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For most people, renting a car is an absolute nightmare. Nothing ever seems to go right, even down to the prices you see listed online that somehow end up tripling or quadrupling by the time you show up at the counter due to random fees and “taxes” that are pulled out of thin air. But, at the end of the day, renting a car is often the best way to explore a destination on your own, saving both time and money in the long run. During COVID-19 travel, it’s particularly beneficial to help minimize contact during this time. So, if you’re looking for tips on how to avoid getting screwed, read on!

Mistake #1: Just because the price at checkout is cheap, doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll pay

The biggest mistake we see people make is looking on one of the OTA’s (online travel agencies) for the lowest rates. Unlike airlines, who are heavily regulated, car rental agencies can seemingly post any rates on any sites as the base rate. Travelers unknowingly book that rate, not reading the fine print. We see this time and time again. The Traveler shows up at the rental counter, only to get slammed with hundreds, sometimes thousands, in additional “required” insurances, taxes, airport fees, car rental fees, fees for processing fees, fees for processing taxes AND fees, fees for x and fees for y. You name it, there’s a fee for it. Always be sure to read the fine print when you find a “good deal”. For the most part, we stick with rental car companies like Avis and Sixt, who are very clear about what you pay for upfront. They’re never going to be the cheapest on the OTA’s, but they often end up the same price or less than the “best deals”.

You can see, here, on the OTA that only 6% of travelers stated the price was accurate when they showed up at the counter:

The last time we were at the airport car rental counter, we overheard some travelers at the Economy counter arguing with the agent over an additional $1,000 in fees that they were being told to pay. For one week. It just goes to show you, do your research, plan ahead and make sure you read reviews.

Mistake #2: Assuming the mileage is unlimited

While many car rental agencies offer unlimited miles, there are also a vast number who do not. Many rental agencies allow for unlimited miles, but sometimes only within a certain state. If you decide to take your car to another state, you may incur a per-mile charge, so be sure to read the fine print.

Some rental scams, excuse me, companies restrict the miles on weekends. For example, Enterprise will let you take a car only 100 miles per day for a weekend rental. Every mile after that is $.25 per mile. Be sure to look at the fine print and if you’re planning on a longer journey, be sure to pick a rental car agency that allows for unlimited miles.

Mistake #3: Paying the Liability and Collision Insurance when you don’t have to

Insurance is often where people get very screwed when it comes to pricing. Once you find the base rate you like, unless you have a credit card that includes insurance or car insurance that covers you for rentals, you could end up adding $30-80 per day on top of your base rate. We always book our car rentals with our AmEx Platinum or our Chase Sapphire Reserve because they include theft and damage insurance.

From American Express’ benefits site:
You can be covered for theft, loss and damage of your rental car with an MSRP of up to $85,000 for rentals of 48 days or less when you fully charge your rental to your Platinum Card. To take advantage of this protection, simply decline the Collision Damage Waiver (CDW), Loss Damage Waiver (LDW) or similar option offered by the car rental agency.

From Chase’s benefits site:
Decline the rental company’s collision insurance and charge the entire rental cost to your card. Coverage is primary and provides reimbursement up to $75,000 for theft and collision damage for rental cars in the U.S. and abroad.

Many credit card programs also feature roadside assistance in the event that you need support along the way. Sometimes, car rental agencies will insist on paying for their LDW or CDW. In this case, we recommend calling the credit card company to find out your options.

Mistake #4: Not paying attention to the walkthrough pre-rental

Often, by the time you get off a flight, you just want to get to your destination. It’s easy to skip one of the most important steps to getting out of this parking lot: assess any and all damage and make sure it’s noted. Any ding, scratch, dent – no matter how small – should be marked on the paperwork. Often, the agent will say “oh, it’s ok, that’s not a big deal”. However, it is a big deal if you come back after your car rental is up and they tell you that you owe them for the damage you didn’t cause. Trust me, it’s worth the headache: take the walk around the car, note any damage by taking photos with your phone and ensuring they mark it on the paperwork. No one wants to get stuck with a couple hundred dollars in bills for something they didn’t do.

Mistake #5: Prepaying for gas

Prepaying for gas is one of those funny things. It seems like a good idea because you can return the car at half full and not worry about rushing through the gas station, but more often than not, you can save yourself $40+ by filling it yourself. Car rental companies will always charge you more than what it costs to fill the tank, and they will charge you a full tank, even if you return it 1/2 full. This goes for other extras as well: car seats, XM radio – those additional add ons literally add up.

In conclusion…

There are a lot of reasons to rent a car: flexibility, privacy, cost, so don’t let the unknown scare you out of renting a car for your trip. Just be aware of the mistakes we, and others, have made along the way! We hope this helps – let us know in the comments if you have any other tips.

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