The Sunday Times Driving Placeholder

UK airports charging jumbo car parking fees

The biggest airports in Britain have increased many parking charges by more than a third in the past two years and some prices have doubled.


BRITAIN-TRANSPORT-AVIATION-HEATHROW

YOU’VE got your shades, suncream and sandals. Now just remember to pack plenty of spare change. Holidaymakers should prepare for hefty increases in airport parking charges this summer.

It is now cheaper to hire a taxi for a return journey from Sheffield to Heathrow — cost: £340 — than it is to drive there and park for two weeks at the standard rate. The biggest airports in Britain have increased many parking charges by more than a third in the past two years and some prices have doubled.

The increases have confirmed Britain’s position as Europe’s most expensive country for airport parking. The Sunday Times surveyed the 50 busiest airports in Europe by passenger numbers. Those in Britain either charged the most or were in the top three most expensive for each of the nine parking scenarios for which we obtained quotes.

Stansted, serving London and the southeast, charges £10 for an hour in its short-stay car park. Most comparable airports in continental Europe, including Amsterdam, Frankfurt and Barcelona, charge less than half that fee. For a 15-day stay at standard rates (not pre-booked) Heathrow is the most expensive at £305 and Stansted comes second at £270. Of the 10 most expensive long-stay airport fees in Europe, eight are in Britain. Paris Charles de Gaulle at £192 is the most expensive on the Continent but a long way behind its UK counterparts.

When it comes to eight days’ pre-booked parking, Paris leads the way at £106 but Heathrow terminal 5 isn’t far behind at £105. By way of comparison, Rome’s Fiumicino airport charges £32.

Operators of Britain’s biggest airports admit that drivers are subsidising the cost of passenger services and helping keep down air ticket prices. Those who benefit include travellers arriving from international destinations.

Heathrow is under investigation from trading standards officers over the “clarity of its car park pricing” — the way that prices are structured and displayed. West Sussex council, which covers Gatwick airport, said there was little its trading standards officers could do about the escalation in charges.

Regional airports are also increasing their prices. An hour in a short-stay car park at Birmingham and Manchester costs roughly 15% more than two years ago, while at Luton drop-off fees have doubled. At Edinburgh airport, a day in the long-stay car park costs £24, more than double the £9.90 of 2012.

We compared quotes obtained in 2012, for the busiest airports in Britain and Europe, with those for this summer. The largest increases across the board were at Britain’s two biggest airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, which last year handled 105m passengers out of a total 228m arrivals and departures in Britain.

Two years ago, if you booked your holiday at the last minute or forgot to reserve your parking, you would have paid £258 to leave your car in the terminal 5 long-stay car park for 15 days. This year, that fee has increased by 18% to £305. When you include a modest £50 fuel allowance for the 340-mile round trip from Sheffield, taking a taxi is cheaper than driving yourself and parking at this rate.

“You’re charged a lot of money just for parking your car,” says Bernard Tomlinson, 62, chairman of a Sheffield insurance broker, who uses a taxi service instead of driving. At the beginning of the year, Tomlinson and his wife, Liz, 62, paid for a taxi to Heathrow and back. “Once you have paid for your fuel, the parking — and sometimes a hotel at the airport — it is cheaper and more convenient for us to take a taxi,” he said.

John Oxley, their driver, from Sheffield’s Elite Travel, said shuttling passengers to and from Heathrow was a growing part of his business, thanks to increases in parking and fuel costs. “It costs a fortune to park and it can take half an hour to get from long-stay parking to your terminal,” he said.

In recent years, many passengers have avoided standard parking rates by booking in advance but these prices have also increased sharply, especially at Heathrow and Gatwick.

Two years ago, we obtained a quote for 15 days’ pre-booked parking at Heathrow terminal 5, starting on the last weekend of July, for £96.40. This year we were quoted £144.90 — a 50% rise.

It was a similar story at Gatwick’s north terminal: a quote of £85.80 over the same period in 2012 has risen 48% to £126.65, bringing it much closer to the standard on-the-day rate, which remains unchanged at £195.

It’s cheaper to park a Cessna jet at Gatwick for five minutes (£2.64) than it is to stop at the short-stay car park for the same period (£3 for up to 30 minutes). “It’s a sad reflection of the way that car drivers are seen as a way of milking more cash for business and the main focus is not on welcoming customers and making their lives as easy as possible,” said Luke Bosdet, of the AA.

Many motorists are reluctant to use third-party car park operators, which often insist on retaining your car keys and can be sited miles from the terminal, requiring a lengthy bus transfer.

Airports have reported increased income from car parking. Last year, Heathrow Airport Holdings, the parent company of Heathrow, which also manages Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton airports, reported a 10% increase in car parking revenue to £110m. Gatwick’s was up 7% to £58.1m.

Airports admit that a cycle of price rises has taken hold, in which they chase each other to keep up. “As part of our business review . . . we made the decision to bring our pricing in line with Gatwick,” said Julia Gillam, a Heathrow spokeswoman. Gillam said the average price that customers paid for pre-booked parking had fallen by 2.5% between 2012 and 2013, though it was up by 3.2% so far this year against the same period in 2013.

A Gatwick spokesman said price rises “reflect the supply and demand”.

The Office of Fair Trading, which investigated the car parking sector in 2010, ceased to exist at the end of March. Some of its functions were taken by the Competition and Markets Authority, but trading standards departments are responsible for investigating whether an airport is abusing its monopoly.

Hillingdon council, which covers Heathrow, said it was looking into a complaint about parking but could not give more details. West Sussex council, responsible for Gatwick, said that unless there was a contravention of rules it had no reason to examine parking charges, and that as the car parks were on private land, they could charge what they liked.

 

Sky-high prices

Short stay, 1 hour:

  1. London, Stansted: £10
  2. Stockholm, Arlanda: £8.88
  3. London, Luton: £7.90
  4. Paris, Charles de Gaulle: £7.30
  5. London, Heathrow, T5: £6

 

Long stay, 15 days:

    1. London, Heathrow, T5: £305
    2. London, Stansted: £270
    3. London, Luton: £228
    4. London, Gatwick: £195
    5. Paris, Charles de Gaulle: £192

 

Pre-booked 8 days:

  1. Paris, Charles de Gaulle: £106
  2. London, Heathrow T5: £105
  3. Paris, Orly: £85
  4. London, Gatwick: £81
  5. Geneva: £78