Rental Car Trick or Treat?
This is a guest post from my dad, Grandpa Points. He and my mom are in their mid-60’s, are (mostly) retired,
and are ticking off “bucket list” destinations quicker than they ever thought possible thanks to miles, points, and travel deals. They have an intense love of this country, of its National Parks and treasures, and have no problem with a clean budget hotel room and an economy airline seat on a budget airline as long as it gets them where they want to be. A photographer by trade, his adventures are usually captured not just in his mind, but in his camera. He shares his thoughts and travels here from time to time, and I’m excited to share another one of their budget travel tips!
Whenever we travel, wherever we go, we usually rent a car.
We like the freedom it presents, and since most of our travels are multi destinational, it is a practical requirement. We do not seek exotic cars or specialized vehicles; we just look for a mid-size sedan at the lowest possible base rate. Our experience has been that Payless/Advantage and Dollar/Thrifty have traditionally been the lowest cost national rental car providers.
We have found them to often be significantly less than their competitors. We usually start checking prices about 3 months from departure date and will frequently monitor the websites for the inevitable price fluctuations. Once we see a "fair" base rate, we will reserve a car for the appropriate days and time of travel.
There is usually no financial obligation at the time of the reservation being made unless you opt for the "pay now" option. This does give you an even lower rate, but there is a no cancellation or refund clause and your credit card is immediately and forever charged. Because of life's uncertainties, we like to keep our options open. So,we just keep looking for a lower quoted rate and then reserve the vehicle at the new rate and cancel the older reservation. The process to manage your reservations is easy and straightforward. There have been trips that we will reserve and cancel car rentals up to 5 times as the rate continues to drop. It is our experience that the lowest posted base rates of the week are usually found on Tuesdays.
Mommy Points Tip: You can use the website AutoSlash to help track when rental car prices drop.
A recent trip to Nevada, Utah, and Arizona followed the above guidelines and patterns and we secured a low base rate of less than $14 a day with unlimited miles for a Hyundai Sonata.
At the rental counter, we were pleasantly greeted and then we were asked the standard questions in a positive and assuming way, "and you want the full vehicle coverage, right?" We, of course, declined as this is covered under our regular car policy and also through the credit card we used to make the reservation. We were then asked about the supplemental coverage, the trip interruption coverage, the rental liability coverage, the personal accident coverage and then the prepaid gas option.
We, respectfully, said no to all.
Mommy Points Tip: Several premium rewards credit cards have pretty solid rental car coverage built-in when you use them to pay for the rental, including the Chase Sapphire Preferred that offers primary auto rental collision damage coverage.
The attendant then started circling items on the contract that needed initialing to signify that we were declining all the above stated options. HOWEVER, included in that list of 6 or 7 options to be declined was an option that, if initialed, actually stated that you were AGREEING to purchase the Roadside Service Plan for $5.99 a day.
The RSP was never mentioned and was just sitting there waiting like a trap for the impatient, unassuming renter to quickly initial and move on. We were in no hurry and our bifocaled eyes were scanning the small print when we saw this misleading and surreptitious offering. We questioned the counter attendant about it and she replied, "That is how all the contracts are printed," as if to suggest there was nothing she could do about it. We said that we were not going to initial the contract because we did not want the Roadside Service Plan. After a few seconds of silence, the attendant said, "Well, I will just take it off then." A new contract was printed, a pre-formatted contract exactly like the original except the wording for the Roadside Service Plan.
The new contract, in black and white, indicated that initialing would indeed decline the RSP. Two contracts, one misleading, and one not. One with a rotten smell, one not. As the famous Roman consumer advocate, Ralphilious Naderium, once said, "Caveat Emptor, Buyer Beware." And you sure don't want to follow the paraphrased suggestion of a current legislator, "You have to sign the form to find out what is on it."
Our advice is to trust, but verify. And read the small print. Happy Travels!