a tax magnet.
are paying more, due to an unprecedented slew of taxes and fees. But that
extra money doesnt go to the rental car companies; it goes into city
and state coffers, where its used to fund municipal projects.
a way for consumers to dodge some of these fees: Pick up your car in town,
not at the airport. In 2005 Travelocity found that taxes and fees were
45 percent lower for off-airport rentals. An added bonus, according to Neil
Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting, is that youll save on rates,
too: On average, theyre $10 cheaper per day in town.
track your every move.
Over the past
few years, rental agencies have begun to install GPS devices in their vehicles.
These units allow companies to track cars that are lost or stolen. But global-positioning
technology also lets them know when a renter has been speeding or has taken
a car into another state, which may be construed as increasing wear and tear.
To date, most
companies dont use the technology to impose fines, but it can and does
happen. American Car Rental, for example, was charging customers in Connecticut
$150 each time they topped the speed limit for two minutes at a stretch, claiming
it damaged their vehicles. Connecticuts Consumer Protection Commission
deemed the fines excessive, ordering the company to refund penalized customers,
and in 2005 the states Supreme Court affirmed the decision. (American
Car Rental has since gone out of business.)
Since then other
states, including New York and California, have passed laws preventing rental
car companies from imposing such penalties. But some still try to get away
with it: In 2006 Californias attorney general announced a settlement
of over $700,000 in a consumer protection lawsuit against Fox Rent A Car for
using GPS to illegally charge customers who traveled outside a three-state
area and for forcing customers to purchase liability insurance.
prices are etched in sand.
Trying to find
the best rental deal can be frustrating, since rates can fluctuate dramatically
from day to day, even minute to minute. Prices are constantly changing,
Abrams says. Thats because rental car agencies use something called
yield-management technology, which continually adjusts pricing depending on
how many cars are available. A sudden rash of cancellations or bookings, for
example, can push rates up or down. When we priced an Enterprise rental for
a spring trip to Los Angeles, the cost vacillated dramatically: Two hours
after we first checked the companys website, the per-day rate for a
full-size car dropped almost $8, and over the next week it continued to yo-yo
dramatically, with a range of $40. (There are any number of reasons
why the price of a rental car can fluctuate, says a spokesperson for
Enterprise. During weekend specials you may see savings up to 50 percent;
renting during the week could cost you more.)
Even the way
you book can affect prices. When we called the Avis desk at LAX to reserve
a minivan, we were quoted a price more than $150 higher than the amount being
advertised simultaneously on the companys website. Also, online travel
agencies like Orbitz or Priceline can have completely different prices. Thats
why it pays to comparison shop and check back later to see whether rates have
fallen theres usually no fee to cancel a reservation or rebook
at a lower rate.
probably dont need our insurance.
make reserving and renting a car pretty simpleuntil it comes to the
issue of insurance. Thats where they offer a bewildering array of supplemental
coverage, which can easily add $10 to $30 to your daily bill. What the overeager
reps wont tell you is that you may already be covered, either partially
There are two
major types of insurance youll want: a collision/damage waiver and liability.
The former covers repair and replacement costs to the car should anything
happen to it; the latter protects you from lawsuits if youve injured
anyone or damaged property when driving. If you have auto insurance, it usually
extends to rental cars, providing both collision/damage and liability, as
long as youre on a leisure trip. And many credit cards cover damages
to the vehicle but dont offer liability.
As with any
type of insurance, its always more complicated than it seems. You
shouldnt assume youre covered by your credit card, says
a spokesperson for the Insurance Information Institute. Check ahead of time
with both your credit card and auto insurance providers to see if, when, and
how youre covered.
reservation doesnt mean bupkes.
was looking forward to spending his winter vacation exploring the back roads
of Aruba. He even reserved a Jeep with Hertz to handle the rough driving conditions.
But when he went to pick it up, he was told all they had on the lot was a
sedan. It was a sore spot, says the Buffalo, N.Y., meteorologist,
who got stuck with a small Nissan.
As Parker found
out, a reservation isnt a guarantee. The rental agreement is contingent
on availability. In fact, youre not reserving a specific car model,
but simply a class of car. (One exception: Hertz allows you to reserve high-end
models in its Prestige Collection.) What a reservation actually
means is that the company is supposed to have some kind of vehicle on the
premises for you to rent. So if you get a smaller car than what you reserved,
be sure to ask for a rate adjustment. (Parker got Hertz to take 20 percent
off his bill)
If the lot is
empty, the company is supposed to find you a car even if it means calling
another agency and covering the difference. So if the clerk doesnt offer,
remind him that the company is liable if you wind up paying more for a rental
orders are our bread and butter.
Just like supermarkets,
rental car companies bank on getting their customers to do some impulse buying
at the checkout counterwhere you can now choose from a sizable menu
of à la carte amenities and services. The strategy seems to be working:
2007 revenue reached $21.5 billion, a 21 percent increase since 2002, according
to Auto Rental News.
for the American Auto Association says that a rental vehicle tricked out with
extra features could run you $20 more a day. Heres how it breaks down:
GPS with turn-by-turn directions costs about $12 a day. Avis and Budget rolled
out a service that for a minimal amount each day will let you pay highway
tolls electronicallybut that fee doesnt include the tolls themselves.
And if you want a baby seat for the minivan, add another bill to the pile.
also begun pushing specialty cars. In 2007 Avis introduced its Cool
Car collection, which includes the Nissan Altima Hybrid, Cadillac CTS,
and Hummer H3. And even low-priced Thrifty has a Beyond Luxury
collection, offering cars like the BMW 5-series and Cadillac Escalade. It
can be a place to make money, the AAA spokesperson says.
got to do a little detective work to find a good deal.
It used to be
that better deals were to be had at smaller, independent rental car companies.
But with rising energy prices and weakening demand, thats no longer
true. In fact, the changing rental car landscape is making it any companys
game to pitch a bargain which means its more important than ever
to shop around for the best deals.
Good to know,
since rental car rateswhich remained relatively flat after 2000have
begun to rise again. The average daily cost of a rental was $73 in the second
quarter of 2008, a 3 percent increase over the year before, according to American
Express Business Travel.
So how to find
a bargain? Your best bet is to hit the Internet: Expedia.com and Orbitz.com
offer reliable online comparison-shopping tools for rental car companies at
locations near you. A recent search of Orbitz.com, for example, turned up
a $230 weekly rate for an economy size car from Budgets location at
New Yorks John F. Kennedy International Airport nearly half of
what Avis was charging ($458).
cutting corners anywhere we can.
You may not
have noticed, but over the past few years the fine print on rental contracts
has been changing, restricting privileges and perks, even for the industrys
best customers. For example, in the winter of 2005, Hertz shortened the grace
period for returning a car from one hour to half an hour for everyone including
its #1 Club Gold members; customers also can no longer return a car after
a location has closed for the night without incurring a late fee.
In another move
to cut corners, rental companies across the board have begun making customers
liable for damage caused by so-called acts of God, such as hurricanes and
floods. Avis and Budget, the last major holdouts on this policy change, have
recently added it, even to their frequent renters contracts. The new
rule means its now up to renters either to return a car before the natural
disaster hits, drive the vehicle out of harms way, or pay up for the
newly developed insurance option to cover this type of damage.
wont believe what were charging for fill-ups.
Even when Brandon
Harris is in a hurry, he tries to gas up before returning his rental car.
When he was on vacation in Costa Rica a few years ago, he had to travel 15
minutes out of his way to find an open station. I dont think the
rates that [rental agencies] are charging are fair, the Chicago resident
says. Its cheaper to do it yourself. Although most car rental
companies claim they charge the same for gas as local market conditions, its
really the service charge that jacks up the price: Youre paying for
fuel plus the luxury of not having to pump it yourself, says an AAA spokesperson,
and not filling up the tank can tack on an additional $20 to your bill.
Car rental companies
do offer another option: prepaying for a tank of gas at a more reasonable
rate so you dont have to worry about finding a station at the last minute.
Theres only one problem: Youre not likely to return the car empty.
Whatever gas you leave in the tank is a donation to the rental car company,
the AAA spokesperson says. So unless youre tight for time, it still
pays to gas it up yourself upon return. But watch out for gas stations right
next to the airport, since they tend to have higher prices. These pumps make
a killing on out-of-towners filling up rental cars, the AAA spokesperson
offer some terrific dealson Thursdays when the moon is full.
Jay Winger thought
hed found a great deal. He was planning to use a Budget double-upgrade
coupon when he rented a car for his Las Vegas vacation. The coupon had been
accepted when he made the reservation online, but when he arrived at the rental
desk, the agent refused to honor it. Why? At the bottom of the coupon in really
small print, Winger says, it stated that the coupon wasnt valid
in all areas including, as it turned out, Vegas. There are always
certain locations that dont take part in national promotions,
says an Avis Budget Car Rental spokesperson. Winger wound up spending about
$60 more than he had planned. .
On every rental
car company website, there are ads flaunting the companies latest deals.
Not to mention the paper coupons that appear regularly in newspapers. But
there are so many rules and restrictions involved that its often impossible
to get exactly the deal thats being advertised. For starters, some require
a Saturday-night stay or a minimum five-day rental. Companies also designate
blackout days, exclude popular locations like New York and Las Vegas, and
reserve the right to terminate any given offer at any time.