I love almost every aspect of travel. The things that people hate about travel that I love most, from messing around with airline rewards availability to jet lag to airports.
However, there is one aspect of the travel experience that I despise, which is car rental. I admit that I’m taking a defeatist stance with this, and I probably even have a mental block. I would like to learn about this from OMAAT readers – am I missing something or is there a way to make it less miserable?
My perception of the car rental industry
Most consumers find the aviation industry frustrating, even though the car rental industry is far worse for me. This Seinfeld clip sums up my impression of the industry pretty well:
What do I dislike about the car rental industry? Where do we even start?
- Car rental companies have no problem with significant overbooking. Then you emerge and find that the car you reserved is not available (at best) or that (at worst) there are no cars available at all.
- I believe that the car rental industry as a whole cannot care less about customer service at every step of the process
- There is almost no point in reserving a more expensive car, as in half of the cases the type of vehicle you have booked is not available
- Rental car prices are ubiquitous, so I haven’t found it worth staying loyal to a brand
- It seems like there are all kinds of discounts, but I’m not sure how to maximize them beyond the obvious
- Because of the paperwork involved in most rental cars, you would think you were applying for a mortgage rather than renting a car
I try to avoid renting cars whenever possible, but sometimes it’s the best option. So let me share my last four experiences with rental cars, two in the US and two in Germany. Let’s start with the USA:
- At Miami Airport, I got to the rental car desk and found only one person working and over 50 people in line. Since the line didn’t move, I just made a more expensive reservation with another local agency because I didn’t have to wait hours
- I rented an SUV in Denver because we had Winston and six large bags (this was when we returned from Germany and hadn’t “dropped” most of our luggage before our hotel adventures); I got to the counter only to find out they only had a two-seater available and they asked if that was okay (it wasn’t – our things wouldn’t physically fit).
Then there is Germany. In theory, renting cars in Germany is a joy, especially from Sixt – they have some great luxury cars at reasonable prices, and driving on the autobahn is actually fun. What’s frustrating is that Sixt often has dozens of different cars to choose from (and not just generic categories), but I haven’t been very lucky that they actually have these cars:
- We had to drive from Frankfurt to Berlin, so I reserved a BMW 5 Series Touring because there was a lot of space for luggage. When we picked up the car, we were told that the car was available but could not be returned in Berlin, but that we could take a van for eight people instead (why was I able to reserve this exact car when this type of rental car was offered? are not allowed?)
- I had (again) reserved a BMW 5 Series Touring to drive from Berlin to Munich and when I got to the agency I was told that they didn’t have this one, they had a much smaller Audi; However, when I drove the Audi to another Sixt location, I could exchange cars there for the ones that I had actually reserved
I don’t have a good track record of renting cars
What am I doing wrong with rental cars?
I would like some tips from those who can find a way not to make car rental unhappy. Steph wrote a great post a few years ago with tips on how to make car rental less miserable, although I am still kind of miserable about car rental. 😉
Here is my current approach to renting cars:
- I use autoslash to see if discounts are available
- I know premium credit cards offer car rental status, but I haven’t really found this useful in any way
- I know some people rave about National Emerald Aisle, where you can choose your car from a specific gear, but I’ve either found National’s pricing isn’t competitive or the locations I’ve rented from had one very limited choice
- In theory, I wouldn’t mind paying more if it actually did have a “premium” experience, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. I’ve had a better experience renting from Fox than some of the theoretically “premium” car rental companies
So please help me – what am I doing wrong? Should I go out of the way to earn points with car rental companies? Am I just not in the right status?
The only rental car experience I’ve ever found pleasant was with Silvercar as the company handled expectations well. Unfortunately, Silvercar is more or less no longer available – all airport locations are closed and Silvercar is now mostly only available from selected Audi dealers.
I loved renting from Silvercar
I also generally feel that the car rental industry is in a cycle of shit. I understand why they often don’t have cars available because usually anyone can reserve without penalty if you don’t show up.
And heck, maybe I’m part of the problem as I often make multiple reservations. But the only reason I do this is how crappy the experience is – I need a backup when I get to a counter where one person is working and 50 people are in line, or when I’m in a situation where cars are simply not available.
I would love to hear from you guys – is there anyone who loves the car rental industry and doesn’t feel so frustrated? I suppose the alternative is to take the Turo route, but the only experience in my household with it wasn’t exactly great …
Instead of continuing to take a defeatist stance, I’d like to learn from the experts how not to make rental cars puke. While I do what I can to avoid renting a car, sometimes it’s just the best option. In the US, Silvercar did the trick for me, but that’s no longer the case.
Help me out guys!
Does anyone share my frustration with renting a car? Any tips for those who don’t?