For most of you this will be like teaching your granny to suck eggs. Personally I don’t think my granny knew how to or actually did suck eggs but you know what I mean.

You can get to Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester or Glasgow by many means: I can think of:

  • Plane from another airport
  • Train,
  • Coach or
  • Car

I don’t think many of you will choose to walk. They all have their merits and you may already have your favourite but I prefer to go by car. I’ve only listed four airports since they’re the only UK airports at the time of writing from which you can get a direct flight to Las Vegas.

car parkIf you drive and aren’t lucky enough to have a friend or relative drop you off then you’ll need to park your car for the duration of your trip. This can be a bit of a minefield.

In simple terms you have the choice of leaving your car at the airport or near the airport. At first sight at must surely be better than near but it will generally cost you more to leave the car at one of the ‘on airport’ car parks. Even then it doesn’t necessarily mean you can just stroll with your luggage to the terminal. There may still be a bus ride involved since at the bigger airports the ‘short stay’ car parks tend to be closer to where you need to go than the ‘long stay’ parks.

The alternative is ‘off airport’ car parks and these come in a multitude of offerings. There will be some of you who have to travel a good distance to the airport and have an early flight. If you’re on the Summer Virgin Atlantic VS 043 for example, leaving Gatwick for Vegas at 10.10 in the morning you really need to be at the airport by 08.10 at the latest. This might involve leaving home very early indeed and so you might choose to stay in a local hotel. There are many such hotels who offer parking for the duration of your trip and one night’s stay as a package. They transport you to the terminal by minibus or coach at no further fee. When you return you get the same bus or coach back to your car.

I’ve done this once or twice. I’m not a great fan since I don’t like getting up and leaving a hotel very early in the morning (I would rather be driving and stay in my own bed for one more night) but I have friends who wouldn’t do it any other way. You can even find some hotels that are described as ‘on airport’. The ‘Hilton London Gatwick’ is an example. Obviously due to parking costs, the closer you get the more expensive it gets. A rudimentary internet search will throw up a large choice of hotels with parking that will cost you from about £60 upwards for one week outside of peak times and one overnight stay. Potentially very good value.

The downside with these arrangements can be the extent of waiting time when you return from your trip. Most of the ‘courtesy coaches’ pick you up from a series of bus stops on the lower levels of the terminals. Depending on which one you’ve chosen you telephone a given phone number and they come and get you or they simply drive round and round the same route checking for any guests that have returned since they last drove past. This is where experience comes in. I’ve known people and I’ve had problems myself at Heathrow waiting an unreasonable time to be picked up. When you factor in the likelihood that it’s many degrees colder back in the UK than it was when you left Vegas you don’t want to be kept waiting at a bus stop for a long time.

The same comment applies to ‘off airport’ car park facilities. They offer parking significantly cheaper than ‘on airport’ car parks by occupying sites further away that are cheaper to purchase and maintain. You drive straight there instead of driving to the airport, leave your car and they bus you to the terminal. On your return you wait at the bus stop and they pick you up and drive you back to their facility. In some cases you lock the car and leave it, taking your keys on holiday with you. In other cases you leave the key with the operator, are given a receipt and produce this when you get back in return for your keys.

Some of you won’t like that idea. Fair enough but it’s my preference. I can’t imagine the chaos it would cause if I lost my car key in the USA. I don’t want to have to be responsible for them there and back and for two weeks in between. Sometimes though I have to take my keys. I’ve found that ‘off airport’ parking at Gatwick is much better than it is at Heathrow. I’ve had bad experiences at Heathrow, so much so that I now always choose to pay the extra and park at the official ‘on airport’ car park applicable to my terminal. The transfer buses are very frequent 24 hours a day and I’ve never had a problem.

At Gatwick the position is different. I’ve tried a few ‘off airport’ car parks but now I always use APH at Copthorne. To start with I found it a little disconcerting driving down the M23 past junction 9 for the airport and on to junction 10. It’s then another five minutes or so driving further away from the airport to the car park itself. It’s a secure facility and your car is photographed on arrival at the barrier. Once inside you pull up at a designated drop off point, go inside and process your paperwork. You then leave your key in the car, take your luggage and board the transfer bus. You can sit and watch as an operative drives your car away to park it somewhere secure within the facility.

The buses leave every ten minutes or so and take you straight to the terminal. You turn to your left, go up one floor in the lift, turn right on exiting, turn right again and you walk into departures. When you return you telephone a number on your receipt to say you’ve arrived, you take the lift down one floor and walk back to the bus stop. You wait there with your luggage. I’ve never waited more than ten minutes. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, there’s no wait at all. The journey back to the facility takes about ten minutes. On arrival you hand over your receipt, are given your key and told where to find your car. They move the vehicles to spaces near the office on the day of your return so you don’t have far to walk.

This service costs as little as half the price of parking ‘on airport’ at Gatwick. If you’ve used the facility before and reserve in advance you can also get a discount of up to 20%. I expect to pay a little under £60 for two weeks in November or March. I think this is good value and I’ve never had a problem with them. They haven’t damaged or lost my car yet! It’s a secure facility and I don’t regard it as a risk of any real significance. I reckon it takes 15 minutes longer than parking ‘on airport’ but the system runs so smoothly that this is time well spent. Obviously there are other operators besides APH but I believe that when you find something that works well you should stick with it.

There are operators who will meet you at the terminal and take your car away, park it then return it to the terminal when you return. I’ve heard some frightening stories about cars parked in ordinary residential streets a long way away and used for the duration of the trip. I’m sure there are many reputable such operators but that’s one step too car for me. You must do what you feel comfortable with.

Written by eilv