With summer drawing to a close and the kids about to head back to school, you may want to pull off one last fling before life gets back to “normal.” Maybe you found some extra hotel points or frequent flyer miles lying around or you stumbled across a cheap last-minute fare online and you are excited at the prospect of an impromptu adventure. Don’t let that excitement and those savings get taken away by a bad car rental experience.
It Can Get a Little Sleazy out There
One would think that renting a car was a fairly straightforward proposition. All you are doing is borrowing a car for a set amount of time for a daily fee and, since all the companies have basically the same cars, this competition should make prices between the companies competitive, right? Oh, how I miss those innocent days before I’d ever rented a car.
Car rental companies have found numerous ingenious ways to separate customers from their money. They probably have to charge so much to cover the scores of attorneys who have written the fine print in the rental agreements ensuring that, while certainly not ethical, what they are doing is at least marginally legal. A particular rental company has earned some negative national press for its practices. Here are a few ways to keep yourself from getting sucked into the rental agency’s money vacuum.
- Despite their promises, don’t prepay – Many rental companies will offer a discount for rental prepayment. While that might seem attractive at first glance, rental car rates can vary wildly from day to day and sometimes within the same day. You might prepay thinking you have gotten a deal only to discover that the guy in line in front of you that has just wandered up to the counter unprepared walked away with a better price.
- Don’t buy gasoline from the rental car company – Renters are expected to return their cars with a full tank of gas and are often offered the opportunity to buy it in advance at a slightly inflated rate. There are a couple of reasons not to do this. One, you probably don’t know the price of gas in the place you are visiting and you certainly don’t know how much gas you will be using during your stay. You may wind up on the hook for an entire tank of gas when you ultimately only used 5 gallons.
- If you can, avoid renting at the airport – Airports charge rental car companies to operate on property and who do you think ultimately pays those charges? If possible, find a way to visit a rental agency outside the airport. You can often pay for a short bus or cab ride many times over with the savings you’ll see on the cost of renting the same car, sometimes from the same company, at an office not located within the airport.
- Refuse additional insurance – It’s always best to check, but usually if an accident occurs in your rental, it will be covered by your personal auto insurance. In fact, rental insurance is a hidden perk on some credit cards. If you use the card to rent the car and the unthinkable happens, your credit card company will pick up the tab.
- Did they offer upgrades? Just say no – Yeah, gadgets are cool, but is it worth an extra $5-$15 a day for the same GPS and entertainment capabilities your cell phone gives you for free?
A little time spent researching online will save you a lot of time, money and frustration at the rental counter. Use those last-minute summer dollars to make a memory other than kicking yourself for paying too much for a rental car.