Is loyalty to a rental car brand costing you?
If you’re like many of us, you probably hold one or more memberships in a rental car company loyalty or “points” program. All the big brand name car rental companies offer them.
The way they work is the more you rent, the more points you’ll earn. As your points build up, you can convert them to benefits such as a free rental, upgrade to a luxury class car, or you can transfer them to an airline or hotel points program.
But have you ever wondered if you're getting the best deal for your money when you sign and drive? And did you know that you are actually paying for these programs in the form of higher rental costs?
Loyalty programs can cost you more
Here's our experience. Car rental loyalty programs may be useful if you drive ONLY in your home nation. That’s because these agencies are your only rental choices at home, and in some cases, their loyalty programs apply only to domestic use. Also, there are times when a loyalty program is a plus. A reserve online and walk to the car and drive away program without ever having to stand in line at an airport is a plus.
But when you travel abroad, using your host nation car rental program to book rentals abroad could cost you more than you think – up to 50% more — than you would pay a local car rental car company in another country. Here’s why.
Our on-the-ground experience renting cars around the world reveals we can get an identical car to those offered in our home nation by “brand name” rental car companies for up to 50% less. In fact, when we walk through airports abroad, we’ll see the exact make and model of the car we reserved with a local car company parked right next to an identical car bearing the major rental car company rental logo.
Sometimes, we’ve seen attendants at rental car agencies abroad simply switch placard logos on a car depending on whom we made our reservation with. This suggests the same local company is renting for themselves under their own brand name at one rate, and under the name of the major car rental companies at the same time, at another rate.
Also, many foreign car rental companies include insurance coverages that might be extra costs in your home nation, such as 100% collision and liability coverage built into the cost of the rental price. This makes a good deal an even better deal.
Why should you pay more for the same car?
Finding A Good Deal
One way to find a good car rental deal abroad is to go the destination airport website BEFORE you travel and search for the local car rental companies based there. These are the companies that will not always show up in Google or other search engine query. This will give you enough information to find local car rental websites and their contact information.
So, say for example, you’re flying into Capetown, South Africa. Search for the web for the Capetown International Airport. That will yield information about the local rental car companies based there.
A second approach is a simple search engine query: “ … rental car companies at [fill in the airport name] with the city and country name. This will also provide you much information — unless of course there is none to be found.
And here's a tip that's worked well for us time and time again worldwide: EconomyCarRentals.com. Somehow, these folks have come up with the magic formula to broker car rentals for the majors in a way that makes sense for the consumer. You'll learn more about this outfit in forthcoming stories.
First, if you’re from the USA and decide to book through your favorite USA-based rental car agency loyalty program, you’ll find you cannot rent for more than about 29 days. The length of rental may not be an issue for you. But if you’re full-time world rovers like us, you might find this to be annoying. We tend to rent cars for months at a time, as we wander through countries collecting our travel stories.
You won’t have this problem when booking with foreign rental car companies. In both South Africa and Thailand, we’ve rented cars for three months and more at substantially reduced rates.
Second, often the “brand name” rental car company in your home nation goes under the same name in your destination country. Sometimes it does not do so. But that DOES NOT mean you can book locally abroad using your host nation rental car agency loyalty club membership number. In fact, there usually is no place to insert this number UNLESS you reserve a car through your host nation rental car company website. Why? Because the rental cost is MUCH higher at home. YOU are paying for the cost of their loyalty program.
Third, just because you book for an airport pickup DOES NOT mean that the rental car agency actually exists at the airport. This is especially true in the case of third world nations. We found this out the hard way in Luang Prubang, Laos. We booked our car online because the website indicated the agency was there. It wasn't. We had to grab a taxi into town, check in to our hotel, and then take a taxi to the rental car agency.
What's the lesson to be learned via our third point? Always Email the rental agency to verify your rental car actually is at the airport for pickup AND that someone from their office will actually be there. This is especially important in third world nations.
Book online in advance and through a local rental car company at your destination. This is especially true in the case of third world nations. More often than not, you’ll save money and get a better deal overall.
For example, in Thailand we recommend Thai Rent A Car Corporation Co. Ltd.
For rentals worldwide, take a look at EconomyCarRentals.com. They broker car rentals with the majors and offer up deals that benefit both the rental car company and the consumer — win-win situations for both.
Update: November 2017
We just returned to the U.S. from a lengthy trip abroad. Because we were short on time, I booked a rental car through our U.S. “brand name” rental car agency loyalty program. The cost to use the car for one day to drive from Miami International airport to our destination? $351.00! Ouch!
About two days before our arrival, I took a look at EconomyCarRentals.com. The cost to book the same car for the same destination? $87.00! And that includes full insurance coverage, an extra driver ($10 more), coverage for all automated tolls, and unlimited mileage! It pays to “shop around”.
You can see Part I of our story here. Follow the series through January of 2018 to see all of our tips on driving in Uruguay.