Many of you will be renting cars on your summer vacations. A reader who was planning to asked:
"Is there anything different I should know about renting a car this summer?"
The short answer is that while nothing fundamental has changed, some of the old problems seem to be getting worse. Here are six recommendations to avoid or at least mitigate the problems you'll face:
Rent the Right Size Car
Over the years, I've seen too many travelers try to cut their costs a few bucks by renting cars too small for their families or travel groups on an extended trip. For any group of more than two adults and two small children, typical compact and even intermediate cars relegate rear-seat passengers to crowding that's even worse than economy seats on airplanes. The obvious defense is to make sure you get a car with adequate rear-seat room.
For More Information on This Topic and Other Travel News Visit Our Partner, SmarterTravel
Minimize Rate Inflation
If you haven't rented since last summer, you might be in for sticker shock. Rates are up sharply. Local authorities continue to view tourists who rent cars in their areas — and don't vote in them — as a happy hunting ground for fees, taxes, and charges. The net result is that the total costs of renting will be quite a bit higher than you might have expected — especially at airports.
The best defense is to rent through one of the opaque outlets — Hotwire or Priceline. As long as you get the model you want, where you want, many of you don't really care which company supplies the rental. Another defense is to rent off-airport. When you're shopping around, check the fine print to note all the fees specifically associated with an airport location. Figure the cost and hassle of going to an off-airport location — my figure would be about $25, but yours might be different. Then, if the airport fees are significantly higher, avoid the airport. In most areas, even if you rent a car off-airport, you can still return it to an airport location without extra fees.
One of the reasons rental companies have been able to increase their rates is that they've cut back on their fleets and aren't trying to fill up extra cars at lowball rates. According to trade sources, Europe is especially tight this summer.
The defense is obvious: Arrange the rental as soon as you can firm up your dates and locations.
Rent Full, Return Full
The only way to avoid the possiblity of gouging on fuel is to take the option of renting the car with a full tank and returning it with a full tank. But make sure you return the car filled to the top, even if it wasn't really topped off when you started. If you don't fill to the top, the rental company will charge you up to $20 a gallon to fill the car. Even if the gauge shows "full," the rental company may try to hit you with a fill-up fee. The defense is to refill as close to the return location as possible, top off there, and keep the receipt to prove it.
Don't fall for the "buy a full tank" option. Unless you're very careful or willing to take a risk, the car will have some remaining gas when you return it. When you do, you're donating whatever gas remains in the tank to the rental company — and a car rental company probably isn't your favorite charity. The defense is to insist on the full-out, full-in pricing, and make sure to complete the final fill.
Avoid Insurance Gouges