Prepay for savings, air gripes on social media, and don’t believe those $3-a-day offers
During summer travels, you may be taking to the road.
If you’re renting a car — either at your destination or to get to your destination (which may be smart if you have limited miles on a leased car you drive at home) — here are eight ideas that might smooth the way (and one suggestion) before you even put the pedal to the metal.
1. You can prepay for a rental car and usually get a better rate. Let’s say you’re renting for a week in Portland, through Hertz, and you want a compact to midsize car.
When you get to the booking page, you choose a Toyota Corolla (or similar, as they say) and are faced with two options: You can pay $242 (using the Save $ Pay Now button) or you can pay $336 (Pay later button).
Most Read Life Stories
- For a Jewish-style deli with 'big, ridiculous sandwiches' and great Ethiopian and Colombian eats, explore this Seattle neighborhood
- Don’t say ‘Happy Yom Kippur!’ and 4 other tips for the Jewish holy day
- What gravel riding is and why you might want to try this new cycling activity
- James Beard Awards will now require chefs to show a social justice commitment. Is this enough? A Seattle chef weighs in
- New true-crime podcast reexamines the unsolved murder of a Redmond woman killed in 2008
Mostly right. Except you need to check the fine print, where, in this case, you’ll find this tidbit:
“Any change to the reservation may impact the rental charges. The rental rates may be higher if you make any change to your rental, including a change to extend the rental, the drop-off location or return the vehicle prior to the scheduled return date. Additional fees or surcharges may be applied at time of rental.”
Rental-car companies are not the airlines, most of which penalize you mightily for changes. But it may be worth your while, before you make the reservation, to find out what, if any, penalties your rental company might assess if you change your “pay-it-now” reservation. This would require a (perish the thought) phone call.
2. Be aware of fees that drive up the price. We just finished saying that rental-car companies are not the airlines, but that doesn’t mean you won’t encounter some fees.
In the above Portland rental example, your total will grow from $242 to $345, thanks, in part, to $24 in airport concession fee recovery and another $24 in customer facility charges, plus about $50 in taxes.
3. But you can dodge some of those by renting off-airport. If I switch my rental to an off-airport location, the tab is about $143 for a Corolla for those same dates and grows only to about $181 — with taxes and fees.
Ask yourself this: Is it worth a cab or Uber or Lyft ride from wherever you arrive to pick up the car? Some agencies also offer free delivery in some cases. Call and ask.
4. If your destination is off the beaten path, try flying into a larger market, then renting a car and driving to your destination. You’ll save on airfare in all probability, said Carrie Peters, travel editor for Hotwire.
I did this a couple of years ago when I attended a reunion of college friends in Waterloo, Iowa. It was far cheaper to fly to Des Moines (by about $400) and drive two hours to Waterloo in a rental car (which would have run about $120 for my weekend rental, except I paid in reward card points) than to fly directly to Waterloo and rent a car.
5. Instead of calling a rental-car agency, think about calling a travel agent. This advice came from several travel agents, but they make a compelling case, including Tyler Diehl, an entertainment travel specialist at Protravel International in Beverly Hills, Calif.
“No matter when you’re planning on renting a car, you should do so through your travel agent,” he said in an email. “They have relationships with the rental companies and usually have discounted rates.”
6. Look for flash sales. You can find them through newsletters and social media.
7. Got a problem? Take it to social media. Rental-car companies, like many industries, don’t want your ill will in the social media-verse.
“When companies today try to meet their customers where they live, they increasingly find that it is on social media,” a 2014 Forbes article said. “Now that such sites are an integral part of the culture, using them for customer care is moving from cutting-edge concept to business necessity. “
Note that companies may have a separate Twitter name for such issues. Make note of it ahead of time, just in case.
8. Don’t be taken in by ridiculously low prices. Chris Brown, the executive editor of Business Fleet Magazine and Auto Rental News, notes that $3-a-day rental prices aren’t realistic and that rental companies can’t make money off them. So how do they? By pushing add-ons, he noted in a recent post.
“They’ll make it up at the rental counter with various forms of insurance-type coverages,” he wrote. Leisure destinations, he noted, may be more prone to use lowball tactics because, as leisure travelers, we are more price-sensitive.
9. Live a little. Many companies offer exotic brands. Hertz offers the Adrenaline Collection (Corvette Stingray or Shelby GT Mustang, among others); Avis has its Signature Series (Maserati Ghibli, anyone?), or you get a Bentley through Enterprise. Life is unpredictable, so maybe we should, every once in a while, just enjoy the ride.