SU­PER­HIGH­WAY KEY TO DODG­ING BUMPS IN ROAD

Sam Or­chard says the best way to hire a car in the US is to click through to an on­line whole­saler

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Us Holidays -

HIR­ING a car in the US should be a pretty easy ex­er­cise. At least that’s what I think when I start to or­gan­ise a driv­ing hol­i­day with a group of friends. But look­ing at the op­tions from firms such as Alamo and Hertz, things start to get far more con­fus­ing than I imag­ined. Ap­pear­ing on my com­puter screen is a host of con­di­tions: drop-off penal­ties, state taxes, a dozen dif­fer­ent forms of in­sur­ance and an im­pos­si­bly wide range of cars.

Af­ter a cou­ple of hours of re­search, I have more than a dozen rental pack­ages for our month-long hol­i­day. All fea­ture dif­fer­ent cars, rates and in­sur­ance op­tions for the same trip through the Amer­i­can west.

A week later I try again and most of the ear­lier prices and op­tions have changed (wildly, in some cases). Rental web­sites that pro­vided me with a quote last week now in­di­cate there are no cars avail­able. And all I want to do is hire a car in San Fran­cisco, drive it to var­i­ous lo­ca­tions in neigh­bour­ing states and drop it off at Los An­ge­les’s in­ter­na­tional air­port a month later.

The rental car mar­ket in the US is huge and has ex­panded con­sid­er­ably in the past 10 to 15 years. Com­pe­ti­tion be­tween na­tional chains is in­creas­ingly fierce. Then there are the smaller in­de­pen­dents, with lower over­heads and em­pha­sis on cus­tomer ser­vice and value rentals.

But the days of walk­ing into a US rental agency unan­nounced and driv­ing away with­out pay­ing pre­mium prices are long gone. So-called walk-in cus­tomers rarely re­ceive bonus items or dis­counts.

Sim­i­larly, call­ing a rental firm a few days be­fore your ar­rival won’t re­sult in much of a deal. I did this on a pre­vi­ous trip to the US and I prac­ti­cally heard the staff gig­gling as they re­cited rates to me. But anec­do­tal ev­i­dence sug­gests if you are able to cite bet­ter ver­i­fi­able deals when mak­ing your call, then the com­pany could of­fer you an equal rate. De­spite my early ex­pe­ri­ences, I have de­cided the only way to hire a car is on­line.

Drop top: Book on­line well in ad­vance to en­joy a cruisy time on a state­side driv­ing hol­i­day

Bro­kers or whole­salers such as Glob­alcars.com.au have the best cut-price rentals. Un­der ex­ist­ing part­ner­ships with some of the na­tional sup­pli­ers, some cars are made avail­able for them to of­fer to con­sumers at lower prices than else­where.

Rental car home pages such as Alamo.com and Avis.com are ex­cel­lent re­sources but it can be easy to get lost in all the pe­riph­eral in­for­ma­tion and op­tional ex­tras when build­ing your pack­age.

The con­vo­luted way in­sur­ance op­tions on a se­lected car are pre­sented is an­other headache al­to­gether. As a gen­eral guide, most re­tail­ers will in­sist you take out a min­i­mum of a crash dam­age waiver, and of­ten you will find this charge has al­ready been in­cor­po­rated into your rate. From there, in­sur­ance op­tions get more con­fus­ing and even more ex­pen­sive. It is best to check with your travel in­sur­ance provider, too, to see ex­actly what is cov­ered be­fore de­cid­ing what ex­tra in­sur­ance you may need through the hire firm.

De­ci­pher­ing the terms and con­di­tions of var­i­ous rental of­fers on home pages can cause fur­ther trauma. Most web­sites will pro­vide you with a ba­sic rate for a weekly hire, but add-ons will drive up your over­all cost.

The gen­eral man­ager of Ade­laide travel agency Phil Hoff­mann Travel, Michelle McNa­mara, says it is im­por­tant for peo­ple to make sure they are given an allinclu­sive quote.

‘‘ Most of the time rental car home pages will only of­fer a stan­dard, ba­sic rate. When you add in­sur­ance, one-way charges, ad­di­tional driver fees and var­i­ous taxes, the fi­nal to­tal cost is sig­nif­i­cantly higher than it may ap­pear at first glance,’’ she warns.

‘‘ Peo­ple re­ally need to en­sure they are aware of their fi­nal, in­clu­sive charges for the rental pe­riod be­fore agree­ing to any­thing on a rental web­site.’’

Rental bro­kers or whole­salers such as Glob­alcars and Drive­away.com.au have done all the hard work. If only I had dis­cov­ered th­ese sites on day one. Of­ten the low­est price a rental com­pany such as, say, Alamo is able to pro­vide is of­fered only through th­ese on­line whole­salers. And such deals can be up to half what’s ad­ver­tised on rental com­pany web­sites and of­fer a bot­tom line in­clu­sive of in­sur­ance, taxes and sup­ple­men­tary charges. And one-way fees be­tween heav­ily trav­elled des­ti­na­tions in states such as Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada and Florida are waived.

Con­sider this ex­am­ple: if you were look­ing to hire a full-sized car from, say, May 17 to 24 for a one-way trip be­tween San Fran­cisco and Los An­ge­les, the dis­crep­ancy be­tween prices is re­mark­able. Alamo.com pro­vides a ba­sic rate for this rental of $457. This price does in­clude full in­sur­ance, but when a one-way fee and sales tax is added, the cost blows out to $647.63 for the week. Ad­di­tional driv­ers are likely to in­cur a fur­ther charge of up to $15 a day.

How­ever, at Glob­alcars.com.au, us­ing the same search pa­ram­e­ters, the on­line whole­saler comes up with $333, all in­sur­ance, taxes and first ad­di­tional driver in­cluded. The same pat­tern is re­peated across var­i­ous search pa­ram­e­ters in other parts of the US.

My group even­tu­ally ends up hir­ing a car through Glob­alCars.com for about the same level of sav­ing as this ex­am­ple. The ve­hi­cle is wait­ing for us, as ar­ranged, in San Fran­cisco and there are no hitches. We drop off the car at Los An­ge­les a month later and, as we pull up at the drop-off point, a man prints a re­ceipt and we are on our way in 90 sec­onds.

As we are fer­ried away on the shut­tle bus, one of my com­pan­ions turns to me and says: ‘‘ Well, that was pretty easy. I thought you said this whole car hire thing was sup­posed to be dif­fi­cult.’’ I just smile and grit my teeth. www.glob­alcars.com.au www.drive­away.com.au www.hol­i­dayau­tos.com.au

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