If you’re planning to rent a car this summer or beyond, take these tips from Carol Margolis, founder of www.smartwomentravelers.com. Margolis, who owns a consulting business in addition to her travel website, travels 48 to 50 weeks annually, logging in nearly 200,000 airline miles. She rents 30 to 40 cars per year, too, both domestically and abroad. Plus, she’s been at it for over 25 years. Here’s what Margolis does to get deals on wheels and protect herself from scams.
Decline the rental car company’s collision damage waiver and any other insurance they offer. It can add $20 or more to your rental car bill a day. “And by the time you add in all the taxes, you can be paying three times what you thought you were for the car rental,” Margolis says. Instead, Margolis uses the coverage that’s included in her credit card and her personal car insurance as backup.
American Express, for example, offers car rental coverage at no additional charge and a premium plan that provides primary coverage for damage to or theft of a rental car for $24.95 per rental, which is what Margolis uses for international travel.
Know before you go. “Call your credit card before traveling to see what’s included in terms of car rental coverage,” she says. If your credit card doesn’t offer coverage (most debit cards don’t), then go ahead and shell out for the insurance the rental car company offers, if you want to.
Don’t rent a car at the airport. “Get your car rental off airport, if you can,” Margolis urges. If you can take a shuttle to your hotel and rent a car from there, for example, you’ll save an average of 22 percent off the entire rental by avoiding exorbitant airport taxes, she says.
Don’t prepay for a rental car. When you’re traveling, flights are delayed or canceled; your plans can change. “I would rather pay a little more and have the ability to cancel or change than to prepay for a car rental,” Margolis says.
Book through the car rental company’s site. Margolis uses budget travel sites such as Expedia or Travelocity to comparison shop for car rentals, but she books through the car rental site. “I generally find the same deal, if not better, on the company’s Website,” she says. Plus, it minimizes the frustration factor if you need to modify your reservation. “If you book through Expedia and you want to make changes to your Hertz reservation, Hertz isn’t going to help you,” she says.
Finally, to avoid hassles on the backend—such as being blamed for damage you overlooked when you rented the car—be sure to survey the car and document every nick or major or micro dent. Don’t assume the rental company knows it’s there—or won’t try to pin prior damage on you. “Usually, I’m really good at walking around the car before I get in, but recently, I was late for a meeting. So I didn’t look at the car,” Margolis says. “Sure enough, this is the time I get a letter saying the car’s back quarter panel was damaged.”
Now, Margolis asks the car rental attendant to walk around and check for damage. She also makes a note of the attendant’s name and the time so at least she can say, “I had Victor walk around at 8:30 PM and he OK'd it.” It’s also a good idea to take photos of your rental car with your smartphone or a video as added documentation, she says.
Have you ever been blamed for rental car damage that you know you didn’t do? What did you do about it? Next Monday: Margolis shares her tips for conquering the carry-on.