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I'm planning a road trip for this summer, roughly between San Diego and Seattle, and I'm looking at car rental options for this one-way trip (I wouldn't be returning to the pick-up location).

I've been searching this and other forums and still don't get a clear picture about the one-way fee. Even though I assume having to pay it is quite probable, there seem to be some cases in which it is waived. I'll give first what information I've gathered and ask a couple of questions at the end.

Doing a search on www.drive-usa.de (I'm European) for San Diego - Seattle, I get a lot of options with Alamo with a "free" one-way fee. However, searching directly on Alamo's website doesn't offer this. A look at the rental terms on drive-usa.de shows the following on one-way fees:

Not permitted in the category LM.

One Way Rentals from/to Alaska are not permitted.

One-Way fee is waived within Florida, California, and within an island in Hawaii. Fee also waived for rentals between California and Nevada, between California and Arizona, and between the airports of Seattle and Los Angeles/San Francisco.

One-Way rentals in the convertible category with pick up in San Francisco in July and August are subject to a $455 one-way fee.

For all other categories and rentals starting at a San Fransisco City locations a special one-way fee of USD 390 applies for rental ending in Las Vegas or San Diego, USD 195 applies for rentals ending in Los Angeles.

For all others the following applies:

Distance between locations.......One-Way Fee
0 - 200 Miles.................................USD 129
201 - 500 Miles.............................USD 195
501 - 1000 Miles...........................USD 390
over 1000 Miles............................USD 650

All fees listed include taxes and fees.

(I haven't found mention of these terms on Alamo's website.) None of the fee-waiving possibilities applies between San Diego and Seattle, though. In any case, if it means avoiding the fee, I wouldn't mind renting from LAX instead. A search on the same website for rental between LA and Seattle also shows "free" one-way fee on a lot of results with Alamo.

However, in both cases, there's also a pop-up next to the "free" one-way fee quote:

The indicated one-way fees represent the current fees. Rental car companies reserve the right to change these fees prior to pick-up. In order to determine the total one-way fee due, rental car companies use the total distance between the pick-up and drop-off locations. The amounts listed include taxes and fees.

My questions are then: Does the one-way fee waiver offered by drive-usa.de hold any weight when I actually pick up the car, or is it just an eye catcher and it'll be a gamble? If I were to rent a car between LA and Seattle airports, would the rental terms be any guarantee that the one-way fee is waived?

And a bit tangential: What are the advantages, if any, of renting through a European intermediary like drive-usa.de as a European citizen?

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    Renting through agencies etc often has different terms to renting direct with the hire company, so I wouldn't worry too much if the terms seem to differ. – CMaster Mar 31 '16 at 9:59
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    Be aware that many rental companies do not give unlimited mileage with one-way rentals (which otherwise is the standard), but limit the free mileage and you pay for extra miles. – Aganju Mar 31 '16 at 10:53
  • @Aganju That's a good point, thanks; in this case, unlimited mileage is included in the quote. – freieschaf Mar 31 '16 at 15:42
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I've had experiences booking rental cars with multiple big names and some borkers, mostly when driving in North America. My answer is mostly based on these experiences, not on legal bases.

I think you should compare as much as you can the different offers you can find on the web. The fares offered by the different big names (hertz, avis, alamo) can differ based on your residence country, the coupon codes you apply, and obviously whether you book a one-way trip. What is important is the total final price, not that one fee is waived. Many times I have seen a discounted quote being billed the same as the not discounted, i.e. the advertisement changes, not the total price.

There are a couple of related questions, one about brokers and one with a good answer with advice on how to save. I also discussed in a previous question about the pricing of car rentals insisting on its opacity.

As you write in your questions, you "might" not get the same price to pay on your bill (unless you pay in advance) than the quote you got online. And in fact, I rarely paid the exact same price I was quoted. Multiple times I have seen the rental agency employee struggle for a while with the coupon codes and other pricing options to get a rate close enough to my initial quote. Once I even went for a quote involving me paying a full tank at an unknown price (a quote I got through a broker) and ended up not paying any such fee.

My strategy has always been to reduce uncertainties as much as I could, by having the clearer terms in the booking quote. And print the proof of these terms. If you go with drive-usa, I think you should print the terms you quote in the question and if the contract you are presented is not what you expect, ask again and show this.

Summary

As a summary, go around and spend some time searching for a good quote. The terms you found on drive-usa seem good to me, but you should compare the total price with a round-trip total price. If you see hundreds of dollars of difference, look somewhere else. And at the time of signing the contract at the pick-up, make sure the amount sounds reasonable. And regarding brokers or not, it depends on the price and on the chance you want to take. I have booked only once through a broker and it went well, I got an even better price than I expected. But that might not always be the case (if you look at user reviews), the uncertainty might be bigger.

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    Thanks for the insight! I think your first link (question about brokers) is the wrong one, as it is pointing to the same question as the next link (question about saving on rentals). Just to add to the data, looking through the drive-usa.de site, I just found the terms and conditions applicable to Alamo and they offer a provision for rentals between the airports of San Diego and Seattle (among others) that in case that you are charged a one-way fee at pick-up, they will reimburse it, which might be the reason for waiving it in the quote. – freieschaf Mar 31 '16 at 15:53
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For the record (it's been two years since I asked this) and at the request of @pnatan I'll briefly summarize my experience regarding this rental.

After some communication with drive-usa.de I rented the car with them. They said if no one-way fee was indicated in a rental contract, then no fee should be charged and if it came to happen, they would refund it. They were quite clear and responsive.

The rental finally was between San Diego and Seattle. At pick-up I checked with the Alamo employee at the counter that there should be no one-way fee and he briefly consulted something and confirmed this. At drop-off nothing was mentioned about one-way fee either.

I can't say how much of a complete general answer this is, since I was a bit unsure throughout the whole process and I wouldn't have been too surprised if the fee was claimed at some point, given that this depends on a number of people and systems that don't always have it easy to communicate. My recommendation in similar cases is to have as many assurances as possible and go through all the fine print to be prepared in case something fails along the way. In my experience, if a good deal is found with a European broker like drive-usa.de, it might be worth taking it.

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