Think Minibar's Expensive? Try Parking

Business travelers certainly know by now that their hotel rooms are costing more than they did a few years ago. Less noticed, though, is what's happened to hotel parking rates.

More hotels are charging for parking, and rates are rising sharply at hotels that do.

According to PKF Consulting, hotels that charged for parking over an eight-year period ended in 2006 saw their parking revenue rise 51%. Over the same period at those hotels, PFK says, average daily room rates rose 18%, and overall revenue rose 14%. PKF, an Atlanta-based research company, analyzed data from 383 hotels at the request of USA TODAY.

Though a higher volume of parked cars accounts for some of the revenue increase, PKF research director Robert Mandelbaum says the higher parking revenue means guests are paying higher rates.

Many major hotels say they have boosted their rates in recent months, and parking fees can add up to a big slice of a guest's bill.

For example, the daily fee for parking a car at The Peninsula New York, which, like many big-city hotels, offers only valet parking, increased last month from $55 to $60. That's the most expensive rate USA TODAY found when it called 30 hotels in six cities -- New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu -- known for high parking rates.

Two Manhattan parking garages within one block of The Peninsula are $16 and $17 cheaper than The Peninsula's daily rate. Of six hotels contacted in Manhattan, The Waldorf-Astoria has the least-expensive rate: $45 for 24 hours.

Outside Manhattan, parking fees are less expensive. In Queens, hotel guests can park their own cars for $22 daily at the New York LaGuardia Airport Marriott or $22 a day at the Wyndham Garden Hotel LaGuardia Airport. "I was blown away by a $45-per-night charge on a family trip to New York a few months ago," says frequent business traveler Warren Kurtzman.

Kurtzman, a media consultant in Raleigh, N.C., estimates he's been charged a parking fee seven of the roughly 70 nights he has parked at hotels during the past 12 months. "It seems like rates are up at least $5 per night vs. two or three years ago."

Extra charges for bigger vehicles

Many big-city hotels charge extra for an SUV or oversize vehicle. The Westin St. Francis in San Francisco, for example, charges $8 more, or $63.84 a day. The highest daily rate USA TODAY found is $75 for an oversize vehicle at the New York Marriott Marquis. The Peninsula doesn't charge extra for large vehicles, making its $60 rate a relative bargain.

"The most expensive places to park in U.S. cities are typically hotel garages," says Bjorn Hanson, an industry analyst at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

He says the rising demand for parking -- particularly by a valet -- is outpacing the growth of hotel room occupancy. More guests are driving to hotels to avoid airport and airline hassles, and more are using valet parking to maximize their time, he says.

Big-city hotels say the rates are justified. They're providing a service -- door-to-door valet parking -- that is more convenient for guests and saves them time. Another advantage: Many hotels allow guests to enter and exit parking lots as many times as they wish each day without an extra charge, while public lots charge for each entry. "Parking -- whether valet or self-park -- is often provided by contractors, and rates are set based on local conditions," says Marriott International spokesman John Wolf. "If self-parking is free, it's typically at hotels not in an urban core."

Nearly 4,000 hotels responded to a parking question in an industry survey last year, and 87% said they provide free parking. But only 19% of luxury hotels and 40% of hotels in urban areas said they do not charge for parking, according to the survey by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

Irritant to travelers

Luxury hotels' parking policies don't sit well with Long Island businessman Art Pushkin.

"As with other amenities, it seems the higher the price you pay for a room, the more you pay for things like parking or Internet access," says the sales manager in the digital imaging industry. "It does not make sense to charge a $300-per-night customer for things that $120-per-night hotels give for free."

Frequent business traveler Teresa Colson of Lexington, Ky., says hotels "are charging excessively for self-parking," and parking spaces "are way too small." She often uses valet parking when it's available, because "the price difference is narrowing," and it's safer than self-park garages, she says.

Marc Belsher, who travels frequently to San Francisco, says he has parked at hotels about a dozen times this year, but it's less often than in the past. Instead, the Newberg, Ore., resident, who works in health care, has been opting for public transportation such as BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit), taxis or car services.

Says Belsher, "I avoid the cost of a rental car, gas, the ridiculous and ever-escalating parking fees, tipping valets, the time lost picking up and dropping off the car and the time lost waiting for the valet to bring the car to the front of the hotel."