My (failed) attempt to use TravelCar for free airport parking

TravelCar is a peer to peer auto rental business that recently opened at a few U.S. airports. They’ve been operating in Europe for years. For car renters, this is a convenient alternative to the commercial rental companies. And for car owners, you can get free parking, a car wash, and potentially make some money when people rent your car while you are traveling.

Repair work in my garage required my car be parked elsewhere for a few weeks. And I had a trip planned that coincided with this work. So I figured, this would be the perfect time to try out TravelCar.

I found the TravelCar website not entirely intuitive to use. They try to make it super simple, but that left me searching in vane for basic options like account creation. Nonetheless, if you follow their workflow, it’s easy enough to make a reservation.

I decided to set up a parking booking. TravelCar has two options: paid parking or free parking. Paid parking is $9 per day, and works just like any other off airport lot, with a shuttle to/from the airport. With the free option you get paid if people rent your car.

I selected the free parking option and eventually got to a screen asking for details about my car. This is the point at which they weed out ineligible cars (for instance they don’t take anything older than 2010). I didn’t have all the details on hand (license plate, odometer reading, etc) so I had to cancel my booking. There wasn’t an option to save it and come back later.

The next day (being lazy I hadn’t gotten back to the booking) I got a call from a woman with TravelCar. She asked if I wanted any help to complete the booking I had initiated yesterday. I told her I did in fact have some questions. I had heard there was an option for a special deal if you park your car for a month or longer. But there is no information on the website. It turns out you can’t book this online, you have to just tell the attendant when you drop off the car. Parking for a month or more earns you a flat rate of $150 (cars made 2010-2013) or $200 (2014-2017). Parking for less than a month earns you 9-14 cents/mile (also based on age of car) when your car is rented out.

This call was a bit odd because the woman seemed like she had to ask someone else for the answer to each of my questions. She was super nice, but there was a very long pause of silence after I asked a question, and then she’d answer. I think she was putting me on mute while someone else told her the answer, or maybe searching for answers in a database. It was awkward, and a few times the pause was so long I thought we were disconnected. But I guess TravelCar needs to train new employees in the U.S. somehow. And I did get all my questions answered.

After gathering all the necessary info from TravelCar I decided to make a 2 week parking reservation to overlap with my trip, and then extend it as needed based on the progress of the work in my garage. There’s no problem extending or shortening parking reservations as long as you give TravelCar some advanced warning.

So I returned to the TravelCar website to complete my reservation. They do a good job of gathering the information about your car in advance so that drop off should be quick. This includes a picture of your car registration. And this is when I discovered my current registration isn’t in my car. I have no idea where it went. But my parking need was immediate and the DMV requires a mailed in form to request a replacement registration card. And that’s how my first attempt to use TravelCar’s parking to earn some money was foiled. I ended up just using their paid parking services instead. A far less interesting story as it’s just off-airport parking for a good price.

I’m still hoping to use TravelCar in the future. For a 30 day stay you’re guaranteed to save the cost of parking ($9/day in their lot) and earn a flat rate. For my car this would be $420 saved/earned. But I think it’s a better bet to do a shorter stay because of the cost of wear and tear when they do rent out your car. I’m assuming TravelCar is more incented to rent the monthly cars because it’s a fixed cost they can recover by doing more rentals. With the shorter parking stays they only pay you if your car is rented out.

I’ve previously worked out these calculations for FlightCar (a TravelCar competitor that went out of business last year). I estimate that my car’s cost per mile is 25 cents. TravelCar’s rental pricing includes 150 miles per day, and charges more for overages. I think most people won’t go over that limit. This means theoretically TravelCar could rent my car out for 30 days at 150 miles per day incurring 4500 miles. That’s $1125 in wear and tear! In reality I think 30 days of renters all going the maximum miles is super unlikely. I would need drivers to average 56 miles per day or less just to break even. I don’t actually know how much demand there is at TravelCar so it’s hard to know if I would end up making money or losing with TravelCar.

1 Comment

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