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Friday, May 18, 2012

Downsizing your car rental

How much value did you get from your last car rental? Did you rent a smaller car and enjoy the savings both on the car and on gas for it?  Or did you go for the luxury car?  How much actual time did you spend in that rental car?  Did you do a lot of driving around, or did the car sit in parking lots most of time?  I can think of occasions when luxury is what a trip is all about, like a honeymoon perhaps. Or maybe you can't rent the very smallest car, because you have equipment that goes with you (like a wheelchair) that just won't fit into a subcompact.

Most of the time while on vacation, we just need a vehicle to get us from the airport to our hotel and a little running around town sightseeing. If you're tempted to rent a luxury car, and you know that you'd rather have that extra money for a nice dinner out and a little savings, then ask yourself, "do we need this category of car? What's the smallest car all of us and our stuff will really fit into? Could we have just as good a trip with a less expensive rental?"

How much could you save
To give you an idea of how much you could save by renting the small car vs. the large one, here's some info from the Avis rental desk at Seatac airport.

The difference in price between a Premium SUV (like a Chevy Suburban) and the Subcompact (like a Hyundai Accent) is about $130 per day!  Now that's the extreme.

Comparing to the Subcompact, the Compact will cost you about $3 more, the Intermediate (Chevy Cruze), about $5 more, the Standard (Ford Fusion), about $7 more, the Full size (Chevy Impala), $13 more, the Intermediate SUV (Ford Escape), $96 more, the Specialty (a Fiat 500), $115 more, the Premium (like a Crown Vic) $80 more, the Minivan (Dodge Caravan), $92 more, the Luxury (Lincoln Town Car), $90 more, the Standard Elite SUV (Chevy Traverse),  $118 more, and the Full Size SUV ( Chevy Tahoe) $120 more. Got the picture? We're talking a substantial amount more. Now, multiply these amounts by the number of days you'll be needing the car. (Of course, these prices change daily and depend on availability and specials geared to clear the lot of particular cars. But it's them same sort of price difference.)

Know how big your car will be
When you go to make your rental reservations, take note of what make and model they are suggesting your car will be (or similar they always add).  If it's passenger space you are concerned about, go on the manufacturer's website and see what their suggested seating capacity is for that car.  I've seen first hand, the rental agency's website claim that a particular car seats only 4 passengers, but the manufacturer's website (and other rental companies) say that it will seat 5.  If it's trunk or rear storage space you're most concerned about, look on the manufacturer's website for dimensions for that make/model.  Will your stuff fit? It's important to know yourself, just what size car you and your stuff will fit into, before you get to the airport.

Our free upgrade experience 
One trip we reserved a subcompact, knowing we'd all fit.  When we got to the airport, the guy at the desk tried to tell us that we wouldn't fit into that car.  I replied, "can we go out into the lot and check it out?"  He then cleared his throat and said they didn't have that level car available after all.  He was trying to upsell us.  And as it turned out on that trip, because they were out of the Subcompacts, the Compacts, and the Intermediates, we were bumped up to the Standard (3 levels up from Subcompact), at no extra cost to us.

Interesting to note --  we have always reserved the subcompact, and never actually received a subcompact. While I can't guarantee you'll have the same experience, this is what has happened for us. For this last trip we reserved and paid for a Subcompact and received the Intermediate (2 levels up).  I have a feeling that you're more likely to get a free upgrade on a reserved car, if you reserve one from the smallest of classes they offer.  It seems to reason that a good deal of people want the cheapest available car, so that's what they reserve.  And when you go to pick up the car, for one reason or another, they don't have that class of car available at that moment (people get delayed bringing the car back, or they extend their stay, or the rental agencies do what the airlines do, they oversell/reserve, so that close to every car on the lot will be out and earning them money).

Are there options if you truly need a bigger car
What if you're traveling with a large group or you have a big family?  You need the Premium SUV (the Suburban), right?  As an alternative, you could rent 2 subcompacts, compacts or standards, for less than half the price of the Suburban and still have seating capacity for your entire group.  Plus you'd have the flexibility of an additional car. One part of your group could go sightseeing, while the other part still has a vehicle for their use.  And you'd be pocketing roughly $100 per day!

So, this post is just to encourage you to make an informed choice when reserving your next rental car. If you go with a smaller car, you save in two ways -- it's a cheaper rental and you'll have lower fuel costs.

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