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I was going on a small 5-day break with a friend to the South of France a few weeks ago and the plan was to fly from Amsterdam to Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport. After that, it was a 2-2.5 hour trip to Moliets-a-Maâ. We decided to rent a car, and sensible as we are, booked one upfront online with insurance included.
This way, we were sure to have a car available on location, could avoid any waiting lines or high rental fees, and rent with the security of having insurance sorted both via the online rental car company and a credit card.
We met at the airport and as we had an early flight, had only managed about 4 hours of sleep. On the airport bus, all of a sudden, my travel companion found out that although the online company we were renting through had good reviews, the actual rent-a-car organisation only had about 1 out 5 stars… They were notorious for adding extra fees after the rental period for things such as fuel and damages, and would often keep some or all of the €2000 security deposit from customer’s credit cards.
Long story short, we did not have any coffee yet (it was EARLY!), panicked, and cancelled the rental. Just to be sure.
“We’ll just rent a car when we get there”
On arrival at Bordeaux Airport, we headed towards the car rental area, where there was quite a difference between the length of the lines in front of the different branded desks. Was a long line a good sign or not? Should we pick a big brand, or one we didn’t know but seemed much cheaper? How could we actually see which ones still had the cheaper small cars available that we were looking for? Well, you can’t.
Reason #1: You can’t compare rent-a-car companies on location without stopping by at every desk
Note to car rental companies: it would be a lot easier if everyone had digital boards above their desks with the current pricing per car category. But obviously, that would mean they have to go down in price as they would need to beat the competition. And where did they have those tiny Renaults and Citroëns we were looking for still available?
Reason #2: Car availability is a mystery
After hopping by 2 desks we easily and quickly discovered that the pricing on spot was MUCH higher than the online booking we had before. Trying what seemingly should be the cheapest one (they were also the cheapest online), turned out to be about double the price. If not triple.
Reason #3: Renting on location is often more expensive
We were half an hour down the line when we decided to call the actual online rental people to check if we could un-cancel our booking somehow. We discovered some interesting things:
Turned out, although we could cancel the rental for free, we would actually need to make a new reservation (which would cost a little extra) and have to wait for the new pick up time 2 hours later for the car to be ready. Still, it would only cost us about €30 extra.
Reason #4: Your choices are more expensive, the less time you have
We went to the desk to see if we could get the car a little earlier and the lady at the desk practically laughed in our faces. Whilst waiting, there were 3 young french guys who didn’t rent online who were told to pay €1000 for the same car we ended up renting for €268 in total – everything included. She tried to sell us extra insurance as she said the insurance we got online wouldn’t cover everything. If we wanted an extra driver, we had to add another €60 to the bill.
After a call to the online company, we quickly found out we were perfectly covered. The gentleman on the other end of the line sent an email to the desk lady and with a big frown on her face, she eventually gave us the nod that we were good to go.
For some reason, when going to a foreign country the locals sometimes have the tendency to treat you like a dumb tourist they can shake money from. That reason is that you ARE often a dumb tourist they can shake money from. If you don’t know the language, the customs, the laws, make sure you think twice. Or get a second opinion, as we did.
Reason #5: You lack the extra security from the online booking service
We finally had our car arranged. 4 hours down the line though, as we still had to wait for our car to be ready. We could’ve been laying on the beach for about 1.5 hours already.
Reason #6: renting a car on location can cost precious (vacation) time
We spent our time waiting in the sun for a bit and after a review of what on earth just happened, we finally went on our way.
The only thing that we had to wait for, was the bill afterwards. Still afraid of the bad reviews and unnecessary credit card write-offs, we decided to just let it go, enjoy the holiday, and see what happened.
We ended up paying €268 in total (fuel not included), with no extra fees and a bill that looked all too reasonable. It was then and there we decided that we would always rent a car online from that moment on. However don’t be fooled, there are also differences in which online rental platforms are good to arrange your rental with.
Make sure you choose an online rental car website where:
1. You don’t pay extra credit card fees
2. They work with trusted vehicle partners (if you see a lot of unknown brands, skip that one)
3. They have 24-hour 7 days a week service, so you can reach out in any time of need (like when you need to ‘un-cancel’ an unnecessary cancellation…)
4. Insurance arranged via them is all the insurance you need
5. Free cancellation in case you panic because you read a bad review and didn’t sleep well. Just kidding – but plans do change and your rental network of choice should be flexible towards that
6. Plenty of pickup locations at logical areas
7. Good rate comparisons – not just a list of cheap cars but actually a good overview that you can easily find the category pricing you need
Our rental site of choice is currently Auto Europe, which ticks all those boxes. They have trusted partnerships built with many well-known brands, international and local, thanks to being in the car hire market for more than 60 years. You can call them whenever you need (in your own language), always cancel 48 hours prior to pick up without any extra fees and they have more than 24,000 pick up locations in the world. But most importantly: you can easily compare rates for all suppliers and categories. You can even rent luxury cars or motorhomes, if you feel more adventurous.
Well, I hope my half-a-day of messy car rental shenanigans will help you on your way too, or was at least in some way useful to read!
Now to get to the real fun: tell us about your craziest car rental experience in the comments below.