Lodging – But where will my car sleep?

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When you’re traveling to a big city do you take into account hotel parking charges?

You should.

We’ll take a look at San Francisco because it’s the Big City that most people in northern California regularly visit. But the lesson here is the same if you live in the Northwest and your Big City is Seattle or Portland, the Midwest and Chicago, etc.

Big city hotel parking is expensive. In downtown San Francisco most hotels only offer valet parking and you should expect to pay around $50 per hotel night for that.

Less convenient alternatives include looking for a nearby self-park location (it won’t be cheap either) or taking your chances with street parking (a basic parking ticket in San Francisco would easily cost you the same as one night’s parking).

Chances are you will park at the hotel, unless you use an altogether different means of transportation to get to the city or leave your car outside of the city and take public transit in.

If you book your own reservations that means that you first need to educate yourself about hotel parking rates at the hotel you want to stay at. Sometimes the information can be difficult to find on a hotel’s website so call the hotel directly if a little looking does not produce the information. Now armed with the price of parking (don’t forget tax) you can go to work.

Many hotels offer package prices that include both the room and valet parking. If the sum of the room-only rate + parking is greater than the price of a package that includes parking then it’s pretty obvious that you should book the package.

When I book rooms for clients I always ask them if they’re bringing their car, then I’ll compare room-only and room + parking package rates.

A client of mine needed a room for a Saturday night in December at the Courtyard San Francisco Downtown. The best room-only price was $104 per night. + tax. Parking there is about $49 per night. The total if she paid for the the room and parking separately would therefore run about $153 + tax. On the other hand the room + valet parking package was $129 + tax. Needless to say, I booked the package rate since it saved her $24.

Here’s another example. The Omni is a beautiful older hotel in the Financial District with some attractive rates in December. But when you add the cost of parking ($48 + tax) to even the AAA rate ($144 + tax), the parking package rate ($189 + tax) is still a better deal. Even a prepaid/nonrefundable rate ($135 + tax) + parking is barely under the parking package rate, and the latter only requires a credit card guarantee and can be canceled, unlike the former.

For those who like to use the opaque hotel booking websites (Hotwire and Priceline) remember to factor parking in when deciding if a Hotwire fixed-price is a good deal or how much you should bid on Priceline. Since you won’t know what hotel you’re in until you buy on Hotwire or successfully bid on Priceline you’ll need to assume a typical price for hotel parking in downtown San Francisco of $50 per night. In other cites you can get an idea of the going rate for hotel parking by checking websites or calling a few hotels in that location.

There’s no reason to use Hotwire or Priceline if you can obtain a similar or better price booking a room + parking package at a specific property that will earn you points in a loyalty program and does not require prepayment.

Using BART from the East Bay

If you are driving into the Bay Area but won’t need your car in the city you could consider leaving your car and taking BART from the East Bay but remember that many BART lots have fees for weekday parking and/or limitations on how long you can park.

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