It is common etiquette to give your friends and family trips to the airport when they are going out of town. Its taken as a given that if you drive a friend too & from the airport that they will return the favor thus saving you parking costs. I disagree with this idea and I avoid offering to give people rides to the airport. For me its simply not worth the time and effort to drive people to the airport.
I know that refusing such a favor is probably seen as selfish if not outright offensive by some people. Its what friends do for each other right? Well bear with me and let me explain my logic:
For me personally a big reason I don't like the idea is that our airport is on the other side of town. To drive from my side of town to the airport is around 30 miles and at minimum takes 45 minutes. But to allow for traffic and depending on time and day of the trip you should really allow 60-90 minutes to make sure you get there in time. Driving a friend to the airport requires two complete round trips.
Lets compare the two options.
Cost of Driving yourself:
Time: 1 person x 2 hours = 2 hrs
Gasoline: 60 miles = $5 in gasoline
Parking: $10 / day
Cost of Driving a friend:
Time : 1 person x 4 hours + 1 person x 2 hours = 6 hours
Gasoline : 120 miles = $10 gas
Parking : $0
Driving a friend saves $10 / day in parking but costs $5 more in gasoline and 4 extra hours of someones time.
Is 4 hours + $5 worth saving $10 a day? It depends on how many days you'll be parking at the airport.
Here is the savings per hour based on # of days
1 day : $1.25 / hr
2 days : $3.75
3 days : $6.25
4 days : $8.75
5 days : $11.25
6 days : $13.75
In other words if you take a 1 day trip then the airport parking would be $10. You'd spend an extra $5 in gas so the net cash savings would be $5. You'd be spending an extra 4 hours of time to save that $5. So on an hourly basis you're saving $1.25 / extra hour spent for a 1 day trip. For most people 4 hours of their time is worth more than $5 and they could find better things to do to generate more savings. For a very long stay it gets more worth it to drive someone to the airport. But for me and my friends our typical trip is in the 2-5 day range.
Of course the exact savings will vary from one situation to another. This whole argument only works if you live far from the airport. My mother in law lives only a few miles from the airport so in her case it is much easier for her to pick someone up from the airport. She can let a friend or relative park at her house and then spend 20 minutes each way to ferry them to the airport. Thats only 40 minutes total in time plus a few cents of gasoline. Since she lives so close to the airport, in her case its almost always worth it to make the trip to drive other people to and from the airport. The closer you live to the airport, the more sense it makes to give people lifts to and from the airport.
The key reason I don't think making trips to take friends too and from the airport is worthwhile in my case is that we live so far away from the airport. The time and extra gas cost to drive across town is significant in my situation. Plus to be honest I really don't like fighting cross town traffic.
How can you say 'no' to your friends?
Of course if your friend asks you for a trip to the airport it is not always easy to refuse the favor. Its considered the duty of a close friend to drive someone to the airport. You could risk offending your friend by appearing selfish. Just to assure you all that I'm not a socially incompetent jerk: I wouldn't just plain refuse to drive a friend to the airport. It really depends on the situation. Most of my friends can afford airport parking. In those cases I might ask them if they think its really worth it for me to drive them. I would politely point out that it would take an extra 4 hours of my time and about $10 of my gasoline and ask them if they think thats really worth it to save them the parking fees. They may readily agree with me that its not worth spending hours of my time to save them the parking cost. In other situations if my friend is not doing well financially then I will go ahead and give them a lift in order to save them the cost of parking.
Everyone has to make the personal judgment if giving a friend a ride to the airport is the 'right' thing to do given the situation and the nature of the friendship.
Other Frugal Alternatives:
Park in discount parking lots near the airport. These are privately ran parking lots that are near major airports and have a shuttle from their parking to the airport. It will generally take you a bit longer to park at their airport and get to the terminal but their parking is a decent discount over airport parking lots. One lot at our airport charges $7 a day and is about 10 minutes from the airport. So by spending an extra 20 minutes you can save $3 a day.
Take Public transit. Taking mass transit to the airport is a bit of an inconvenience and might take an extra 30-60 minutes each way at worse. But the cost is only a few dollars per person each way. If one of my friends were to give me a hard time about not wanting to drive them to the airport then I'd offer to buy them a round trip transit ticket.
Airport Shuttle vans or taxis. Depending on where you live you might be able to get a shuttle van or a taxi to the airport for less than the cost of driving yourself and paying for parking. Here a taxi or shuttle would cost me about $100 round trip which is not very practical. However they might be more reasonable in your area and would be worth checking into.
You should not let a frugal concept ruin a friendship. But maybe you and your friends or family should discuss it and look at if driving each other to the airport is the most practical option.
Photo by Matti Mattila