I’v been renting cars for a while now. I have experience across 5 continents and with all major rental companies and some smaller ones. The truth is that mystifying the basic conditions of renting a car can be like attempting to solve the Da Vinci Code (I’m no Tom Hanks). So, naturally, this may be the first post of many which tries to explain, in plain English, what you need to know when renting a car.
Cut out the middle man
First up, you would want to avoid booking with third party sites because it’s always a problem when things go wrong, and oh boy, there are so many things that can go wrong with renting a car.
Browse third party sites to check which companies are offering good deals. Then book directly on that specific company’s website.
‘Meet and Greet’: This is a ticking time-bomb
I’ve seen companies advertise the service ‘meet and greet’ many times on rental booking sites. It sounds really professional and convenient. However, what it really means is that this company doesn’t have an office at the airport. Therefore, they need to send one of their employees to meet and greet you in the airport parking lot. I learned this the hard way. I was expecting a sign with my name on it, it didn’t happen. Then I went to search for the company’s office in the terminal, which I didn’t find. I did eventually call the company and get my car but it was all unnecessary.
Before you book, always cross-check the location of the rental company’s office to make sure that they have an office at the airport.
Avoid weekend pick-up dates. I noticed from playing around with numerous online booking sites that when I selected to pick-up a rental car on a weekend (Friday-Sunday), I was charged more per day than when I selected a pick-up date that was a week day. This is because rental companies charge you per day and the rate for each day in a given booking period is essentially the same, it doesn’t change. For example, if I booked a car from Wednesday to Sunday for a period of 4 days, it would be cheaper than if I booked it from Friday to the following Tuesday.
Note: Many people argue in favour of hiring a car from a rental office that is outside the airport because it is much cheaper.
While this is mostly true, and I have done it occasionally, hiring a car at an office outside the airport does pose its challenges:
Office Hours: Offsite rental offices are usually only open during the day. If you have a late-night or early-morning flight you can only hire from the airport.
One way charge: If you pick-up a car from an ‘outside’ rental-car office and choose to return the car to the airport, there’s usually an extra charge levied on top of your total rental fee.
During a vacation you want to travel in a way that is the quickest and easiest. For me, if I need a rental car for my trip, I will take it from the airport and return it to the airport. Any other way ends up in a loss of time and energy, and the amount of money saved is not worth while, as the idea is to spend the maximum time doing holiday stuff.
Safety first: “Cheap aint always cheerful, mate”