Hidden fees touch a nerve with many travelers—especially those who have had problems with rental cars. Here's my detailed look at five serious issues raised by readers telling me about their experiences.
Issue 1: Geographical Limits
"We ran into geographical limits in Vegas. When we rented a car, the agent at the rental counter said we could not take it out of the state. We told the agent that we wanted to see the Grand Canyon while we were in the area, but the agent said the company's cars couldn't leave the state. We would still like to see the Grand Canyon sometime, and flying to Vegas is cheaper than flying to the Grand Canyon directly. Do all the companies there have the same policy?"
The short answer is, "No, not all of them do." Hertz, for example, shows no geographical limitations, and if you book in advance online you have the opportunity to check any such limits before you commit to the rental. If you have any questions, call the rental company before you begin your trip. And if one company says "no," check around for one that will let you leave the state.
I see one big problem here, however. If you book through a third-party site—a discount agency, Hotwire, or Priceline, for example—rental companies sometimes impose more restrictions on cars booked that way that they do not impose on direct bookings.
Nobody wants to plan a Grand Canyon trip only to encounter a rental agent who says, "Sorry, you can't drive our car there." I suspect that if you have any questions, check out the restrictions before making a commitment.
Issue 2: Extra Driver Fees
"The fee that irritated me the most as I was renting a car in Las Vegas was that there are now fees associated with having more than one driver. I wanted my husband to be able to drive, even though 99 percent of the time he never gets behind the wheel, and the rental company wanted $10 a day just to have him on the contract. I think that is positively ridiculous."
Ridiculous, yes, but that catch has been around a long time, with lots of rental companies. Some waive the extra-driver charge for spouses, on some discount programs, and such, but there's no general pattern. As you imply, this is a pure gouge—the rental company's costs don't go up even the slightest bit if another qualified driver takes the wheel. But many companies do assess it, so always check the conditions before you rent. And include the charge when you compare rates with companies that allow spouses at no extra cost.
Issue 3: Local Airport Taxes and Fees
"Other hidden fees include local or airport taxes and fees that the rental car companies say they have no control over. I rented a car in Vancouver at a rate that supposedly included all taxes and fees, but when I returned the car I got hit with an additional $113 in local and airport taxes/fees."
I have no quarrel with rental car companies that collect those locally imposed fees and taxes on behalf of local taxing authorities—often for uses that have nothing to do with improving highways or visitor attractions. Rental companies have no choice, and they resist such fees when they can. Sadly, "taxation without representation" has significant appeal to taxing authorities.