The excruciating airport rental car pick-up experience
Airlines take it on the chin all the time for their added fees, surcharges and questionable service.
Quite frankly, I don’t really fear the airline ticket counter anymore. It’s the rental car pick-up that often gets my trip off to a sour start.
The process of picking up an airport rental car has turned into an onslaught of trick questions. You’d think these rental car companies learned their up-sell savvy while walking the seediest streets of Bangkok.
Some rental companies are better than others. Enterprise and Avis don’t seem to ever be too pushy and sometimes you can catch a good rate as low as the discount companies like Budget or Dollar.
Last week, Fox Rental Car at the San Diego Airport had me boiled over.
Maybe it was arriving at the pickup counter after an 11 pm arrival and waiting 30 minutes for the shuttle, ready to crawl into bed and get ready for an 8 a.m. tee time the next morning at The Crossings at Carlsbad. But these guys really rubbed me the wrong way. For starters, only one agent was at the desk checking in four cars ahead of me.
You wouldn’t think it would take much time to move that line through, but they have to ask the three up-sell questions that most car companies ask now: “Would you like an upgrade? Would you like the insurance? Would you like the prepaid fuel?”
At the discount companies, if you decline, the agents apparently aren’t allowed to take “no” for an answer. They try and convince you you’re an idiot for declining prepaid fuel before moving on. “But fuel is $4 near the airport - are you insane? Imagine the hassle!”
The agent I had even said that my particular insurance was particularly vulnerable to rental cars and I should buy the insurance - as if he even knew my plan details.
But our “upgrade” conversation is what really had me baffled.
“Right now I have you booked in a Chevy Aveo,” said the agent. That’s the car I booked. I was going to be all over town driving around by myself, so why need anything else? “For $9.99 per day more I can get you in a Mustang.”
I declined, but when he gave me my rental form to sign, the upgrade was on the ticket, a cool $50 more for the trip. I pointed out the mistake (I’m assuming honest) and had him print out another ticket. He did so and the price was right.
Here’s the most befuddling part. He told me to walk outside and another agent would show me my car. When I did, the lot agent told me, “We only have two cars left tonight, take your pick.” He pointed to two cars side-by-side: a white Ford Explorer - and a black Ford Explorer. I took the not-so-fuel-efficient black one, loaded up and was on my way.
As I made the twenty-minute drive north to my hotel, I tried to make sense of it all. Why did the agent tell me I was booked in an Aveo when he clearly knew they were out. And if I would have agreed to the Mustang for $9.99 per day extra, where would they have found it? Would I still have been charged despite not being given the car I was offered?
Going with the cheapest company usually comes with its kickers, and Fox had more than normal. In total, it took me about 80 minutes to make it from the baggage claim to in my car and out of the parking lot. By the time I had made it to my room in La Jolla, it was about 1:30 a.m.
Advice out of all this?
Book your car with a credit card that has rental car coverage on it. My Visa Signature card covers collision and theft of my rental car if I book the car with it. It’s also good to check with your insurance company and see if your plan covers rental cars at all.
And decline the upgrade, because it’s usually more expensive than what you could have booked on the internet for starters. And as I learned last week, you may be getting the same car regardless - whether you pay for the upgrade or not.
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