Car Rental Booking – Cautions

A few tips on booking a car rental for another country.

Shady Rental Agencies

If you start with a general Google search for car rental in your destination country or city, you’re likely to get a lot of hits on various rental companies with names that give the impression they’re based right where you want to pick up the car. They often offer very low prices. However, many of them are unregulated third party companies based thousands of miles away, making it very difficult to resolve any issues you have with them. I once spent several months dealing with my credit card company to get a bogus charge reversed from such a company. Better to deal directly with the car rental company itself, or book through a respected travel booking website.

Even when reserving a car through a well-known travel booking website like Orbitz or Travelocity you need to be vigilant. For a recent trip with both an international and US component, we ran into two different issues: the cost of extending a rental period, and third-party collision damage protection.

Extending a rental period

Travel websites can often provide better car rental deals than booking directly with the rental company. However, if you find you need to extend the rental period for any reason, the cost can skyrocket. On our recent trip we experienced this both in Australia with Avis and in the US with Hertz.

In both cases we contacted the rental company before the end of the original rental period to let them know we’d need the cars longer than planned (one was to attend a funeral, the other when we were stranded for four days due to the Boeing Max 8 debacle). When we eventually returned the cars, we found that the daily rate was almost double what we expected.

In both cases, instead of just extending the rental at the same daily rate, or even just charging us for the extra days at a higher rate, the rental companies charged us their full undiscounted rate for the entire rental period. They then credited us the amount we had prepaid. One of them even charged a penalty for not returning the car on time despite our prior notice. When we challenged the charges we were able to negotiate a lower price, but it was still higher than it should have been.

The lesson? When you need to extend your car rental, if at all possible return the car as scheduled and then rent another one.

Collision Damage Protection

I had made a reservation for an Avis car through Orbitz that was advertised as being fully cancellable and would only be charged to my credit card only upon pickup. Since this rental was for an overseas trip I checked off the “add collision damage” protection during the checkout process (see “Does Collision Damage Insurance Make Sense” below). I assumed that would give us Avis’s collision damage protection. When I received the confirmation email I found that 1) the protection was a trip insurance policy through a third-party insurance company, and 2) the insurance premium had been charged to my credit card immediately.

The problem with this is that if we did have an accident, we would still have to pay Avis’s standard “excess” fee until it was settled with the insurance company. We would have to handle the claim with the insurance company. And there was no guarantee that we would get a refund of the insurance premium if we had to cancel the rental.

Fortunately when I called Orbitz customer service to complain, they were very helpful and cancelled the insurance policy. They eventually issued a credit for the amount charged. I thought I would add Avis’s coverage when I picked up the car, but it turned out to be unreasonably expensive, so I declined.

Does Collision Damage Protection Make Sense?

When renting a car in the US, I never pay for collision damage protection. I know my own car insurance will cover it, and there’s extra protection offered by most credit card companies. But I do believe it can make sense to get the rental car company’s own collision damage waiver (CDW) when overseas, if the price is reasonable. Even if you have other protection you might have to pay for the damage or a significant portion of it up front until the insurance claim is paid. You may also want to consider the convenience value of not having to deal with claims that involve people on two or more continents after you’ve returned home.

I once did some significant damage to a car when I hit an “invisible” column backing out of a narrow parking space in Australia. Our flight home was leaving before the rental car company would open their desk at the airport. Because I had paid for a 100% damage waiver I was able to just drop the car off at the airport with a short damage report – no hassles, and no questions asked.

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