European Car Rental – Top Ten Tips for Europe Travel – Tip #6: Location Location Location

For most of us, the basis of a car rental in Europe is the journey, not the destination. We spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars so that we can see everything that we want in the minimum amount of time available. This is what a rental car is perfect for, what it is made for, and what you should use it for. Although I am not against taking a train from one place to another (especially after a long drive) I am constantly finding myself looking out the window wondering “Hey what’s over there?”

Of course, the destination is a factor when choosing our itinerary. Equally important is the starting point. Not only can the beginning and end of your car rental save you money, but chosen poorly, it can be the beginning and end of your vacation as well.

First and foremost, if at all possible, try and pick up your rental car in town. In some countries, this can be the difference between fifty to five hundred dollars or more. In some places, it’s just not worth it as the airport can be 20 kilometers or more from downtown with little to no public transportation. In other places, such as Rome’s Fiumicino (or Leonardo da Vinci) airport, there is a train between the airport and main station in town. And in some places the airport is practically in town. The common places where you will find a flat fee for airport pick ups are France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark and the United Kingdom. In Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria it is usually a percentage, anywhere from 10% to 17%. In Holland, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe it can go either way. Please be advised that this is for the major car rental suppliers and does not cover every one. Always make sure to ask if the airport surcharge is included and if it is a percentage or a flat fee, and if it is waived if you pick up in town. Also, it is good to note that if you pick up in town to avoid a fee, you can usually still drop off at an airport without having to pay the surcharge.

Picking up downtown won’t always save you from a fee, though it usually reduces it if anything. Railstations sometimes have a surcharge (Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium) and if you pick up at a “Premium Location” such as Russel Square in London or Haddington Way in Dublin, you will have to pay a fee as well. Also, some port offices require payment too, either as stand-alone or for a “meet and greet” situation, where the office is outside walking distance so the agents wait for you at the pier. Once again, make sure you ask if there is a fee if you are picking up at a station of any kind.

Aside from saving money, convenience is always a sticking point when deciding where to pick up your rental car. If you are hesitant to drive in a big city, but you want to save money, then you have a couple of options. For one, you can always pick up outside of a busy area but still “downtown” but this alternative comes with the price of having to get there, which is okay if you already have your hotel nearby. You can also find a rental location that is near a highway on-ramp, which is particularly good if you need the rental car not for the city you’ll be in, but for the one you need to get to. A mapping program using the internet is of course invaluable in this search. Get the addresses for your hotel and available pick up locations, and choose the one that is most convenient for you.

Finally, it is important to know what locations are available along the way to your destination. If you need to add an additional driver in the middle of your trip, or you need to swap out your car for any reason, then knowing where you can choose from will help optimize your time and money. There’s no point in going back if you can do the same moving forward right? It’s a good idea to have the phone numbers to the locations you’ll be dealing with, as well as a headquarters number for additional inquiries. Try to use a service that has 24 hour support. The locations may not always be open, but at least you can get through to someone who can let you know your options. Oh, and try not to involve yourself with a rental location that is part of a gas-station, restaurant, barber shop or any other strip mall business that is not car rental. Although many of the major suppliers have locations like this with their name on them, they are licensee, independently owned subsidiaries and you will find the shadiest clerks and the worst service here. This is really just common sense though.

In conclusion, we all know that getting there is half the fun. But the other 50% depends on the start and finish. If you know where that is before you try to move on, you’ll get there just fine.

European Car Rental – Top Ten Tips for Europe Travel – Tip #2: The Price Is Right

When it comes to shopping for something on-line, we tend to become naturally more focused on a singular aspect of the product or service we desire. There is so much information to be absorbed while browsing sites that it is nearly impossible to factor everything in. This is very true of the travel industry, which happens to be the second largest on-line market (I’m sure you can guess what the first is) and the one thing most customers tend to zero in on is that magical of all numbers: price.

This is of course to be expected. We can, after all, 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, the car rental. Before you look at prices, you should have a solid idea of how many people you need to accommodate, the amount of days you are staying, whether or not you can drive a manual shift, and the locations you are picking up and dropping off at. Provided you have those things locked down, you can safely move on to comparison shopping.

While it is true that 91% of travelers at least research if not purchase their trips on-line (source: Nielsen NetRatings – EyeforTravel independent study), it is always best to have some human contact before you make that important decision. In fact, if it is difficult to elicit at least a personalized e-mail response within 24 hours of contacting a travel company, you can almost guarantee that their customer service will put you on the back burner should you have a problem. Before you settle on a price, make sure that any future dealings with the company you choose will be 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 sometimes known as local taxes, hidden fees, or much more malicious wordings, depending on who you talk to. Some companies only quote you a “base rate”. Some companies will tell you their price is “all-inclusive”. Sometimes this is true, other times it is anything but. As long as the company is honest in conveying this information, it should not be a deterrent, as sometimes it is not within their control. Make sure you always read any terms and conditions and if you are still uneasy, call or e-mail the company and ask if there are any other charges to be expected upon arrival. Note that I say “charges” and not “fees” or “costs”. The basis of this being that in most cases a security deposit will be held for gas and key as well as a deductible for insurance purposes. The things that should either be included or not are:

Value Added Tax: Like sales tax in the States, all the 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 not refundable as it is on goods, since car rental is deemed a service.

Insurance: While there are new types of insurance being imagined up by rental companies everyday, the main ones are usually Collision and Theft (these two are sometimes covered by credit cards – more on that in later articles), liability, personal accident insurance (like medical insurance) and personal effects coverage (covers your belongings inside the vehicle).

Mileage: Only luxury vehicles and SUV’s should come with limited mileage. Beware any company who does not have unlimited mileage on normal sedan and wagon vehicles, even vans.

Local Taxes: These typically include premium location surcharges (airports and railstations especially), road taxes, additional drivers, eco surcharges and more. Like insurances, these are called something different every day.

After inclusions are tallied up, request a free quote in writing. If you can’t get a free quote in writing, chances are the company will end up billing you for something you do not know about. If the company has a website where the quotes are stored, print it out off of your browser. Make sure it has a tracking number so you can pull it up when needed. Also make sure you know the difference between a tracking number and a confirmation number. One holds a rate quote, one holds an actual vehicle.

In general, you can get the lowest price from a consolidator, who deals with multiple suppliers. They have contracted wholesale rates and typically hold more weight when confirming special requests such as hotel deliveries, additional equipment and after hours pick ups. It helps if they have a “best rate” policy. The better companies will offer to beat any rate you can find provided it has the same parameters and inclusions. Always ask if they have discounts for memberships like AAA, AARP, etc. Ask friends who have used the company if they know of any discount codes. You never know what will bring down the price in the long run.

To sum this up, always remember that price should not be the first thing you look at. Make sure the company is reputable, is easy to reach via telephone and e-mail, has the criteria you require available, and then worry about the price. It may sound like a lot of work but in the end you will be happy that made the right choice.