There are three airports within a reasonable driving distance from where we live: Washington Reagan Airport (DCA), Dulles Airport (IAD), and Baltimore Washington Airport (BWI). For the most part, I try to always book flights out of DCA. It’s only about a 25 minute drive from our home, and if we prefer to take public transportation there, it’s metro accessible.
But sometimes BWI (Baltimore airport), has the cheapest flight options or the more ideal routing options (nonstop instead of connections out of DCA, more convenient departure times, etc.). But, it’s a little over an hour drive from our house. But a lot of times the flight savings is significant enough to make the longer drive worth it.
To make things even MORE complicated, sometimes the best flight option is to fly from BWI but back home to DCA. This has happened twice now in the past several years. The first time was our trip to the Florida Keys, and more recently, our trip to Orlando and Disney World.
Since we almost always drive to BWI, that leaves us in a bit of a lurch.** It does us no good to drive to BWI in that circumstance, since we won’t be returning to that airport to pick up our car. Options like Uber, Taxi, or even the Super Shuttle cost upwards of $100+ to get from our house to BWI. Yikes.
Our Airport Transportation Travel “Hack”
So, what have we discovered is the cheapest way to get from our house to BWI? Renting a car.
Yep, a one-way rental cost us $32 on our Key West Trip, and $26 for our Disney trip.
Here’s how it works:
A lot of rental car companies of pickup locations that are not airports. Near our house in Northern Virginia, there are two Hertz (non-airport) pickup locations, one Budget pickup location, and several Enterprise pickup locations. (There may be even more companies with options, but those are just the ones I usually start with).
On each rental car website, I enter in the nearby pickup location and enter in the drop-off location as Baltimore Washington Airport, selecting the dates and times that we’ll need. I just pick the cheapest option and reserve the car for pickup. Usually Ken and I will both drive to the rental car location, and then one of us drives the rental car home (and the other one of us drives our own car back home), and we load up the car for the airport. Sometimes we even pick up the car a day early, since the minimum rental rates are for 24 hours. Plus, since it’s such a short drive, we just opt for the cheapest, smallest car they have available. (We generally splurge for midsize cars on an actual trip).
It’s kind of funny that renting a car is literally our cheapest option to get to BWI Airport! And it’s convenient to boot! We don’t have to juggle our luggage on public transportation. We also did this “in reverse” one time. We flew out of DCA but returned to BWI for one trip. So, we picked up the car at BWI and dropped it off at the Budget location near our house. That one wasn’t as cheap, since airport pickup locations have lots of surcharges and fees, but it was still a fraction of the price of a taxi, Uber, or Shuttle van. I could also see this being beneficial even if you’re not traveling one way from a particular airport. If you have a longer trip and airport parking fees might really add up, renting a car each way might be cheaper!
Now, this might not work for some folks. Not everyone has rental car pickup locations close enough to their house to make it worth it (although Enterprise seems to be fairly ubiquitous these days). And, there is the need for a quick gas fill-up prior to dropping off the car, which can add some extra time to your airport travel. An additional concern is that “off airport” rental car locations typically have more limited hours. But, this doesn’t pose too much of an issue as long as you do some advance planning.
So, there you have it. One of my small travel “hacks.” How do you cheaply get to airports that are a far distance from your house?
**There are public transportation options to BWI, such as the MARC train, but they take about 2.5 hours from where we live (taxi to the metro station, metro to Union Station, MARC train from Union Station to BWI Station, shuttle bus from BWI Station to the airport terminal). Plus, train options during off peak times (late evenings, weekends, etc.) were nonexistent up until a few years ago, but even now are limited.