The great airport parking rip-off

Airport parking is pricey. This, after all, is how airport operators make money. They have captive markets, and while the income from retail rentals tends to be the biggest contributor to ‘non-aeronautical revenue’, parking is material to both the top and bottom lines.

Before the Covid-19 shock, Airports Company South Africa (Acsa) was generating nearly R600 million in revenue from its car parks per year. Last year (to the end of March), parking revenue had recovered to R353 million.

In a normal year, parking equates to about one fifth of its revenue from operations that are not ‘core’ (landing fees, passenger service charges and aircraft parking fees), and 10% of all revenue.

Parking remains easy money …

A study last year found that at the most expensive major airport in the world, Qatar’s Hamad International Airport, the weekly parking charge is almost $300 (more than R5 000). This ‘long-term’ area is currently closed, and parking charges are now even higher.

A handful of major European airports all charge more than $200 (R3 363) a week.

At OR Tambo International and Cape Town International, the steepest per day parking rates exceed R200 (OR Tambo’s ‘Premium’ parking charges R340 a day!).

What to do?

There are ways to avoid feeling ripped off – options where you don’t need to pay these sometimes ruinous charges.

The most important factor influencing the rate is which area you park in. Generally, parkades adjacent to terminals are more expensive, while shaded (as opposed to covered) parking tends to be cheaper.

An analysis by Moneyweb reveals that there are enormous differences between parking options at major South African airports, none so stark as those at OR Tambo.

Gone are the days of shaded parking and the ‘Super South’ area halfway to East Rand Mall. The options in a post-Covid-19 world are the basement (under the international terminal) and the main parkade (‘Parkade 2’ as City Lodge sits atop its northern half).

Within Parkade 2, though, pricing differs dependent on which level you park on. Level 2 (with the bridge across to the terminal) is now mostly a pick-up area, with a ‘Premium’ parking option squeezed in on this level too.

Moving underground, Level -1 on the northern side of the parkade is long-stay parking, which only makes financial sense after three days. The rate for that duration is R510 and drops to R280 for four days, whereafter the fee is R70 per day.

These rates apply to pre-booked parking as well (this is for Level -2), and bookings need to be made via the Acsa app.

The long-stay or pre-booked options are by far the least expensive options at OR Tambo – less than half the normal rate for a longer stay in the same parkade (!), a third of the rate of the basement, and nearly a fifth of the ‘Premium’ parking.

In Cape Town, there are fewer options at the airport, which results in higher prices.

Long-term parking (shaded and behind the shaded P4 area) is on par with the pricing at OR Tambo (R700 for 10 days), but one can only use this area for seven or more days. Still, for longer stays, tariffs in this area are less than half of those in ‘normal’ shaded parking, and a third of the pricing in the parkades.

The parkades at Cape Town are the most expensive of all parking areas at Acsa airports, save for the ‘Premium’ parking option at OR Tambo. Here, the per-day rate is R225 (versus R210/R170 in Joburg). Shaded parking is also pricey at R160 a day.

At King Shaka International in Durban, pricing of long-term parking is in line with both OR Tambo and Cape Town International. Parkade pricing in Durban is still steep (just under R200 a day), but shaded pricing is relatively affordable (R100 a day) and not at all far from the terminal.

Knowledge is power …

2 hours 3.5 days 10 days
OR Tambo basement R48 R735 R2100
OR Tambo parkade R28 R595 R1700
OR Tambo parkade long stay (Level -1) or pre-booked (Level -2) N/A R280 R700
OR Tambo ‘Premium’ – parkade Level 2 R58 R1190 R3400
OR Tambo off-site parking service N/A R290 R650
CT International parkades R55 R815 R2250
CT International shade R36 R580 R1600
CT International long-term N/A N/A R700
CT off-site parking service N/A R685 R1595
King Shaka International parkade R28 R670 R1900
King Shaka International shade R24 R360 R1000
King Shaka International long-term N/A N/A R680
George shade R32 R452 R1300
George open R24 R314 R900
Lanseria parkade R32 R539 R628

Privately-owned Lanseria has shut its sprawling shaded parking areas with parking now only available in the new multi-storey parkade.

As passenger volumes return post-Covid-19, the airport will likely reopen parking as required. Parking prices are roughly in line with those at Acsa airports (about 10% lower for overnight/longer stays).

Off-site parking services at OR Tambo and Cape Town International are priced more or less in line with options at the airports.

Use ‘public’ transport instead?

Parking at Gautrain stations is cheap if you’re using the train, but a return journey to the airport from Sandton is nearly R400. Add 10 days of parking, and you get to a similar figure to the long-stay option at OR Tambo.

Uber is a compelling option, especially in Cape Town.

A return trip from Sea Point would be less than R500 on Uber X and about R700 on Uber Black (the same price as shaded long-stay parking for 10 days).

In Joburg, these kinds of services are more expensive because of the distance to the airport.

 The big ‘what not to do’ … and a great hack 

If you do choose to drive to the airport, avoid parking in drop-off areas for anything longer than an hour at all costs. After that, what Acsa terms “exponential rates” apply.

At OR Tambo and in Cape Town, the rate for the pick-up areas is R60 per hour after the first hour.

Or you could use what is arguably one of the greatest parking hacks ever … park at Emperor’s Palace, grab a pre-flight drink or meal and catch the free shuttle to the airport.