Car Rentals

Should you use FlightCar for Airport Parking?

For a recent trip to Dallas I had to get to the airport early on a Saturday morning. The flight was early enough that the subway wasn’t running. So on  Friday night I sat on my couch trying to figure this out. For this 4 day trip I figured there were three options:

  1. Take a bus
  2. Take a Lyft/Uber/taxi
  3. Use FlightCar and drive to the airport

I quickly dismissed option one: the bus takes 1.5 hours!

Option two I estimated would cost between $25 and $30 based on the Uber and Lyft price estimators.

FlightCarAnd so this left me trying to work out if option 3, FlightCar, was a good pick for this trip. Back in 2014 I used FlightCar once shortly after they launched. My experience was mixed, and my calculations suggested that overall it’s only a good deal financially if you need to park at the airport. This is mostly because what they pay you per mile is less than the cost of operating most cars when you factor in wear and tear. So using FlightCar is essentially like taking out a loan against the future value of your car. You pay it back when you have to get a new car sooner than you would have otherwise.

On this trip I thought it might be a better value to use FlightCar because of the requirement to take a taxi on the way to the airport, and also because the trip was only 4 days (as you’ll see in my calculations below, the shorter the trip the greater value you can get relative to your transportation cost to/from the airport), and lastly because we really needed a car wash, something they do for free at FlightCar.

Here are my calculations:

The IRS says that in general cars cost 55 cents per mile to use, but this includes gas. So I made an estimate that for my car it costs around 35 cents per mile to use the car. Obviously this varies by car and I am only doing a rough estimate here. Others suggest this should be closer to 25 cents per mile, and some estimates are even lower. I’m going to use 35 cpm here but feel free to substitute you own estimate to work out the math that is appropriate for your car.

FlightCar pays 10 cents per mile up to 75 miles per day (more if the driver goes over 75 miles) for my year/make of car.

Uber/Lyft estimated cost to airport = $27

Subway home for two people = $17.80

Car wash we really need = $30

So my potential savings by using Flightcar = $74.80

If the people who rent my car use it every day for 75 miles each day that’s another $30 in earnings. But that’s also $105 in cost to me for the wear and tear on my car (75 miles x 4 days x 35 cents). That’s a loss of $75.

Worst case scenario, if someone rents the car and puts on exactly 75 miles per day but no more, I come out spending 20 cents for parking at the airport for 4 days. Not bad. Better than paying $74.80 to get to and from the airport (and wash the car).

If the renter either drives more or less than 75 miles per day it’s better for me. Fewer miles is better because, as you can see, I’m losing money on the wear and tear for each mile used. More miles is better because then the reimbursement rate from FlightCar goes up and it starts to offset the cost. So odds are good that I come out netting free airport transportation/parking and making a few dollars.

I actually created a listing with FlightCar for this trip. But when I got the confirmation email and saw that they recommend showing up 2 hours before your flight to ensure that their private limo can get you to the airport on time I changed my mind (there’s no penalty to cancel a listing).

In the end we decided that the cost of waking up extra early for a 6:45am flight to deal with FlightCar check in = not worth it.

Postscript: Uber and Lyft both have surge pricing starting at 5am on Saturday morning. I didn’t know this. So the ride to the airport actually cost $12 more than I estimated. This means FlightCar would have worked out to be at least slightly profitable for this trip. I’m just not sure how much I’d need to be earning before I’d be willing to get up at 4am, but this was definitely a close call for me. Next time I have a short trip early in the morning I’m definitely going to use FlightCar.

HT: Dem Flyers for inspiring me to use more math.