Yesterday, I walked you through how to find a low rental rate using autoslash.com and how to track your rental. It is not a “set it and forget it” process. If you missed part 1, you can find it here. It is important to understand the booking and tracking processes in part 1 so that you can maximize your savings.
The reason that making a rental car reservation is not a “set it and forget it” proposition is that rental cars are a perishable commodity. Airline seats, hotel room and car rentals are perishable commodities meaning that empty seats, rooms and cars don’t generate income. Airlines, hotels and rental car companies have special accounting departments called yield management. Every day, these accountants look at future bookings and increase or reduce prices depending on current sales rates. This is the very reason that it is important that you book your car reservation that will recheck your reservation every day. This recheck needs to be across all rental car companies and not just the company that you booked with. This is precisely why I use Autoslash is because they do all of the work and I get the rewards.
Over the past few years, car rental companies have “unbundled” their services in the same manner that hotels and airlines have. You may be lured into a great rental rate only to be forced into paying extra for what you really need. The first thing that you need to know is how rental car agents are trained. They are trained to separate you from more of your money.
Here is the goal of rental car agents: Upsell, Upsell, Upsell!
Here are a few of the games that rental car companies use and how you can avoid paying too much.
If you are a member of a car rental program, you may be able to avoid some of the nuisance fees and take advantage of membership perks. I don’t belong to any car rental programs because I am financially better off getting the best rate versus any gains from membership awards.
Extra Driver Charge For Your Spouse
This is one of my favorite pet peeves. My wife and I have an agreement. She drives and I navigate. My wife is a highly intelligent person but she can’t navigate to save her life. This teamwork has worked well for us for years. If I rent the car, does my wife get to drive for free? Will the car rental company charge a daily fee of $10.00 – $20.00 for the spouse to drive. This depends on either what state you are renting the car in or what company you are renting from.
Here is a list of states where spouses drive without the additional driver charge:
- New York (New York has a cap on additional drivers at $3.00 per day)
Rental Car Companies that have no additional driver charge for spouses:
- Dollar (You must be a member of the Dollar Express)
- Hertz (You must be a member of Hertz Gold Rewards)
- National (You must be a member of National’s Emerald Club)
- Thrifty (You must be a member of Thrifty’s Blue Chip Program)
There may be others so check with your car rental company “terms and conditions” page. Policies can change at any time. Alamo allowed spouses to drive for free until 2014.
Memberships that cover additional driver fees:
- AAA – There’s no charge for additional drivers at Hertz, Dollar or Thrifty when booked with the AAA discount code at participating U.S. and Canada locations.
- AARP – Members get a free additional driver at Avis and Budget when booked with the AARP discount code at participating locations.
- Costco – Members get a free additional driver at Alamo and Enterprise when booked with the Costco discount code at locations in U.S., Canada, U.K., France, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands and Spain. Avis and Budget renters get an additional driver in the U.S.
- USAA – At participating Hertz U.S. locations with the USAA discount code, there is no charge for a spouse or adult children of USAA members. There is no spouse fee for Enterprise, Avis and Budget.
IMPORTANT: Many of the exemptions listed above are automatic and don’t require the qualifying additional driver to be specifically listed on the rental agreement. If state law or the rental contract authorizes a person to drive, they’re automatically able to do so without signing the contract. If you list them on the contract, you may end up paying the additional driver fee even if they would have been allowed to drive for free by state law or company policy. If you are not sure, ask first.
Rental Car Pickup Location
You have two choices here: airport on-site or off-site. Airport on-site locations are usually saddled with expensive airport leases and fees. Car rentals at off-site locations will cost you less but you will have to take the rental car shuttle bus to the rental office.
Congratulations, You Just Scored An Upgrade!
The rental agent says that you reserved a compact car and we have a full-size upgrade for you. Oh, really? Tell me Mr. Rental Agent is this upgrade free? What do you mean it’s just another $19.99 per day for the full-size car. Does this sound familiar?
Here is my experience with congratulations upgrade. Usually, when I get that pitch it is because the car class that I reserved is no longer in stock. They were going to give me that full-size car because they ran out of compact cars. This happens a lot during the holidays and extended weekends.
My favorite example of this is Labor Day weekend at the Ontario, CA airport back in 2008. I had a Hundai Elantra reserved for $9.99 per day. The woman in front of me at Enterprise didn’t have a reservation and she was quoted $89.99 per day for the same Hundai Elantra. I’m done at the counter, I have signed my life away at least a dozen times and an agent takes me out to the car. I am looking at the lot and I see just three cars. Two Hundai Elantras and a Mercedes C230 sport coupe. I stopped at the Mercedes and asked if this is my car. She asked me if I wanted the Mercedes instead. I said “sure, I will take it for $9.99 per day. She said that I couldn’t have it for $9.99 but I could have it for $29.99 per day. It didn’t take me long to figure out that $29.99 for the Mercedes was a great deal so I took it.
Is Your Rental Car Really Ready To Go?
Here are some things that you should check before you leave in your rental car:
- Is the gas tank full? I have been assigned cars that were not completely full or they were empty. The rental car company will charge you if the tank is not full. Don’t fall for the prepaid gas purchase unless you plan to bring back the car with an empty fuel tank. If you bring it back with a quarter tank or more, you will lose on your fuel bet. I’m not paying for someone else’s gas.
- Does the car have valid DMV registration? Depending on the state, both you and the rental car company can get a ticket for expired registration.
- Does the car have a valid insurance certificate? The same issues as the expired registration.
- Is the car clean or does it look like it was just returned from Mudfest?
These questions sound elementary but I have faced all of these issues more than once. In the case of the muddy car with an empty fuel tank, I had to wait 40 minutes for the car to come back from the combination gas station and car wash that was across the street. I asked for a discount for the delay and they took $50.00 off the bill. If you are inconvenienced, ask for a discount.
This has to be the most misunderstood part of renting a car. The rental agent will always bring up the subject of insurance and some agents may even mislead you to pressure you into buying their overpriced insurance. Insurance coverage offered by rental car companies generally falls into four categories:
- Collision damage waiver – this is not insurance but will absolve you of financial responsibility for car damage up to the coverage limit.
- Liability insurance – this is to cover other vehicles or property you may hit or injuries or death to people. Check to see if your auto insurance policy covers you.
- Personal injury or death insurance – this covers you and your passengers. Check to see if your auto insurance policy covers you here.
- Personal effect loss – This coverage is only for loss or damage to your personal belongings.
THIRD-PARTY RENTAL CAR COVERAGE
There are third-party insurance companies that offer collision damage to your rental car for about $10.00 per day which is far cheaper than the rental car company.
WHAT ABOUT MY CREDIT CARD COVERAGE?
You may have rented your car with a credit card that has rental car protection. Do you know if your credit card coverage is primary or secondary? If it is secondary, it will only pay after you have exhausted your personal auto insurance coverage. If it is primary, the credit card insurance company will be on the hook. Regardless of whether you go with credit card insurance of the rental car insurance or third-party insurance, you must adhere to their terms and conditions for effective coverage. Read the insurer’s terms and conditions before you rent.
I have the Chase Sapphire Reserve card which provides me with primary coverage whenever I rent a car with that card. The Sapphire Preferred card also has primary coverage as well but caps car damage at $40,000. Check your credit cards to see if you have primary rental car coverage.
Paying For Damage That You Didn’t Cause
Don’t pay for somebody else’s mess! Always, always, always do a complete walk-around inspection before you leave with your new ride. If you are tired or it’s dark in the parking lot, that is no excuse. If it is dark, drive the car to an area that is lighted before you get out of the gate. Do a thorough walkaround and take photos of all damaged areas including the roof and front valance. The front valance is that decorative piece that is mounted under the bumper and usually gets whacked by parking blocks. I most always find damage there. Car rental companies used to have inspection forms that you could mark damaged areas and have an employee sign it.
Last year, I rented an SUV at Hertz Car Rental at London Heathow airport. Unlike car rentals in the U.S., the staff at this location was very helpful. They took photos of the damage that I pointed out and emailed me a Vehicle Condition Report before I left the lot. Here is what they sent me:
When you return your car back to the rental car company, take another set of photos of the front, back, sides and roof. Here is the scenario – you have just returned your car and you leave with your receipt. The parking lot jockey damages the car on the way to the wash rack or parking lot. He is not going to say that he did it, he will say that the damage was there before he drove it. Protect yourself by taking photos before you get your receipt.
Final Step – Check Your Receipt
Check your receipt carefully for charges that aren’t mandatory and you didn’t authorize. Do this before you leave the rental car return area. I rented a car from Heathrow Airport with a return at Manchester Airport. I reserved the car as a one-way and the price quote came back as a one-way and noted on my confirmation for SIXT car rental. When I returned the car at Manchester Airport, they charged me another 60.00 GBP ($78.00 USD) one-way charge. It took several days for that charge to finally come off my bill.
This Video Speaks Volumes On The Tactics At Rental Car Companies
If you got this far and you are still awake, congratulations. You will be better prepared to save money and avoid the obstacles that surround the car rental process. I have learned all of these tips the hard way through the school of hard knocks. Hopefully, these tips will not only save you money but it should make your experience at the rental car counter more pleasant.