smart spending

Park and fly to catch bargain airfares

Ever notice that the cheapest flights are often the first flights out in the morning? With airfares hitting new highs and volatile gas costs, that cut-rate 5:45 a.m. flight looks a little more attractive.

Bargain airfares

Flying early in the morning can often be hundreds of dollars cheaper than mid-day or early-evening flights.

But you don't have to leave the house at 3 in the morning and risk a groggy, half-awake accident in order to catch the early-bird deals.

By taking advantage of motel programs around the country called "park and fly," you can get your sleep and your bargain, too.

Here's how it works. At the Quality Inn in Moline, Ill., the "park and fly" rate entitles you to an overnight stay, a free shuttle to the airport, which is about five minutes away, and free parking for a week. With long-term parking at $6 per day at Quad City International Airport, you're already making headway on a $69 hotel room.

And with a family of four traveling, saving $100 per ticket by taking the first flight out makes a $69 room a bargain, with the parking just the icing on the cake.

And you don't need to worry that you'll sleep through the alarm.

You can arrive at a civilized evening hour, swim in the pool, and get your rest.

The motel folks will make sure you wake up and are actually on the shuttle in time to fly. This way, you can get up at 5, roll out of bed and board promptly.

Motel near home
It might feel weird to stay in a motel near home. Why pay to sleep somewhere only 60 or 70 miles away?

But that one- or two-hour drive to the airport, taken the night before, opens you up to a new array of flights ... including the cheapest ones.

By expanding your time options, you expand your price options. The airport in Moline, for example, usually has better prices on flights to the East Coast than The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and for just over an hour's drive you could save $100 per ticket.

Then there's the calmness factor, which you can think of as starting your vacation early. You can arrive at a civilized evening hour, swim in the pool, and get your rest.

And it's not just for modestly priced Moline
Even expensive cities have some low-rate motels within easy driving distance of the airport. If you plan ahead and use discount hotel sites or a travel club, you can get one wonderful deal.

Take pricey San Francisco for example: The Good Nite Inn, which offers a free shuttle to San Francisco airport, had rooms for $57 per night, for weekday stays, through the Hotels.com Web site.

Increase your airport choices
Park and fly works especially well for faraway airports. Sometimes, an airport that's more than 100 miles away from your home offers far better rates.

If you consider a motel room, you expand your geographical range of airports dramatically -- again expanding your deal possibilities.

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Sue Poremba of State College, Pa., used a park and fly rate when she flew out of Allentown, normally a three-hour drive for her.

-- Updated: Dec. 26, 2007

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