Beat the rogue airport parking operators by using this guide to help ensure your car’s kept safe – and fully secured – while you’re away.
These online tools can help gauge how reliable the parking firm you’re considering is.
1) Choose a Gatwick Approved Operator for meet and greet
Gatwick Airport runs an Approved Operator scheme to ensure passengers can leave their car with confidence when using meet and greet services at the airport. A vital tool to avoid finding your car has been left on public streets or unprotected wasteland.
Check if your meet and greet operator’s on the list with APH: Gatwick Airport Approved Off-Airport Parking Scheme
2) Choose police-approved Park Mark Award car parks
The Safer Parking Scheme is a national standard for UK car parks that have low-crime and measures in place to ensure the safety of people and vehicles. A Park Mark is awarded to each car park that achieves challenging standards. Remember, it’s the car park that gets the award, not the overall firm.
Check the car park: If you’re at all concerned that the car park or meet and greet operator might be using the Park Mark logo fraudulently, contact the issuing authority using the following methods and they’ll let you know whether it’s genuine.
Telephone: 01444 447 300
Find out more: All about Park Mark-approved car parks
3) Ensure it’s not too good to be true
The old adage of ‘if it looks too good to be true, it probably is’, should be taken note of when booking airport parking. While it might seem a simple proposition, reputable operators invest large amounts of money to ensure you, your family and car are safe; from well-maintained transfer coaches, security fencing, 24-hour security staff, entry and exit systems to making sure all operations are fully insured, these are all areas rogue firms skip to maximise profits at your expense. So, if you’re tempted by a price that significantly undercuts the prevailing market – it’s likely you’ll end up paying the price in other ways.
4) Check out (genuine) user reviews
Looking at how previous customers rate a parking company is a great way to gauge how reputable it is. However, you need to consider if the reviews are genuine. A few hand-picked (or home-made) glowing reviews pasted on the website aren’t worth the pixels they’re squatting on…
What to look for: Make sure reviews are curated by an independent, external site, such as Trustpilot. These cannot be tampered with by the car park operator. Make sure that reviews contain negative as well as positive – one-sided praise could be the sign of a great car park… or an operator with something to hide.
5) Check the company physically exists
Setting up a professional-looking website is simple and costs just a few hundred pounds. However, a business is more than a website and needs to be backed up by a physical address and somewhere safe and secure for you and your car..
What to check: Make sure the website has a ‘Contact Us’ section that displays a physical address for correspondence – and not just a registered office. You should also consider entering the address into Google Maps and clicking the Streetview option to see just how real it looks. Is it viable as an address should you need to contact the company? We checked one and found it related to a tower block located within an inner-city housing estate. If there’s no address or landline on the site, we’d be tempted to look elsewhere.
Check the physical address here
6) Check what and who’s behind the website
Unscrupulous operators can set up a website offering unsafe airport parking within a few hours, so giving the site a few simple checks is a smart move.
What to check: Enter the domain name (the web address) into the following search tool to see who owns it, where and when it was registered. If the address looks suspect, or the domain was only recently registered, it could be worth avoiding or at least making more checks. It’s also worth noting that anyone claming to be a private individual can have their address hidden on a co.uk domain, so look out for these – it means they shouldn’t be using the website address to front a business.
Get all the details you need here
7) Search Companies House for info
Is the company genuine: The government offers a free service allowing you to search its Companies House database of registered companies. This will provide a whole host of information, such as how long the company has been running and a list of directors.
What to check: Head to the government’s free search page and enter the name of the company you’re considering. You’ll be able to view everything from company directors to registered addresses. Make sure you match up the website’s company name and registered address with the records on the Companies House database.
Use this free government site to explore the parking firm you’re considering
8) Check for content on the website and social media channels
Does the website include editorial content – such as features and how-to guides – along with active social media channels?
What to check: Quality editorial and social media content is neither cheap nor easy to create.. Checking out Twitter, Facebook and YouTube accounts is a great way to gauge the validity of a company. Not all firms will have the time or resources to create huge amounts of content for social media, but quality over quantity is what you should be looking for here.
Facebook: Check back through the timeline and see how long the company has been active. Also check out who likes the page… a legitimate UK airport parking firm is unlikely to have lots of overseas ‘fans’ for example. Look for user reviews of the service and be wary of companies that have no negative feedback, this is a sure sign of a doctored timeline. Also keep an eye out for FB accounts that merely share content from large reputable sites – it doesn’t make them equally legitimate.
Twitter: Read the company’s tweets and see if they’re simply re-tweeting third-party content. Don’t be fooled by large numbers of followers, either; it’s easy to buy thousands for just a few pounds in an attempt to make a company appear legitimate and popular. You can use several tools to check out the account’s true standing…
See how many followers appear to be fake here
YouTube: Has the firm got a YouTube channel with original, self-made content that goes back more than a few months? Creating this content is expensive and time-consuming, so will be a good pointer to the firm’s true commitment to airport parking – or otherwise.
Editorial content: If the website has blogs and articles, take time to read a couple and see if they look genuine and appear to have been wrtten by staff from the site in question. Many sites will simply grab content from around the web and publish it on their own site. Look out for Amercanisms in the text, or mentions of other companies. See if the writer has an author page on the website – such as this one on APH.com.
Look for genuine editorial content
9) Check the VAT registration
Finding out if a company is VAT-registered will help you get an understanding of how the company you’re considering operates. This tax is paid by firms that have an annual turnover in excess of £82,000, so checking if it has a VAT number and if that number is genuine will help gauge if the firm is genuine. In itself, there’s nothing wrong with a firm not being VAT-registered, but if the website makes grand claims of owning fully manned, CCTV-covered car parks, you might wonder how this is financed by an operator that has a turnover of less than £82,000 (this is the figure before wages and other business expenses are subtracted).
No VAT number: Firms that aren’t VAT registered could be operating on a casual basis and without the experience or resources to ensure your vehicle’s safe. It’s unlikely a firm with a turnover of less than £82k could finance a secure and fully-manned car park – possibly leaving your car at risk on public roads or unprotected wasteland. Look at the website and compare claims made to the likely reality of a company earning less than £82,000 before expenses are taken into account.
Has a VAT number: Checking if a VAT number is genuine will help flush out unscrupulous operators in minutes and this can be done from the comfort of your computer. Simply find the VAT number – if it’s not on the site simply ring up and ask for it – then enter it on the EU’s online VAT checker, VIES. This database is updated on a monthly basis, so even new businesses should appear. Remove spaces from the VAT number when checking on the VIES site. The website will tell you if it’s a valid number and help in your decision-making process.
Check the parking company’s VAT number here
10) Trust experience… it tells a long story
Using many of the check we’ve mentioned on this page will tell you how long a firm has been operating – and it’s certain that unscrupulous firms won’t be in business for more than a few months. However, it’s likely a firm that’s been operating for decades has remained in business because of returning customers and word-of-mouth recommendations. Don’t under estimate the power of experience and longevity if you really want to find a safe and secure space for your vehicle.