Airport parking. It's one of those things that sends blood pressure -- and travel budgets -- soaring.
It's also big business for airports such as San Francisco International Airport (SFO), where parking brings in as much as $118 million in annual revenue. But unless you like donating to the cause (to the tune of $14 to $45 a day) consider a park-sleep-and-fly package.
I discovered this option on a recent two-week trip back east. Calculating 14 days of SFO parking and the stress of catching a 6 a.m. flight, I booked an overnight at the El Rancho Inn in Millbrae.
Cha-ching. For the modest price of a one-night stay, my car spent another 13 days free. And the staff even packed me a snack for the free airport shuttle.
The El Rancho started SFO's first hotel car storage program. Built in 1949 for the traffic coming and going from then-Mills Field,
some famous folks have slept in this landmark El Camino Real inn, including Richard Nixon (room 325). The hotel's Mermaid Room is iconic, too, with its underwater swimming pool window (used in the movie "The Right Stuff").
The Westin SFO has another popular park-sleep-and-fly package. Book a room at their resort-like hotel near the Bay (rates start at $199 per night) and your car can stay 10 days for free. The Westin has a lot to like, including those aptly named heavenly beds and an indoor atrium pool, spa and 24-hour fitness studio.
Equally enticing is the Westin's Grill & Vine Restaurant, which feels like a wine country retreat. Talented new chef Xavier Camacho crafts favorites such as lightly beer-battered vegetables with charred lemon and aioli, Dungeness crab-stuffed peppers and entrees like grilled sea bass with a warm Napa cabbage chicory salad dressed with bacon mustard vinaigrette. The restaurant is offering two-for-one dining on Saturdays throughout the month of August.
A third airport park-sleep-and-fly option comes from travel writing colleague Karen Misuraca, who describes the Crowne Plaza as "sophisticated, urban-chic, with super-quiet rooms. "We know we'll get a good night's sleep in a great bed -- and what's more important than that?"
Best Western Plus El Rancho Inn: http://www.elranchoinn.com/
Westin San Francisco Airport Hotel: http://www.starwoodhotels.com/westin/property/overview/index.html?propertyID=1007&language=en_US
Crowne Plaza: http://www.sfocp.com/