Holidaymakers are facing scams when they park at the airport this summer, adding to a catalog of problems that already includes flight cancellations, delays, queues, lost luggage, strikes and even runway meltdowns.

Desperate to make up for the heavy losses incurred during the coronavirus crisis, cash-strapped airport bosses are introducing new parking charges to line our holiday pockets. Drop-off fees or picking up family or friends at the airport are just the last cash cow. Another is to charge extra for parking spaces that have not been reserved in advance.

Even someone who thinks they’re being smart about booking in advance gets hit with computer glitches that force them to pay twice and then demand a refund – as I recently found out when I flew out of Luton Airport (see box below).

Takeoff: Airports are increasing terminal drop-off fees


In recent weeks, airports have quietly introduced new fees for dropping friends or family off – or picking them up.

Earlier this month, Heathrow began charging £5 to drop passengers off at Terminal Four. Other Heathrow terminals charge the same amount from November.

The driver of the car can make a pre-payment – online or over the phone – by providing the vehicle’s registration number and credit or debit card details. Or they have to pay by 11:59pm the next day.

There are no barriers, so despite the signs, you may not be aware of the new charge until the £80 parking charge notice appears on the mat a few days later – after the spy cameras have captured your car details. This penalty is reduced to £40 if payment is made within 14 days. To meet at Heathrow you pay £5.30 for up to 30 minutes in a designated short stay car park – £11.40 for one hour.

Gatwick also requires a £5 drop-off charge.

License plate reading technology captures details of your vehicle without interference to alert unsuspecting motorists.

You have until midnight the next day to pay online or by phone. What’s more, people only have ten minutes to deliver – each minute after that costs an extra £1 up to 20 minutes, with a maximum charge of £25 per 30 minutes.

Failure to pay will result in a £100 Parking Charge Notice – reduced to £60 if you pay your bill within 14 days. The fee was introduced in March last year. Collection costs £5 per 30 minutes in short term parking.

Luton is also demanding £5 for ten minutes of parking when alighting – the charge is set for January 2021 – and £1 per minute after that. You pay at the barrier.

From November 2020, Stansted charge £7 to board or disembark near the terminal, but you only have a 15 minute window. Stay longer and you’ll be stung by £25. Payment is made at the barrier when leaving the airport.

Manchester charges £5 per five minutes and £6 per ten minutes for disembarking from the terminal – again from November 2020 – paid at the barrier. Over ten minutes – £25.

Birmingham offers a free shuttle service of up to 20 minutes. There is a charge of £20 for 50 minutes and £5 for every five minutes after that. These charges were set in March 2019. In addition, it provides a “premium” removal service. It costs £3 for 15 minutes and is payable at the barrier.

Car park pick-up for short stays costs £6.50 per hour.

From December 2020, fliers using Glasgow will pay £4 at the drop-off point for less than ten minutes, before the cost increases. It costs £10 for a 20 minute wait and £15 for half an hour.

Consumer activist Martin James says the allegations are not just wrong, they’re unfair. He says: “Airports are profiting from services that have traditionally always been free.

“It is very unfair that airports are allowed to treat passengers like cash cows.

“This particularly penalizes vulnerable populations, such as the elderly and disabled, who need close access to airport terminals.”


Traveling to the airport without a parking reservation can be an expensive mistake. Heathrow charges £77.10 for 24 hours if you just turn up at its car park for a short stay – it could be £73.20 if you book in advance online.

Gatwick charges £45 a day for turning up on the day at its short-term car park, but can charge £36 if the car park has been booked in advance.

Luton charges £67.50 for its short-term parking for one or two spaces per day, but can charge £58.99 and £53.99 respectively when booked in advance. Stansted can charge £62 for 24 hours for short term parking – this can be £60 if booked in advance.

The short stay fee in Manchester is £58 but can be £55 in advance.

In Birmingham you pay £49 a day if you just drive up on the day. Glasgow charges £36 to park in an official car park for the day as a drive-in motorist.

At all airports, parking fees can be reduced by more than two-thirds if you book spaces a week in advance rather than days in advance.

And if you’re away for a week or more, long-term parking is a lot cheaper – even if it means taking a bus to the terminal rather than walking. To do this, give yourself 30 minutes of extra time to wait for the bus that will then take you to the terminal.

For example, at Stansted, a pre-booked short-term parking space can cost £60 per day.

While a longer stay – a 15-minute bus journey away – can also initially start at £60 a day, the fee drops if you stay for a week.

Book a week in advance and you can pay £130 for a short stay and £106 for a long stay. Other online discounts are also made available from time to time.


Official airport car parks may seem convenient, but you can save money by using a “meet and greet” service.

Comparison websites such as Parking4Less and Airport Parking Shop offer a guide to operators who typically charge half the price for short-term and long-term parking.

The idea is that you go to the airport and hand over the car key to the attendant at the agreed drop-off point. You then enter the terminal while they deliver your car to a secure car park a few miles away.

On your return, you call the valet company after collecting your luggage and the attendant returns your car to the agreed location – and you drive home.

The further you book, the cheaper the stay. But be very careful if you decide to use this service.

It’s an unregulated market where cowboys have been known to take vehicles for unauthorized spins or park their cars on the side of the street.

So, if you do take the plunge, check reviews and choose operators that use a police-approved secure parking service with the Park Mark logo.

Another option is to use a website like Park On My Drive or Your Driving Space, where you can find homeowners in the area you’re flying into who are willing to rent out a spot in their driveway.

You can then give them a ride or take a taxi to the nearest airport terminal.

If you have an early morning flight and need to drive a long way to the airport, hotel parking may be the best option – it allows you to stay at the hotel the night before your trip and leave your car there for a small fee when you go on holiday.

Chains that offer this service include Holiday Inn, Travelodge, Ibis, Hilton and Sofitel.

I was charged twice for daily parking

When planning a domestic flight earlier this month, I visited London Luton Airport’s website, clicked on the ‘official on-site parking’ link and entered my car registration details, writes Toby Waln. I was charged £61.99 for a one day stay in ‘terminal 1 car park’.

On arrival the next day I took the ticket at the automatic barrier and re-inserted it when I returned later that day. But the barrier did not rise. Because of the line I had to pay with my credit card to get out. A few days later I looked at my bank statement and saw that I had been charged twice – £129.49 instead of £61.99. Correcting the error was not easy.

First, I had to wait on the phone for half an hour listening to the recorded message “Your call is very important to us” before I finally got through.

Crazy: Toby Waln was charged twice for daily parking

Crazy: Toby Waln was charged twice for daily parking

I was then told that I would need to email my personal and vehicle details, booking confirmation and proof of purchase to receive a refund. As if the mistake was mine, not the airport’s.

To add insult to injury, I was also told that it could take over two weeks to process the refund.

The woman who took my call admitted that I was the victim of a “common problem” that the airport was aware of and was “looking into” but had not yet resolved.

My pre-booking details, including my vehicle number plate, were not recognized by the barrier due to a computer system failure.

Ten days after I contacted Luton Airport Car Park I still haven’t received a refund.

London Luton Airport said: “This is not an ongoing issue but can happen where the system may not recognize the check-in number – so when the ticket is entered it does not match the booking.”

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