Getting paid to park at SFO

Airport parking can really eat up a budget, especially when it’s for vacation and not reimbursed. So I was curious to try out FlightCar for a recent trip, a new enterprise at SFO (also BOS).

The concept is simple: Leave your car in their parking lot, and FlightCar rents it to other travelers while you’re away.  Sounds ridiculous, right? And risky.  But I was eager to save the $150 we’d pay in parking. And wouldn’t mind a little bonus if the car–a scuffed, five-year-old minivan–was rented. Ten days later and with a $60 check in hand , I’m sold.

FlightCar is the brainchild of three teens (the company’s CEO is 18!) who saw an opportunity of duplication: airport parking lots full of cars, and airport rental car lots full of cars. While their customer base appears to be growing, they’re facing a full-on legal battle with the City of San Francisco, which wants a cut of the action through taxes.

On our trip the company’s execution was excellent, with just a few rough edges. We reserved a spot online. Easy. On the day of the trip we called to let them know we were 10 minutes away. A limo drove us from the lot to the airport. On the return trip, we called when our flight landed and the limo met us at the curb. Once at the parking lot, we were given our freshly washed car and a check for $60.

The only sign that anyone else had used the car was a pair of Stanford parking stickers in the glove box. And the only delay was when our car was blocked by a car just dropped off–it apparently had a manual transmission, which none of the employees knew how to get in gear.

Sure there may be some risks. But FlightCar has them pretty well covered in the website FAQ. (And I’m not sure I’d use it if my ride was a just-off-the-lot luxury car.) But I give it a thumbs-up after our simple test drive.