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
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