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Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Why Has Renting a Car Gotten So Complicated?

 By Catherine Powell

Image courtesy Pxhere

Having traveled extensively, I can remember when renting a car was a breeze.  You arrived at your destination, you walked up to the rental car counter, and they handed you the keys.  What could be easier?  Unfortunately, those days are long gone and renting a car today can be a daunting experience.  That's mainly because COVID set the industry back on its heels when travel more or less stopped for a couple of years.  As a result, many rental agencies reduced their inventory to bare bones.  Now that travel is back in full swing again, many car rental agencies are either short of vehicles or they've realized that because of this shortage they have an opportunity to make up for lost time by charging more than they used to.  If you're thinking about renting a car come the holidays, you need to know what to expect.  You also need to understand in advance the kind of fees, surcharges, and other surprise fees you could encounter when you shop for the best deal on a rental car.

Is the airport the best place to rent your ride?

Expect to pay 14-20% more for rental cars at airports this year.  According to J.D. Powers, rental car fees have risen to make up for rising operational costs at airports.  Airport concession fees can include everything from an airport tax and license recovery fee, to airport transportation and a tire disposal fee.  Before you book a rental online, make sure you understand the fee structure so you can choose whether to rent at the airport or not.  The alternative is to hail an Uber to take you to an off-airport rental agency.  If you do so, make sure you calculate the added cost of the ride-share into your equation.  Also make sure you scan the fine print on the rental agreement to make sure the off-airport agency isn't charging you any added convenience fees.

Can you determine what you'll pay before you book a rental?

Some travel portals not only allow you to shop for vacation deals, they also allow travelers to shop for car rental deals as well.  Sites like AutoSlash, Hotwire, Kayak, Priceline, and Travelocity offer what are known as Pay Now deals that let you save by paying for your rental car in advance.  While you'll save anywhere from 5%-15% on average by doing so, you may wind up getting hit with a cancellation fee if you fail to show up to collect your rental car.  These cancellation fees can range from $25 if you cancel more than 24-hours before your contract date, to 100% of the rental fee if you fail to show up at all.  Some portals like AutoSlash will waive all penalties provided you cancel within 48-hours of the contract date.  The bottom line is if you go the Pay Now route, make sure you understand the cancellation policy before you book your rental.

What's an Opaque Deal?

Some rental portals such as Hotwire and Priceline promise even bigger savings if you prepay before they reveal the car rental company.  Advertised on Hotwire as "Hot Rates" and Priceline as "Express Deals," these mystery discounts may offer deeper discounts than other Pay Now deals, but they come with a catch.  Once you've paid, you're locked into whatever agency the portal assigns you.  This means if you don't like the rental agency or you change the date or cancel your trip, you'll still be on the hook for 100% of the rental fee.  So, you'd best be sure that your travel plans won't change in any way, shape or form before you sign up for one of these deals.  Keep in mind the industry average for no shows on rental cars is close to 30%.  That's why agencies typically overbook to keep the majority of their inventory on the road.  It's also why renters sometimes come to find that the class of car they booked is unavailable when they show up at the rental agency.

Should you opt-in for supplemental rental car insurance?

That depends on the kind of coverage you currently have on your own vehicle.  If you have full coverage, you probably don't need to opt for supplemental insurance.  That's because your personal policy will provide the same coverage on a rental car that it does on your own vehicle, including collision, liability, and comprehensive.  However, if you don't have full coverage, you may wish to opt for the portion you don't currently have, unless your credit card offers to provide the coverage as a benefit. For instance, a number of credit card companies include some level of collision coverage as long as you pay for the rental with their card.  If not, should you get in an accident and have no collision coverage, not only will you be liable for the damage done to the rental car, you could also be on the hook for the revenue that's lost while the car is being repaired.  

What other kind of fees do you need to be aware?

Additional Driver Fee - If you and your spouse are going to share the driving, a rental agency may waive the additional driver fee.  If you and your buddy are going to share the driving, the agency may levy an added fee.  Either way, if you're planning on sharing the driving you should find out in advance if the agency is going to charge you extra.

Fuel Purchase Fee - If you don't want to be gouged at the fuel pump, make sure you fill the tank up on your rental car before returning it to the agency.  If not, you could wind up paying a lot more than you think for a fill up.

Gotcha Fees - Just when you thought it was safe to return your car to the rental agency, you could wind up being hit with a steep gotcha fee for anything missing or damaged on or in the vehicle, even if you didn't cause the damage.  I've heard of customers getting dinged for hundreds or even thousands of dollars for things that were already missing or damaged when they picked up the vehicle.  To avoid a gotcha, use your smartphone to make a video of everything inside and outside of the rental car before you roll it out of the parking lot.  (This should include the trunk and engine compartment as well as the interior and exterior of the vehicle.)  Make sure you mention to the manager anything that is scratched, dented, or missing before you take possession of the car.  This way you'll have proof positive of the condition of the car before you hit the road.

Catherine Powell is the owner of A Plus All Florida Insurance in Orange Park, Florida. To find out more about saving money on all your insurance needs, check out her website at

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