in the long term carpark and $26 return is hard to beat if you’re paying $25 a day just to park your car.

  • @Daniel – saying there is regular public transport to Melbourne Airport is a gross misrepresentation. There isn’t unless you want to hop multiple forms of PT and who wants to do that with luggage (good luck getting near a peak hour train with luggage in Melbourne) and it involves a lot of waiting around and good luck to get your connecting bus. If you’re a regular flyer then the Skybus is the best choice with a taxi or friend pick up by car from the CBD. If you’re not, then the parking fees are an infrequent cost you’ll just have to suck up. My take is that if you can afford to go jetting around the nation/globe then you can afford parking.

  • @CitizenDee I didn’t say it was good regular PT, but it’s an option nonetheless. The web page quoted (disclaimer: I wrote it) makes it reasonably clear that yes, it’s a slow awkward trip (cheap though), and that Skybus or a cab is quicker.

    Personally, I prefer Skybus, but these days with discount airfares, it’s not uncommon for people to be looking for cheaper options.

  • A smart way to avoid the Melbourne Airport carparking fee is to park at the Westfield Shopping Centre not far away and wait for a phone call from passengers who have just arrived and then pick them up from the arrivals drop-off point. Quick, easy, smart and stops the rip-off of the high parking fee costs.

  • One suggestion to friends and families on drop off
    a traveller. Do not pay the parking fee until you’re in your car. There is a “grace period” of 12 minutes, then another $6.00 charged. If you are not out witheen 12 minutes after paid fee, you pay again. Can not argue, 10 minutes argument another $ 6.00 fee.Good luck.

  • My dilemma involves Tiger airways! Being 17, I need a guardian or such to stay with me until my flight departs. They also require you to be there 2 hours before the flight – 2 hours parking costs $24 which is pretty much the same cost as the flight itself.
    It’s ridiculous, I still don’t understand why they have to charge so much?

  • It cost $52 for 3+ hours to parked at Sydney International Airport…now that’s a rip-off. They’re forcing everyone to pay for the parking fee since there’s no designated pick-up point at the arrival area.

    There’s no other choice.

  • There are several possibilities for Sydney airport International pickup

    1/ Have your pickup car wait in some of the surrounding streets and whisk you away at the end of the roads exiting the airport ; this may cause some discontent, but the road belongs to all of us

    2/ As suggested by someone, get to the end of the departure level dragging your luggage on the road ; have the mobile phone ready ; nobody can stop you dragging your luggage

    3/ Get a trolley and drag it all the way up to under the bridge at the level of Cooks river then you might be able to cross the bridge ; it is actually not so far to marsh street ; Just to piss them off, you might even abandon the trolley as a measure of your protest

  • If you’re picking up from Tullamarine (Melbourne) there there’s a 1 minute parking area at the end of the median strip on Arrival Drive for pickups only – just don’t leave your car or you get an instant fine. Will be testing that out tomorrow. There’s parking nearby at McDonalds while you wait for that call.

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