When did renting a car become a financial cat-and-mouse game?
Too often I get a lowball price over the phone, only to have some chirpy person at the counter try to induce me to sign up for a lot of extras.
Car-rental employees are salespeople in the business of selling as much as they can - period. They want to sell you as many extras as possible, even if your credit-card coverage makes certain charges unnecessary, for example.
Here are 10 mistakes most of us have made at one time or another:
No. 1: Not taking a discount you’re entitled to.
Members of the American Automobile Association, the American Association of Retired Persons and other groups may be entitled to discounts of 5 percent to 25 percent, depending on the size of the car, the location and the time of the year.
No. 2: Taking the collision-damage waiver or loss-damage waiver. CDW, also known as LDW, is not insurance - it merely relieves you of responsibility for damage or theft of a rental car.
It also relieves you of cash. You may pay $9 to $20 a day on top of the rental price.
If you have auto insurance, your regular auto liability usually covers you for damage to other people or property when driving a rental car in the United States or Canada. Often credit cards provide free coverage for 15 days to 30 days.
No. 3: Buying personal-accident insurance or personal-effects coverage.
Accident insurance covers you for injuries to you or your passengers in the event of an accident. It also provides an accidental-death benefit. But it costs an extra $3 to $5 a day, while chances are you’re already covered by your own health insurance or the personal-injury coverage in your auto-insurance policy.
Similarly, for an additional $1.50 to $4 a day, personal-effects coverage protects you against the theft of anything left in the car - camera, suitcase, golf clubs. But if you have homeowner’s or renter’s insurance, it’s likely you’re already covered for off-premises theft.
The best advice is simply to leave nothing in the car.
No. 4: Buying additional liability insurance.
For $10 a day or so, you’re buying an umbrella-liability policy that typically provides as much as $1 million in coverage for the time you have the rental. But if you have a homeowner’s umbrella policy, you’re probably already covered.
No. 5: Choosing the wrong refueling option.
Most car-rental companies offer three refueling options. The cheapest is to take the car full and return it full, allowing you to price-shop for gasoline. Avoid buying fuel from the rental company, either up front or on return - you’ll usually pay significantly more.
No. 6: Not calling your travel agent.
Travel agents can scan their computer screens and see who’s offering short-term deals in the city you’re heading to. They also get free upgrade coupons for domestic rentals from the car-rental companies.
No. 7: Going for an all-in-one rate.
When Alamo announced these rates back in March 1996, it took the approach that, at last, car-rental companies were turning over a new leaf.
For a single price, you received a car with unlimited mileage. You could have additional drivers at no extra charge. You got a full tank of gas, a baby seat or a ski rack, CDW with a $500 deductible, any airport taxes or fees, plus state and local surcharges as well as local sales tax.
The national price for this largesse turned out to be $45 a day for three to five days, sometimes as much as double what Alamo normally charges. Essentially, you’re paying for extras whether you need them or not.
No. 8: Running late.
Most car-rental companies allow only a 59-minute grace period after a rental period is over. Then an exorbitant hourly rate kicks in until you reach an equally hefty per-diem rate.
For example, in Phoenix, on a weekly Hertz minivan rental rate of $319.99 in June, the grace period is 59 minutes. The rate for the next two hours is $27 per hour until after three hours, when you pay an $80-per-day rate. If you get stuck in traffic, that $319.99 rate could balloon to $399.99. Plus tax. So it pays to watch the clock.
No. 9: Not booking your European rental in advance.
European car-rental companies charge as much as 50 percent more if you book a rental car in Europe rather than calling before you leave. Every car company from Avis to Kemwell has promotional rates for Americans, but they’re only available before you go.
No. 10: Neglecting to shop around.
Get quotes from several companies before you make your reservation. But don’t stop there. When our friend Stan arrived in Seattle recently, he didn’t immediately pick up the car he’d reserved.
Instead, he stopped at a few airport car-rental desks to check out what the competition was offering. And guess what? He ended up with a better deal.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.