UPDATE: How I strategically booked a rental car for 110 days straight
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Editor’s note: This post has been updated with current car rental elite points earning. It was originally published June 5, 2020.
I have not owned a car since moving to Manhattan 13 years ago.
That’s normally great. Subways, buses, taxis, Uber and Lyft — plus plenty of walking and biking — have all made my urban life possible.
When we have needed to escape the city on a weekend, my family has turned to Avis, Hertz and National.
Then came COVID-19 and a completely-reshaped existence in New York City. For weeks, my wife and our daughter were locked away in our apartment, only leaving for brief walks around the neighborhood. Our whole lives were within a mile or two of our home.
Now, as New York’s stay-at-home order is about to be lifted and the number of new coronavirus cases has dramatically declined, we wanted more mobility.
This summer will be unlike any other we have faced. No camp or day care. Museums, restaurants, theaters, zoos and other activities are closed. And while we love New York’s parks, they can quickly become too crowded for comfort in an age where we are still social distancing.
It was time to get a car.
And here is where the dilemma came in. We didn’t want to buy or lease a car because, at some point hopefully sooner than later, life will restart and we won’t want the cost or hassle of owning one in Manhattan. There was the option of buying out somebody else’s lease for a few months but there were some hidden costs and the hassle of registering the car in our names.
I thought about renting cars just on the weekends, but summer rentals in Manhattan can be $300 or more. Each week, I would have to go to the rental location, wait on line, get a new car and then fill it with gas before returning it. Plus, in the age of coronavirus, there is an added risk with every new rental.
Finally, we plan to rent a home or two this summer instead of our normal flying vacations. Weekly car rentals were costing $1,000 — or more — and my normal trick of renting outside the city wasn’t yielding any lower rates.
Then I realized that renting a car for nearly four months would provide a much lower rate. It was still $3,700 after taxes for the entire summer but lower than any of the other rentals and none of the long-term commitments that a $200-a-month lease would offer.
(Yes, owning a car just for two years would be almost cheaper but parking in Manhattan is a long-term challenge and garages cost more than monthly lease payments. Right now, my work-from-home lifestyle and the lack of a daily commute means that I can move the car when required for street cleaning.)
Insurance was my next big challenge.
My wife and I have already have liability insurance for those who don’t own cars as part of our larger insurance coverage. But we needed collision insurance.
Typically, I rely on my credit cards for this. However, the fine print limits that insurance typically to 31-day rentals.
I set out and booked cars with Avis and Hertz for 110 days. (None of the other companies came close on price.)
Avis told me that I would have one reservation number but actually four separate rental agreements or contracts. I didn’t have to return the car between contracts but would get a call asking me for the mileage. This meant that it would be my car for the full 110 days but treated as four rentals to let me get the credit card insurance coverage.
Each month, my credit card would be billed for that rental contract.
If I had bought collision insurance through Avis, it would have come out to an extra $1,000 for the rental period.
Hertz wasn’t as clear.
A call to the national reservations line told me that it was up to the local rental office to decide how to issue the contract. In these situations, they would either do agreements for 30 or 61 days. So I contacted the local office — twice by phone and once in person — and couldn’t get a clear answer any of those times. Hertz was $2 cheaper a day for my 110-day rental, but without knowing exactly how the agreement would look, I decided to rent with Avis.
As a President’s Club member, I was given an upgrade to a full-size car: a brand-new Nissan Altima with just 59 miles on the odometer. It isn’t as pretty as the BMW 5 Series Hertz once upgraded me to, but it does the trick and is easy to parallel park on the street.
I’ve got the car until the middle of September and will report back on what type of loyalty points I end up with from Avis.
Update: My first month of the rental is over, my credit card was charged for those four weeks and I’ve switched over to the next contract. Avis awarded me 830 points for the monthly base rate plus a 415-point bonus for my President’s Club status. Collecting car rental points isn’t usually lucrative – many travelers in the points and miles communities will get airline mile promotions. Avis awards a minimum of 100 points for a rental, making these 800 points for the entire month seem like an even worse value. In the end, I might be able to redeem the points for one or two free days. You can learn more about redeeming here. But again, this was a “pandemic rental” and in times of crisis we sometimes do irrational things.
Related: Complete guide to Avis
Our family trips used to almost always start with a plane. Now, we are getting to explore everything our region has to offer. We have day trips planned for local hikes, beaches, farms and other socially-distant outdoor adventures. It’s not what I envisioned for this summer but I’m excited for these new discoveries.
Photo by Austin Neill via Unsplash
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