Diane Flagg hasn't parked at Southwest Florida International Airport for about three years.
Instead, she parks her car a couple of miles away in the Executive Valet lot and takes a shuttle to the airport when she travels.
"It started with the cost because it was twice as expensive to park at the airport," she said. "But they know my name. I don't have to wait, my car is ready when I get back and off you go."
Flagg, who is director of Code Enforcement for Collier County, is just one traveler choosing to park somewhere other than Southwest Florida International Airport. In the last several years, lots have popped up around the airport, trying to lure travelers with lower prices.
But Lee County Port Authority officials, which operate Southwest Florida International Airport, said they are holding their own when it comes to keeping customers on the lot.
Since opening their doors three years ago, business at Executive Valet has been "steady," said Manager Kayla Sanwald, although she declined to say how much business the company had.
The company charges $8.99 a day and $54.99 a week, although it offers specials and prepaid parking for lower rates on its website, www.executivevaletfortmyers.com.
Sanwald said the growth of various competitors has led the company to focus on what makes it different, namely the valet service in which the customer's car is waiting for them when they get off the shuttle.
"It's the customer service," she said. "We're waiting for them, helping them with their bags. Their car is ready, they don't have to search for it or wait. ... We're hoping that's what keeps people coming in."
Coral Springs-based Global Airport Parking, which operates in three locations around Southwest Florida International Airport, partners with local hotels which allow customers to park in the hotel parking lot and use their free shuttle to the airport without a room reservation.
The company, which allows customers to reserve parking at www.globalairportparking.com, connects travelers with shuttle service between Southwest Florida International Airport and the Courtyard by Marriott at Gulf Coast Town Center, the Best Western off Alico Road and a Drive 'n Fly Out lot off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway, near the intersection to Terminal Access Road.
Attempts to reach officials at both hotels were unsuccessful, but Dan Van Bronkhorst, the general manager of Global Airport Parking, said the hotels are the company's busiest lots.
"They are the most-used option," he said, adding travelers can park at the Courtyard by Marriott for $4 per day. "I think it is the name-brand and the fact that the hotels usually have a good reputation for shuttle service."
Van Bronkhorst declined to say how many people used Global Airport Parking, but said the company is looking for more locations as demand gets larger.
In 2011, Southwest Florida International Airport cut it's fees from $62 to $60 in the long-term lot. The airport also cut the rate for each day after the first week to $4 per day down from $11. That decision, airport officials said at the time, came after an airport study.
Both parking in the garage and in the long term lot at Southwest Florida International Airport are down, but traffic at the airport is also down about 5 percent over the last year.
Between October 2010 and July 2011, 502,115 cars parked in the garage at the airport, while 110,023 cars parked in the long-term lot. Between October 2011 and July 2012, 443,676 cars parked in the garage at the airport, while 104,217 cars parked in the long-term lot.
That means the garage saw about 11.6 percent fewer cars parking in the garage over that time period, and the long-term lot saw about 5.2 percent fewer cars park in the lot over that time.
The airport also gets a piece of the revenue from those parking lots outside the airport. The Lee County Port Authority collects, by law, 4 percent of the first $20,000 collected by private businesses who run airport parking, as well as 8 percent of the rest of their collection. Victoria Moreland, spokeswoman for the airport, said, the airport collected about $106,000 from these private lots in fiscal 2011. In fiscal 2012, which ended in August, it was about $114,000, Moreland said.
Fort Myers resident Jim Gail said competition is good. While Gail does not personally use parking services at the airport or one of the outside lots, he said he sees the value in saving money.
"There are a lot of people who need it," he said.