When it comes to buying something online, we tend to focus more naturally on a singular aspect of the product or service that we want. There is so much information to absorb while browsing the sites that it is almost impossible to factor everything. This is very true in the travel industry, which happens to be the second largest online marketplace (I’m sure you can guess which one is the first) and the one thing most customers tend to focus on is that magical of all numbers. : price.
Of course, this is to be expected. After all, we can only afford what is in our budget. However, the first order of business should always be to understand the requirements of our vacation, in this case, car rental. Before looking at prices, you need to have a solid idea of how many people you need to accommodate, the number of days you will be staying, whether or not you can drive a manual shift, and where you are picking up and dropping off. As long as you have those things locked in, you can safely move on to comparative shopping.
While it is true that 91% of travelers at least research or buy their trips online (source: Nielsen NetRatings – independent EyeforTravel study), it is always best to have some human contact before making that important decision. In fact, if it’s difficult to get at least one personalized email response within 24 hours of contacting a travel company, you can almost guarantee that their customer service will put you on the back burner in case you have a problem. Before setting a price, make sure any future dealings with the company you choose are satisfactory, or you will end up paying much more than that number on the screen.
The time-honored tradition these days is “added extras,” also known as local taxes, hidden fees, or much more malicious expressions, depending on who you talk to. Some companies only quote you a “base rate.” Some companies will tell you that their price is “all inclusive”. Sometimes this is true, other times the opposite is true. As long as the company is honest when transmitting this information, it should not be an impediment, as it is sometimes not under their control. Make sure to always read the terms and conditions and if you are still not comfortable, call or email the company and ask if there are any other charges that can be expected upon arrival. Note that I say “charges” and not “fees” or “costs”. The basis for this is that, in most cases, a security deposit for gas and key will be retained, as well as a deductible for insurance purposes. The things that should or should not be included are:
Value Added Tax: Like state sales tax, all countries in Europe have a different tax structure. This can be as low as 7.6% (Switzerland) to 25% or more (Scandinavia) and is generally non-refundable, as it is in goods, as car rental is considered a service.
Insurance – While rental companies envision new types of insurance every day, the main ones are typically collision and theft (these two are sometimes covered by credit cards – more on that in later articles), liability, accident insurance personal (like health insurance) and personal effects coverage (covers your belongings inside the vehicle).
Mileage: Only luxury vehicles and SUVs should have limited mileage. Be wary of any company that doesn’t have unlimited mileage on regular sedans and family cars, even pickup trucks.
Local Taxes – Typically includes premium location surcharges (especially airports and train stations), road taxes, additional drivers, green surcharges, and more. Like insurance, these are called differently each day.
Once inclusions have been accounted for, request a free quote in writing. If you can’t get a free quote in writing, the company will likely end up billing you for something you don’t know about. If the company has a website where the quotes are stored, print it from your browser. Make sure it has a tracking number so you can open it when you need it. Also make sure you know the difference between a tracking number and a confirmation number. One has a fare quote, one has a real vehicle.
In general, you can get the lowest price from a consolidator, which deals with multiple providers. They have contracted wholesale rates and generally carry more weight when confirming special requests, such as hotel deliveries, extra equipment, and after-hours pickups. It helps if they have a “best rate” policy. The best companies will offer to beat any rate they can find as long as it has the same parameters and inclusions. Always ask if they have discounts for memberships like AAA, AARP, etc. Ask your friends who have used the company if they know of any discount codes. You never know what will lower the price in the long run.
In short, always remember that price should not be the first thing you look at. Make sure the company is reputable, easy to contact by phone and email, has the criteria you need available, and then worry about the price. It may seem like a lot of work, but in the end you will be glad you made the right decision.