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Posted by on Jan 22, 2017 in Blog, Essays, Las Vegas, Travel | 7 comments

What Happens When You Lose Your Ticket at Airport Parking?



Many years ago, I parked my car at New York’s JFK Airport and flew to Europe.  A planned one-week trip rolled into 16 days and by the time I returned to the lot, my parking fee had mushroomed into more than $300 (Note:  I’d arrived late for the flight due to traffic and was forced to park in the closer, more expensive zone).

I wondered to myself back then — what would have happened if I insisted the parking ticket had been lost?  There’s a special line for cars and drivers with lost tickets, but I’ve never challenged the system nor forsaken my obligation to pay what was owed.  Still, I’m naturally curious as to the protocols of how airports know how long you’ve been parked, and what to charge you for a lost parking ticket.

To be more clear for those who are unfamiliar with the issue, most big airports have multiple parking lots.  The closest lots, near the terminal, are always the most expensive.  Parking at Las Vegas McCarran comes to about $4 an hour.  There are even zones with parking meters.  However, Las Vegas also offers satellite lots, which charge up to $9 per day.  However, the satellite parking requires you to take a shuttle bus back and forth.  This adds another 20 minutes or so (each way) to the trip, plus a tip for the driver if you’re carrying bags.

I always park in the discounted parking lot when I travel (unless I’m running late, which happened in New York).  Over the past ten years, I’ve flown perhaps 60-70 times and many of those trips were for weeks at a time.  I’ve paid thousands of dollars parking fees.  However, many times upon exiting, I’ve wondered what would happen if I declared a “lost ticket.”

The math seems to make this a +EV move.  If I’m parked for 10 days, at $9 per day, that’s $90.  But what would happen is I feign confusion, declare my parking stub to be lost, and try and get a cheaper bill?  With thousands of cars parked for varying amounts of time, how would the airport know how long your car has been present?  Would it be possible to insist on a 4-day trip rather than 9 days, thus saving $54?

I’m not advocating that anyone try this.  Furthermore, it’s dishonest.  To me, $9 seems like quite a reasonable fee to pay to park for a day.  However, my experience in New York 20 years ago still bugs me.  Plus, I could really use that $300 that was forked over to the Airport Authority.

Has anyone ever challenged their parking time?  Has anyone ever successfully shaved a few days off the fee by declaring a “lost ticket?”  I’m specifically referring to airports where there is no maximum.  I realize a lost ticket at some lots requires the driver to pay the max.  What about long-stay parking lots?

I’d like to hear stories, which can be posted here or on Facebook.




  1. Never lost my ticket, but there usually isn’t a lot of EV to be gained here, especially these days. These days I expect most of these parking lots photograph and OCR your license plate when you enter the lot. If they don’t do this, they’re going to want to see a travel itinerary. There’s also typically a lost ticket fee at these places. Some of them also scan their lots periodically to track what cars are in what spots for how long. This is how they can find cars for people who forget where they parked. This also gives them a good idea when cars entered their lots.

    For long trips there are ways you still may be able to game the system at some lots, but IMHO it crosses the line from +EV play to fraud. These days I think the “I lost my ticket, oh, but I entered the lot 15 minutes ago” gambit won’t cut it.


      Thanks, I suspect you are correct. At Facebook, a few posters noted that cameras aren’t just positioned at airports, but even shopping malls (casinos, too?). However, another poster stated there are lots such as hotels where “gaming the system” might still work. Also, one presumes that you can’t exaggerate the phantom time on the lot, too much. However, if someone stated they were present for 7 days instead of 14, that would seem to be both reasonable (and more believable) to an airport agent. But again, I have to reply on actual experiences of those who have tried this.

      — ND

  2. Strictly for intellectual curiosity, have a friend meet you at the airport, drive into your lot, hand you his ticket and you get out. He goes to the exit, says I entered the wrong lot, ticket blew away. His license plate either was recorded 30 seconds earlier, or not all. Worst case they charge him the minimum or nothing.
    You then exit a few minutes later with his ticket and pay the minimum charge.
    Like I said, for intellectual curiosity only. (Actual perp died years ago.)

  3. I read a story about a guy who would go press the button to be issued a new ticket and then go back to his car, drive thru toll booth and pay minimum. I’m sure they have safeguards against that these days. Thank you for all your hard work Nolan, I love all the stories you share.

  4. wouldn’t it all be easier, especially on these long trips, just to take uber?


      Keep in mind, most of my trips the past 15 years were before Uber existed. In more recent years, I usually have a breaking point of 8-9 days where I’d take a taxi or later, Uber. If trip was 9 days or less, it was cheaper to park. 10 days or more, I would take a taxi. BTW, I live on other side of city, so a cab ride each way is about $45.

      — ND

  5. I currently work at LAX.

    LAX has cameras at every entrance when you pull a ticket it takes a picture of your license plate. In addition, At night there are employees that go and document all of the cars license plates.

    When you exit the parking lot the attendant verifies your plate matches your ticket.

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