3 Tips For Better Car Rental Deals in a Recession

March 19, 2010 at 1:45 pm | Posted in car rental/hire, consumer travel | Leave a comment
Tags: , , , , , , ,

by José Balido

car rentalsThe current economic crisis has, of course, been changing travel patterns for many of us. Reduced spending by both leisure and business travelers, as well as tighter business credit, has especially affected the car-rental industry (aka car hire, to our cousins in the Commonwealth). So whether you’re a renter or in the rent-a-car business, you’re taking a hit.

For starters, a drop in orders for new cars to refresh rental fleets (Enterprise, for example, cut its orders almost in half in 2009) means said fleets have grown both smaller and older. That of course, results in more wear and tear, and more reliability and maintenance problems. Midsize and compact availability has been further worsened by the recall of Toyotas because of those infamous braking, acceleration, and “it-is-not-a-computer-problem” problems; it’s expected to affect at least eight million vehicles worldwide.

As a result, auto-rental agency locations may be less likely to have your first choice of size and/or model available. Some companies have also cut their locations’  business hours or shuttered some locations entirely.

What with the decrease in rental vehicles and the increase in maintenance costs, the base cost of renting has gone up in many parts of the world. Moreover, additional fees are being tacked on and/or jacked up like mad, including refueling fees and surcharges for returning cars to a different location from the one you rented at. In more than 40 U.S. states, increasingly strapped local and state governments have piled on new taxes. And rates at quite a few airports have especially shot up.

Given all the above, it’s hardly a shocker that renter satisfaction has plummeted along with demand; some 21 percent of those surveyed by J.D. Powers in 2009 were pretty darned ticked off.  But is there anything that can be done about any of this? Not a heck of a lot, but while we all ride out these tough times, there are three ways you can keep car rental costs down:

1. When booking flights, package tours, and, above all, cruises, it often pays to put on your best poker face and wait for a fire sale before showing your plastic. That used to work with rental cars, too, but now companies are offering discounts for people who pay in advance. For example, some Hertz locations offer 20 percent off if you book in March for a May rental. Another tactic that used to work was to land somewhere without reservations, walk from booth to booth, and bargain ’em down. But thanks to today’s decreased capacity, that could leave you stranded.

2. Don’t just go to one rental company site to book. Shop around on aggregator and auction sites including Breezenet, Kayak, Priceline, and Hotwire. You’ll find that car rental rates, much like airfares, are all over the map.

3. Because of the above-mentioned airport fees, renting at non-airport locations has long been the cheaper option–but today, it’s the much cheaper option. These fees are so exorbitant that roundtrip taxi, train, or bus fares to a suburban or downtown rental office may cost dramatically less than the difference in car rental rates. For example, the base price of a Chevy Cobalt at Hertz’s Oakland Airport office was US$75 at press time. Paying upfront brought that down to $60, but then Hertz added on the $20 “airport concession” fee and a $10 facility fee (huh?), so when all was said and done, the price was $238 three days. However, if you’d booked that same Chevy Cobalt from one of Hertz’s downtown locations, the tab was $134.


Leave a Comment »

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: