“How do I stop wasting money on Reserved Instances?” 

It’s a question we’ve heard before from despairing AWS users. They were told Reserved Instances (RIs) would save them money, so they purchased them. Now, halfway into a three-year contract, they realize they’re not utilizing the RIs they’re paying for. Or worse… they may not even know what RIs they have. 

Amazon offers Reserved Instances to ostensibly help get your cloud costs in control. The message is that RIs help you save money on your EC2 instances by offering discounted hourly rates in exchange for a 1- or 3-year commitment. Before we get into how you can cut your cloud spending with an AWS RI, here’s a bit of background and what you need to know about AWS EC2 Reserved Instance pricing. 

How do EC2 Reserved Instance Purchasing Options Work?

When it comes to Reserved Instances purchasing options, you can either choose a 1- or 3-year contract. The longer the commitment, the greater the cost savings compared to On-Demand. By choosing one of these contracts, customers are promised savings of up to 75%.

There are a few risks that come with the longer commitment times. For starters, if AWS drops pricing, then the promised savings are reduced or may disappear. And when AWS introduces a new generation of an instance type family it may attract your users away from your contracts – these are based on the older generation. If you don’t know your future needs, it may be appealing to use the 1-year instead of a 3-year contract, which has savings vs. On Demand at about 31-40%.

There are three different types of EC2 Reserved Instances that customers can purchase – Standard Reserved Instances, Convertible Reserved Instances, or Scheduled Reserved Instances. With Standard Reserved Instances, customers would see the most significant savings. However, Convertible Reserved Instances are attractive to customers because it gives them added flexibility like the ability to use different instance families, operating systems, or tenancies over the term. Scheduled RIs allow you buy an RI that is only used at certain times each day in a recurring schedule.

When an RI expires, you are charged again at the normal rate.  See the recently released option to queue RI purchases in advance. This may help provide the greatest savings by eliminating gaps in your coverage from reservations.

Additional Ways To Save

AWS also offers additional discounts if you have more than $500,000 worth of Reserved Instances in a region – the more Reserved Instances you have, the larger your discount. 

You may also buy RIs on the Reserved Instance Marketplace from third-party sellers. The great thing about this is that these third parties tend to list their RIs at lower prices for a shorter period of time. And if you find you have too many RIs, you can sell them on the Marketplace as well.

Payment plans

There are three different payment plans offered with Reserved Instances. Payments can be made either All Upfront, Partial Upfront, or No Upfront. It is important to note that if you pay all up front, you will have greater savings because there are no other costs or additional charges during the term regardless of the usage hours. 

Some may think that the need to pay upfront and be locked in undermines both “pay as you go” and the notion of being “elastic”- almost like a step backward to the old economic model. 

An example of the savings offered by each EC2 RI option, along with the percent of savings each has over the On-Demand price is shown below. From these graphs, you can see that with a 3-year contract, your savings would be much greater. Other things to note is that you will have greater savings with Standard Instances, as well as if you choose the “All Upfront” payment plan. While you would receive discounted hourly rates for choosing Partial Upfront or No Upfront as a payment plan, if you can, All Upfront would be your best option with the most savings.

How should I use my Reserved Instances?

In non-production environments such as dev, test, QA, and training, Reserved Instances are not your best bet. Why is this the case? These environments are less predictable; you may not know how many instances you need and when you will need them, so it’s better to not waste spend on these usage charges. Instead, schedule such instances (preferably using ParkMyCloud). Scheduling instances to be only up 12 hours per day on weekdays will save you 65% – better than all but the most restrictive 3-year RIs!

Reserved Instances are very much a “use it or lose it” proposition. In other words, there are no rollover minutes – if you don’t use your reserved instances one month you don’t get extra time the next month. Here’s why they are like this:

  • The EC2 options available are specific to Region, Availability Zone, Instance Type (e.g. m5.large) with some exceptions, Platform Type (e.g. Linux or Windows), and Tenancy. AWS, behind the scenes, attempts to randomly match instances you launch to the Reserved Instance contracts you have in place, based on the specific criteria. When there is a match, the cost benefit is applied. It is not uncommon for people to believe they are launching instances that match all the criteria, when in fact they are not, so the contracts are under-utilized. And you won’t know what matches were made until you get your bill at the end of the month.
  • AWS decrements the contract amount for every hour when not used, meaning your return on investment diminishes. 
  • For every hour in your RI term, you pay the fee for hourly usage regardless of whether there has been any usage during that hour. 

Given all of the tradeoffs mentioned above, Reserved Instances make the most sense in a production environment, where instances need to always be “on.” 

How ParkMyCloud Can Help Manage Your Reserved Instances

ParkMyCloud is an easy to use platform that allows users to automatically identify and eliminate wasted cloud spend. You can use the ParkMyCloud platform to fully optimize your non-production instances without committing to an AWS EC2 RI term that will go underutilized. The platform does this by scheduling, rightsizing, and identifying idle instances. Recently, we added the ability to view all your existing Reserved Instances in the platform so you can better track what commitments you have already made, with more optimization functionality coming soon.

With ParkMyCloud, you can create parking schedules that automatically turn EC2 instances on and off according to your specifications. ParkMyCloud provides customized parking recommendations based on criteria provided by the user, which makes identifying “parkable” instances easier – and you can automatically accept these recommendations if you like. Turning this into an automated process cuts down on time and costs, thus further optimizing your cloud environments. Another perk of ParkMyCloud is that the platform tracks costs, projected 30-day savings, and actual savings for the current month – giving you better visibility. 

ParkMyCloud easily achieves EC2 savings of 50-73% with no annual commitment, upfront payment, or risk of instance termination or price cuts. In fact, we had a customer cancel a $10,000 order for AWS Reserved Instances in favor of EC2 instances that they could turn on and off after they found out just how easy and powerful this cost savings tool can be. Here are some of the advantages that come with using ParkMyCloud:

  • Better savings
  • No commitment or upfront payment
  • Price cut protection

Try out ParkMyCloud for yourself and get started parking your non-production systems and RightSizing your resources to ensure that your environments are running in the most efficient way possible.

About Jay Chapel

Jay Chapel is the CEO and co-founder of ParkMyCloud. After spending several years in the cloud management space, Jay saw that there was no simple solution to the problem of wasted cloud spend - which led him to start ParkMyCloud in 2015. Before that, he spent 10+ years with Micromuse and IBM Tivoli, a provider of business infrastructure management software. After an acquisition by IBM, he led the successful sales integration and subsequent growth of the IBM Tivoli/Netcool business in Europe. He also held several regional and worldwide sales roles in Switzerland, the UK and the US. Jay earned both a BA in Finance and an MBA from West Virginia. Those few hours a month that Jay’s not busy with ParkMyCloud’s growth and success, you can find him on the ski slopes, on the soccer field, or on the golf course often accompanied by his three kids.

Want tips, tricks, and insights for an optimized cloud?



No, I like wasting time and money.