Minneapolis-St. Paul airport officials are exploring major changes in pricing and service to lure travelers back to their parking ramps, as a growing number of travelers are using public transit or ride-hailing services.
Travelers may be able to prebook parking online and choose from an array of options with different price tags: remote lot? rooftop? closest to the door? Prices could fluctuate according to supply and demand.
“We book airline tickets and hotels online, why not get a parking spot online?” said Dan Boivin, chairman of the Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which runs the airport. “Like at the movies, why not guarantee an exact spot? We always want people in there and to have a positive experience.”
Parking at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport is down 3 percent this year over last year, amounting to a $300,000 loss of revenue for the MAC.
About one-third of MSP travelers park on site. Another 10 percent use Lyft or Uber, and 11 percent take public transportation, taxi, limousine or car service.
About 46 percent of travelers get a ride to the airport. But a survey showed that nearly 60 percent of those who get dropped off would consider driving under the right circumstances.
That has the airports commission looking for the right circumstances.
One idea is to offer an online menu of services that could be booked in advance at a discount, said Atif Saeed, the MAC’s vice president of Finance and Revenue Development.
“The incentive is to have them do it ahead of time and at a better price,” he said. “That can increase satisfaction. It’s a win-win. They get a wider range of products to choose from while we better manage our inventory and thus create more revenue.”
What travelers say
Having a guaranteed spot could come in handy on days when things are tight — such as Wednesday, when the ramp at Terminal 1 was full at noon and more than two-thirds of parking spaces were taken at Terminal 2.
Then travelers like Darlene Lauridsen, of Osceola, Wis., would not have to spend precious time circling the ramps looking for open spots.
The main terminal parking was full when she was leaving for Kansas City on Tuesday, so Lauridsen had to park at Terminal 2 and ride the light rail back to Terminal 1. “I almost missed my flight,” she said. “I just barely got on, and they closed the door.”
Still, Lauridsen said she wasn’t sure reserving a spot would be of much use to her. She works for a device company and often has to travel on short notice.
On-demand pricing appeals to Josh Tryon, of Chaska, who took a Lyft that dropped him off right in front of the Lindbergh Terminal on Wednesday.
Tryon usually uses shuttle services like Park ’N Fly and EZ Air Park to save money. But he said he’d park in the airport ramps on low-demand days.
“If it was less than $15 a day, I’d definitely park here,” he said.
But price changes could make Andy Titcomb look for cheaper parking options. Titcomb left his car in the airport’s Gold Lot during a quick business trip to Sacramento. Titcomb said he often flies during peak travel times — for work or trips with his family.
If he had to pay a premium, “It would be disappointing,” he said.
How to set prices?
No changes are expected until spring at the earliest.
MSP is still evaluating what the prices would be and what services might be offered, such as parking nearest the door or up on the rooftop or in a remote lot such as the Quick Ride lot where travelers are shuttled to the terminals. Travelers would get to choose the service or amenities they want.
Currently, the airport has about 24,000 spots. Another 5,000 will be added in 2020 when the new Silver Ramp opens.
Hourly parking at Terminal 1 is $5 for the first hour and $3 for each additional hour with a maximum daily charge of $36. Daily parking runs $26, or $24 for those who use the e-Park system.
Under the “dynamic pricing” being considered, those rates would change with the time of day or year. Rates could go up during the popular spring break, summer vacation and MEA weekend times. They could go down on slower weekdays, holidays and during the winter lull when fewer people travel.
The idea is to make the prices appeal to those who already park at MSP and attract those who might consider it, Saeed said
Bringing in revenue is key because the airport receives no government or taxpayer funding. It also will be a factor in about three years when the Green and Gold parking ramps near the end of their useful lives and the MAC will have to decide to replace or raze them.
Meanwhile, passenger loads continue to rise. Last year MSP handled just over 38 million passengers, up from 37.5 million in 2016. Forecasts call for 3 percent growth per year.
Online and dynamic pricing is becoming the new way of doing business at airports across the country.
Since Dallas-Fort Worth launched its prepaid online parking in April, more than 2,500 customers a week — 5 percent of all parking transactions — have used the system. During the testing period that began last fall, half the online transactions came from first-time travelers to DFW, said Ken Buchanan, executive vice president of revenue management for DFW Airport.
Several airports in Europe have rolled out new parking programs. Tampa and Raleigh-Durham are among other U.S. airports looking into online parking options, Saeed said.
“It’s a new way of doing business in terms of parking,” Saeed said. “It’s about improving the customer experience and to prepare for changes in demand in the future.”
Staff writer Katie Galioto contributed.