smart spending

Park and fly to catch bargain airfares

Save stress and dollars
Finding your car can be a plus, and of course, free parking can make a vacation sweeter.

When Suzanne Hall flies out of Nashville, which is about 2½ hours from her home, she stays at a Holiday Inn Express, which offers free parking.

"Our car stays in the well-lighted lot while we are away," Hall says. "The hotel shuttle takes us to our 6 a.m. flight and picks us up when we get in about 8:30 p.m.

"We love it," Hall says. "We don't have to pay to park, and we don't have the hassle of driving to and parking at the airport."

Staying the night after is key for Hall.

"We stay over when we get back, because Nashville is on Central time and we are on Eastern time. By the time we get back to the hotel, it's around 10 p.m. our time," Hall says. "Too late and way too stressful to drive home. Better to go to sleep, get up and head out in the morning, stopping for breakfast on the way."

Potential downside
Sometimes, staying in a motel increases the stress instead of decreasing it.

Calling around can get you an even better deal.

Mary Logue tried a park and fly at the Cleveland airport with an early flight. "In many ways it was more trouble that it was worth with the packing and unpacking for even one night," she says.

Then there are the late-arriving hotel shuttles, which is what Emma Rainey sometimes contends with in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. There, she stays at a motel that kicks in one to two weeks of free parking, which is handy for her trips to California.

"The only hassle is getting them to pick you up once you've returned. Sometimes it's prompt, sometimes not."

Then there's the really dramatic disaster.

Bill Kupersmith, a professor at The University of Iowa, says he tried park and fly and it was "a huge mistake."

"It was at a motel near O'Hare Airport in Chicago," he says. "While the parking lot by the motel was fenced in and the gate was locked, a thief scaled the fence, smashed a window of my car, stole the radio by tearing the dashboard apart with a crow bar, and escaped.

"Of course the motel was not liable for anything," Kupersmith says. "Live and learn."

As always, call around
There's not much you can do about a thief scaling a fence. But when it comes to park and fly programs, you'll probably find that you have choices.

Most motels have competitors nearby. Calling around can get you an even better deal.

You might also want to check out a Web site called ParkSleepFly.com, which is a reservation service that specializes in this type of accommodation.

And as always with motel rooms, check out your wallet before you check in. Your credit cards, road-service plan, club memberships and alumni association might give you 10 percent to 30 percent off the price.

Even with no discounts, though, you'll probably come out ahead. For families traveling, it's hard to beat the convenience and savings of showing up the night before for an early morning flight, and letting the motel make sure you make it on time.

Now that's a vacation.

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-- Updated: Dec. 26, 2007

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