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TPG contributor Matthew Goldman takes us for a spin with Silvercar, one of the latest “disruptive” travel innovators that’s bringing concierge-style service to car rentals in cities across the Western US (so far) and might just change the way we all rent cars in the future.
Innovative startups have “disrupted” the travel industry in many ways over the past twenty years. From Expedia and Travelocity to ZipCar, Uber and the new subscription-based airline SurfAir, these industry-bucking companies are usually good news for travelers looking to save some time and/or cash.
One of the newest startups is the Dallas-based company, Silvercar. Backed by over $10 million in venture capital, Silvercar provides luxury rentals and a concierge-style experience with a fleet of silver Audi A4s. I recently got to try out the service on a trip to Austin, one of their few initial cities (Dallas, Houston, Austin and San Francisco).
In Austin, there is a flat daily rate of $89 for the rental, but Silvercar has launched a promotional partnership with Virgin America, so by going through this link and using the coupon code VXBINGO, I was able to get $51 off each rental day for a rate of $38, as well as 2,500 bonus Virgin Elevate points (you get another 2,500 after 4 rentals) and 4 points per $1 I spent on the rental.
Upon arriving at the airport you send a text to Silvercar via their mobile app (here is the iPhone version, and the Android version). A SilverCar driver comes to the terminal and picks you up curbside. After driving to the nearby Silvercar location (a few miles away in Austin at a warehouse) you pick up your car.
My driver verified my license and credit card then had me scan a QR code on the Audi and the doors unlocked. We loaded up our bags, received a tutorial on the car (which was a bit long, but I suppose they are being friendly) and headed on my way.
The Audi A4 is a nice car with all of the luxury appointments (navigation, Bluetooth, quality sound and a snappy 2.0 liter turbocharged inline 4). Silvercar’s vehicles come standard with satellite radio, an in-car WiFi hotspot and free toll tracking. I could do without its navigation system, which I thought was terribly designed, but I won’t fault Silvercar for that, and I just used my iPhone instead.
The car performed well and it was easy to return. I received a friendly text reminder on the day of the return and headed straight to the facility, which was programmed into the navigation system.
However, here things were not ideal. We were in a bit of a rush, but Silvercar was short-staffed and didn’t have someone available to help us individually. We were expecting to pick up a driver at the Silvercar facility who would accompany us to the airport and then drive the car back to the Silvercar station while we continued on our way. However, with only one driver present at the facility and two cars being returned, we had to squeeze into a single car with another pair of renters.
Luckily, we all fit and the drive was short. By the time we got to the airport, I had received my e-mail receipt, charging me a very reasonable market price for gas – another innovative feature of Silvercar so you don’t have to waste time finding a gas station to fill up the tank before returning your car – plus a flat $5.00 mark-up fee. After the gas charge and rental car fees and taxes I ended up paying right around $70 for my one day rental.
At Austin Bergstrom Airport, the rental cars are simply upstairs and outside of the terminal, which is a very short walk. In this case, it is probably easier to walk across to a traditional rental car company than the Silvercar experience, though you’d also most likely end up paying quite a bit more for a comparable car, and I did like all the bells and whistles in the Audi A4 plus the convenience of not having to fill up on gas or get myself to/from the airport.
For such convenient airports, Silvercar’s luxury experience is its true advantage, but I will say the car is not remarkably nicer than my typical upgrade with National. At other airports, such as San Francisco or Dallas where you have to take a shuttle or tram, however, Silvercar’s door-to-door would be a huge convenience and an advantage that I wouldn’t mind having.
All in all, it was a decent experience and one tailored to business travelers on-the-go who appreciate personalized attention matched with efficient customer service, and I’d recommend it to others. I’m not sure the $89 daily rate would be worth it for a longer rental, but thanks to the Virgin America coupon code and bonus points, I was able to get a reasonable rate that made the rental worth it in my opinion.