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I've been twice in the US (Florida), and I always rent a car, but I always end paying several hundred dollars more for a car rental. When I reserve a car online, I always get a price, but when I go to the counter, the bill is almost twice, with several charges.

I remember some charges like:

  • Airport fee
  • Energy/Environmental fees
  • Several insurances

I want to know if is possible to avoid some of the additional fees, and if is totally ok to decline the insurance offered by the rental agency, or buying cheap insurance elsewhere, or even use credit car insurance.

Also I want to know if there is a website where I can pay the car rental without surprises or added fees when picking up the car, just the price shown in the website.

The intention of this question is to be a canonical question, so would be nice if we can have detailed question about this topic.

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I want to know if is possible to avoid some of the additional fees

Airport fee for example is easy – choose a location/company that does not charge it or a hire location away from an airport.

Energy/Environmental fees, where these are levied, are contractual obligations. If you want to avoid these try a different company.

In all cases, read the T&Cs.

and if is totally ok to decline the insurance offered by the rental agency, or buying cheap insurance elsewhere, or even use credit car insurance.

Yes. Insurances are generally of two types: Compulsory and Optional. The Compulsory insurance normally need not be purchased from the car hire company, provided suitable evidence of such cover is provided to them.

I want to know if there is a website where I can pay the car rental without surprises or added fees when picking up the car, just the price shown in the website.

Yes. For example I hired a car from Europcar via their website and the cost (before fees for my traffic infringements) was exactly as pre-paid. I will though admit that on an earlier occasion I was disappointed to be charged an exchange rate differential (but the cost of the differential was quite a lot less than the bank's foreign currency charge for settling the tiny amount). That was also Europcar, which I did not hire from on my next visit.

This is an image from Europcar.com, as for someone 26 or older living in the United States of America, hiring from O'Hare airport:

Car hire 'extras'

With and without insurance is clearly differentiated. I am guessing either O'Hare do not charge airport fees or at this location they are covered by "premium station surcharges" and hence built in to the displayed prices. Similarly I am only guessing that "VAT" covers any Sales Taxes. Either way it seems they should not show up on the final bill as extras but I can't confirm they do not.

For their Perth, Australia hires such details are more specific:

Perth

I was disappointed to read that the UK is little or no better. A Times article "Car hire extras still come as a surprise" of October 27, 2016 reporting on a Which? magazine study included:

Car hire companies are still smuggling hidden extras into the small print of contracts, leaving holidaymakers with higher than expected bills…

Nearly a third of the price of car hire extras, from additional drivers to dropping the car off at a different point, were not set out during the booking process online. This rose to 51 per cent of the charges added by Avis …

They also found that drivers were put under pressure to buy additional insurance they did not need or into hiring satnavs at extra cost when they picked up their vehicle …

Which? looked at 300 prices for car hire extras from seven of the biggest companies used by British holidaymakers to find that a third were either buried in the small print or not shown at all when booking online.

Since considering holidaymakers, it seems likely that at least some of the cars in the sample were driven in USA.

5

The airport fee is unavoidable if you use an airport office. It generally reflects costs the airport imposes on the rental car company. The energy fee may also be a requirement by local law, some sort of special tax. And remember, unlike VAT in most of the world, prices in the USA are quoted before sales tax, which could easily run 10%.

With insurance, the situation is more complicated and depends upon your home insurance. Generally speaking, the insurance offered by the car company is a rip-off and you want to decline as much as possible, without leaving yourself vulnerable. They will probably refuse to rent to you unless you have liability insurance (or buy theirs). That would be an issue about your home auto insurance. You can reject the "Collision Damage Waiver" and "Loss Protection Waiver" at your own risk. High-end credit cards will generally reimburse you for losses these waivers would cover. And your own auto insurance may also reimburse them, depending on what sort of policy you have.

Another interesting charge these days are outrageous daily rates for a GPS unit (refuse and use your phone) and a toll-road transponder (refuse unless you are using many crowded toll roads).

[ADDED: See also What extra insurances are sensible for car rental ]

  • 1
    "Prepaid Business Account" <- this probably affords you some exceptions. – Burhan Khalid Oct 1 '16 at 3:32
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    @pnuts as it includes an item for VAT, your invoice is obviously not for a US rental. Its utility as an example of what one can expect in the US is therefore limited. – phoog Oct 1 '16 at 6:05
  • @BurhanKhalid also renting a car outside the US affords some exceptionsto normal US practices. – phoog Oct 1 '16 at 6:06
  • @pnuts I didn't say all airports charge a fee, but at this point most do and the agency passes it through to the renter. – Andrew Lazarus Oct 1 '16 at 14:45
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    @pnuts I have no idea what you are talking about. Or more likely, you don't. The OP wants to avoid the airport fee. The only way to do that is use an off-airport cheap agency (further from agency) at an airport that doesn't charge for van pickup. Or fly into some small airport that doesn't charge a fee. Now, as to the final price, there are web sites like Kayak that can be persuaded to show total cost of rental including fees, taxes, and selected insurance, but OP seemed interested in reducing the extra fees, not seeing them in advance. Move to chat? – Andrew Lazarus Oct 1 '16 at 15:07
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As to your last question, having the full price disclosed in advance, I've had success with the following approach:

  • Choose a major rental agency and register for their "priority service" (often called Precious Metal Club or something of the sort). This may require some extra steps (e.g. sending them a copy of your driver's license) and a delay of some days while they verify your information, but it only has to be done once (or once every several years).

  • Book directly on the website of the rental agency, not through a third-party travel site. The price in big numbers will be the rental charge alone, not including fees, but you should also see a "total price" that includes all fees and taxes.

  • You should have the option to choose extras at the time of booking: insurance, child seats, GPS, fuel purchase, roadside service, etc. Decline all those you don't want. (To decide whether you should get insurance, see Should I purchase rental car insurance? What protection does my credit card provide? and other linked questions on this site.)

  • You'll be quoted a total price that should include all taxes, fees, and optional extras. My experience has been that this matches the price I am eventually charged.

  • To avoid surcharges, remember to:

    • fill the gas tank before returning the car (getting a receipt if required)

    • avoid using any electronic toll transponder supplied with the car (if possible, either pay tolls in cash or avoid toll roads entirely)

    • return the car on time

    • not damage the car (unless you purchased an appropriate damage waiver)

The relevant advantage of the Precious Metal Club membership is that you get an expedited pickup process. At some airports, you get a text message identifying your reserved car and where it is in the parking lot, and you just drive it straight out, stopping only at an exit booth where your ID and the car's condition are verified. At others, you go to a special line at the rental counter, show your driver's license, and are immediately handed the keys. But in either case, nobody tries to pressure you into any optional extras.

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