The holiday season brings out the traveller in all of us and I was no stranger to the phenomenon. However, the natural instinct to perendinate and my interest in finding a bargain inspired me to seek the best possible deal for my long term parking needs at San Francisco International Airport. Surprisingly, the best option in terms of convenience and cost that I was able to locate was the Millbrae BART Station. In this post, I share my experience in the hope that benefits other budget conscious travelers.
Options – The usual suspects
First, lets take a look at the other options available for us.
- SFO International Airport Official Long-term Parking – $14/night
Offers curbside baggage checkin and shuttles to the terminals
- A myriad of off-airport parking options – average ~ $12/night
Can offer things like valet parking, car wash, oil change (at extra cost) and free shuttles to the terminals
Now, unless you\’re someone who travels a lot and spends very little time at home, these are amenities that offer little practical value to you. Searching through these available options, finding something under $10 a night is rather difficult.
Alternative – Off the beaten path
This brings us to the option I discovered – the Millbrae BART station parking lot. As it turns out BART runs its own Airport/Longterm parking program. Now, when I evaluated my options I was concerned about two criteria. First, I wanted to minimize my cost. Second, I wanted to ensure that minimizing cost didn\’t inconvenience me significantly.
So, first lets examine the cost breakdown of using the Millbrae BART station.
- Parking Fees – $6 per day (except weekends and holidays which are FREE!)
- Millbrae to SFO BART ticket – $4 each way ($8 round trip)
- No additional charges – ie. tax, surcharge, tips etc.
What does this break down to realistically? Lets assume a trip from Friday through Monday for two adults with one piece of luggage each. The total parking cost for such a trip would be $6 x 2 (for Friday and Monday) plus $8 x 2 (for the roundtrip BART fares) to give a total of $28. This is in comparison with a cost of $14 x 4 (Friday through Monday parking) plus $2 x 2(tipping the shuttle driver for the luggage) = $60. Thus, in this constructed example you effectively received a discount of more than 50% on your parking expenses.
Now, lets look at the second criteria – convenience. Personally, I consider time to be the most significant component of convenience. I can carry my own bags. Therefore, lets look at how much additional time I need when using the Millbrae BART option.
- Time to enter the lot – negligible (except for commute hours the lot is quiet)
You would have already purchased and printed your parking pass and placed it on the driver\’s side dashboard.
- Car to BART – 1-2 minutes (you can park on the same level as the BART entrance – Level 3 – and just wheel your luggage across)
- Buying a ticket – 1-2 minutes (if you already have a BART pass then this is not required)
- Getting down to platform – 1-2 minutes (Both escalator and elevator available)
- Waiting for train – 0-20 minutes (15 minutes during the weekdays and 20 minutes after 6.46pm and on weekends)
Planning your arrival correctly is key if you want to minimize wait time.
- Travel time – 5-11 minutes (11 minutes during weekdays and 5 minutes after 6.46pm and on weekends)
This works best for non-daytime flights.
- Transfer from BART to AirTrain – 1-2 minutes (Both escalator and elevator available)
Only required if your flight is from Terminal 1, 2, or 3 – BART station is at the International Terminal.
- Wait for AirTrain(RedLine) – 0 – 4 minutes (runs 24 hours a day)
- Travel to target Terminal – 1 – 5 minutes
So, based on these calculations you can get from parking your car to your terminal in anywhere between 10 minutes (if all the moons are aligned) to 48 minutes (if everything possible goes wrong). In practice I\’d allocate about 30 minutes from parking to Terminal. Give yourself an additional 5 minutes for the first time you visit the Millbrae BART station so that you can get your bearings without adding to your stress.
The best thing about the above is that everything is under your control. The BART is very reliable. You don\’t have to worry about traffic, the airport shuttle breaking down, the shuttle driver going on a break. If you get delayed by taking the BART, more often than not it will be due to circumstances completely within your own control.
Now, if we went with one of the \”usual suspects\” it would take us:
- Check-in and park – 2-5 minutes
- Wait for shuttle – 0-15 minutes (usually they run every 15 minutes)
- Drive to SFO – 5-15 minutes (depending on terminal and traffic)
This comes to about 7 minutes (if all the moons are aligned) to 35 minutes (if most things went wrong). Comparing this to the BART option you realize that the time difference between the two options aren\’t that significant. Especially if you weren\’t a regular traveler where cutting every minute counted.
Is this the right option for you?
So, with all this information in hand – what does your decision boil down to?
- Is your flight during non-commute hours (ie. after 6.46pm or on weekends)?
- Can you carry your own bags?
- Are you mature enough to be responsible for being on time?
- Does the cost equation save you enough dough to be worth dealing with the above?
[Travelers x $8] + [Non-weekend Trip Days x $6]
Hope your found this useful and wish everyone safe and economical travels!
A couple of pointers based on feedback from other readers: