Thoughts & Plans

Why is hiring a car such a painful part of the travel experience?

Hiring a car is, 50% of the time, a must for me when I travel – I would say I hire one 15-20 times a year, at least, and it still remains my least favourite part of a travel experience. Obviously when I go to a city or the Maldives, I do not need a car!

I have tried all brands, I think and while most of the experiences have been uneventful and a car was provided in exchange for the money quoted, there is still a long way to go. Why? The customer service experience can make all the difference.

Which one to choose? It gets harder and harder.

Which one to choose? It gets harder and harder.

In my opinion, the whole point of having a large international network is to offer consistency – a brand name comes with a brand promise (this is not rocket science!) and that is obviously reflected on customer expectations.

Price is still key – and I find myself not being loyal to a particular brand, which I actually don’t like. In most areas of my life, I have preferred suppliers of goods and services – be that a drink, shoes, hotels or airlines. But in this industry, because there is so little service differentiation (sadly), I have found prices recently to be all over the place – and pretty much anywhere.

I have a thing for Avis (and I really like its Avis Preferred programme, where if you sign up for free, the car is actually there waiting for you, with the keys in and you are ready to go). This is brilliant (and I am pretty sure Hertz and others offer something similar), but it is only brilliant when it works. In the USA, it is a fact and when you board that dreaded ‘airport to car hire depot shuttle’, they usually say your name and the parking spot and that is it. In Europe, it means you have a different queue when you get to the airport desk – I have never had the keys ready to go and a smile. But I have had some very good experiences – so random and unexpected, I thought I would tweet the company showing my appreciation.

Social media is not always about being negative. I like using my powers for good. A lot.

Social media is not always about being negative. I like using my powers for good. A lot. (read from bottom to top)

I also have a thing for Sixt – being a more European provider, it has a more limited coverage in terms of locations, but has recently launched in the US, for example. There are always less queues and cars are better. As an example, I hired a BMW X1 in Mallorca last year, and I liked it so much, I bought a similar car this year (and being an Audi girl, it says something). I also almost had tears in my eyes on a recent trip to Miami where I had to queue for 90 minutes (I kid you not) with Alamo to get the car I had pre booked and pre-paid, to see a newly-opened Sixt counter with no queues. It is not exactly what you need/want after a 16-hour journey.

Argus took this complaint so seriously, they ended up refunding our rental which we disagreed when we found out the credit on our bank account. They have outstanding (and human) customer service.

Argus took this complaint so seriously, they ended up refunding our rental which we disagreed when we found out the credit on our bank account. There was no need and we ensured we spent all the money on future rentals with them. They have outstanding (and human) customer service. Alamo sent me some emails just apologising but nothing else.

This is the Alamo exchange, which sadly didn’t get us anywhere later on, but it was a timely response and I did appreciate it (start from bottom to the top).

Things can get a little heated - this is me after 16h travelling and a long queue.

Things can get a little heated – this is me after 16h travelling and a long queue.


On a recent trip to Italy, we hired a car through Firefly, which is a spin-off from Hertz. I mistakenly went to another company’s counter and asked where Firefly was as there was no signage (in Bordeaux, for example, where I also hired a car with Firefly, there was a separate counter next door to Hertz) and the lady turned to me and said ‘Good luck’. I was sure I misunderstood her and asked her to repeat. And the same words came out: ‘Good luck’. I found that most strange but obviously headed to the Hertz counter where we had 3 people ahead of us, which in a normal scenario would not be a problem. But there was one: it took 45 minutes for our turn. There were 2 people serving and one decided to close down (at this stage there were more people behind us in the queue). Interestingly, there were also 4 people behind the counter doing absolutely nothing. Did they care? Not a tiny bit.

With the help of a seasoned Italian lady car hirer (who was in the queue with us), we realised what happened: they didn’t have any cars. Did they tell us and manage expectations? Of course not, don’t be ridiculous. Just make them wait in the queue. What would have cost them? Nothing. We would have understood. Then we had a little surprise, the car was filthy (inside and outside). I actually tweeted Hertz, who responded within 5 minutes, but they simply cut the conversation short. Frustrating? Yes.

A conversation that ended very quickly. Why did they not respond? Saying sorry would be OK.

A conversation that ended very quickly. Why did they not respond? Saying sorry would be OK.

On the return, we arrived at 8.01am, but the desks were not open yet, so with the help of another Hertz client who funnily enough had been on the pick-up queue with us, we simply left our cars around the Hertz area (not parked properly as there were no spaces) and headed to a safe box where you leave the keys. The Italian customer asked him why wasn’t the counter open at the set time, and the employee said ‘Please!’. I kid you not. Our car had marks everywhere and it wasn’t checked before or after, so we actually don’t know what we will be charged for the rental and prove that I didn’t add a scratch to the car. Fingers crossed it will be OK.


What irritates you most when you rent a car? Here are some of my pet peeves:


1. Why does it take so long to get the keys?

Why why why?

Why why why?

Whenever I rent a car, I provide the driving licence details, my home address, my telephone number, flight number and whatever else is required – you say it, I will provide. But for some bizarre reason, 90% of time, I have to provide the exact same information at the rental counter. I would love to know why (and a UK address always makes people take longer to type and figure out that the post code has letters. It does and I told you before).


2. Hidden charges

On two recent rentals, on the contract, I spotted a ‘credit card fee’. I wasn’t told about it and thought it was most strange – when have you not paid a car rental without a credit card? Debit cards are usually not accepted because of the excess deposit, so I am not sure what gives here.

No comments needed.

No comments needed.

The best one? Cleaning Fee. In Bordeaux, France, I saw this sign at the counter and I thought ‘oh, this is starting well’. Cleaning is subjective anywhere in the world and it was one more thing to worry about when we returned the car. For the record, I always have my car very clean and use a rental car like my own. I understand that others may be pigs, but surely this isn’t the most welcoming way to greet a client.

Pre-paid fuel.. this is a relatively new one and oh God, can it get irritating. It always used to be pick-up full, return-full, but you never know now. Obviously reading the rental agreement is absolutely necessary. I have used some websites where I was told before that it could be the case, and that is absolutely fine (as it is my responsibility to read the contract), but was surprised by a recent rental in Cyprus, with Avis (done through British Airways) that I had to pre-pay a tank fuel for 100 Euros. In an island, where I wasn’t going to drive a lot. Apparently it is a policy for Malta and Cyprus. I actually wouldn’t expect this from Avis.


3. Insurance

Oh my God, we could stay here for days. What should come with a basic rental?

I run a little experiment on a mainstream car hire company website (you can guess by the colour who it might be), using the UK and the USA website (stating in both we were UK residents – not sure why that makes a difference). I set the dates from 1-7th July at Los Angeles Airport, and requested an SUV, which is the type of car I always rent in the USA (road tripping of course and it has the room I need for my 6 suitcases. No judging, please).

On the UK website, the name is a ‘Station Wagon/Estate’, whereas on the USA website it is named as a ‘Intermediate SUV’ – they both list a Ford Escape as the ‘potential’ model and make. So we are comparing apples with apples. I have also selected the ‘Pay now’ option which is what I would do normally (and do understand why there is a price difference as risk element for the rental company is obviously different).

On the UK rental, it states that the ‘Basic price includes: All Mandatory Charges, Loss Damage Waiver (LDW), Additional Liability Insurance, Tax, Unlimited mileage’

The UK version of the rental in LA.

The UK version of the rental in LA.

Not sure why the Additional Driver cost is not made public (and why does this still need to happen? Shouldn’t the car be insured? With Avis we usually do not pay as they have a partnership with British Airways and the additional driver is free for all Executive Club members).

On the US version of the website, I have a lot more options insurance-wise. And the price, funnily enough is not the same – it is $15 cheaper for the exact same rental.

The US version

The US version

It seems that the insurance included on both is similar – the LDW and the ALI. But look at the other options – it is madness!

The best one I was offered at a counter: tyre insurance in case they burst. This has never happened to me all my life and I wouldn’t want that to happen on a nice California drive, no no. $20 a day?

And do you know about the e-tolls thingie? I quickly changed the rental to Miami as I know in Florida you must have it as most tolls are electronic, and both versions of the rental fail to mention anything about the daily $2-3 charge. Why?

Excess charges is always interesting.

The UK version says: ‘Vehicle Damage Cover Excess – USD 0.00 (approx. £0.00). Excl Vat. Vehicle Theft Cover Excess – USD 0.00 (approx. £0.00). Excl Vat. If you wish to reduce the excess you can purchase additional cover when you pickup your car’.

The USA version says: nothing.

I have heard that there are companies in Europe that let you buy a policy that covers all excess on rentals for 12 months and I also understand that US credit cards also offer a lot of car rental related insurance offers – if you could point me in the right direction, please do, as it would be interesting to know more about this.


4. Car types and models

Sometimes I am not sure what car I am getting. Back in the day, there used to be ‘classes’ – and you kind of knew, class A was the cheapest (possibly a car with no air conditioning and where the reverse gear would be an optional extra) and worked your way up. I honestly don’t want a car where I need to move my body to make it go a little bit faster on the motorway. But oh do I get surprised.

Looking at the example I used before, it is quite clear: look at the names, and the options.

In the UK version I have 14 options, whereas in the US version I have 15 options. But the names are so different and confusing – or is it just me?

Lots of options, but clearer in the US version

Lots of options, but clearer in the US version


And the UK version which mixes up types of cars.

And the UK version which mixes up types of cars.

I am not having a go at a particular company – I actually used the website of the one I use the most. I have tested this on 2 other companies and results are very similar.


5. Price

It is all over the place and this is why one needs to shop around. Sometimes it takes me a good morning to work around a rental – by comparing prices and obviously what I save sometimes costs me more than half of my professional consultant daily rate. But it adds a lot of frustration to the ‘car rental experience’.

To get things started, I usually go to Expedia, which gives me a good idea of prices. For the same rental as above, it looks something like this.

The Mid-size SUV scenario at LAX

The Mid-size SUV scenario at LAX with Expedia

Interestingly, there are no Avis results on this search – the price on its website is £249 which would be the second cheapest on this particular search – but you can see the differences above, technically for the same thing.

I then go to a website I have been using for years – a good 5-6. Argus Car Hire, which compares all of the providers and 90% of the time, it gets me savings of 40-50%. I only have an issue with it: I do not know who the provider is until I complete the booking (hence the Dollar, Alamo, Firefly and other experiences that I had, which weren’t necessarily bad).

Argus has real people behind and outstanding customer service and I cannot recommend it enough. An important thing to keep an eye on: location (on or off airport as it also brings some not so mainstream providers. I had a huge problem in Gibraltar/Spanish border as it wasn’t clear).

On this LA search, there are some interesting results, for the exact same car:

The Argus Results

The Argus Results

The rental in this case is actually cheaper (20%) and if you look at the rental conditions, you get more insurance ‘stuff’, and breakdown assistance.

The devil is in the detail

The devil is in the detail

Argus is a good option in this case, but you still need to shop around. I probably book 50% of my rentals with them, and the other 50% direct with car hire companies as it *always* depends.

With this, I have lost possibly 2 hours for a car rental, but I still have another website to show you, which I recently found, when search results for Lisbon airport, in Portugal (in July, when I am going) looked like this:

Seriously, look at the prices. And I have been keeping my eye on this since February. Imagine August.

Seriously, look at the prices. And I have been keeping my eye on this since February. Imagine August.

I was a little bit worried about this rental – and we need a proper car as we will be driving south. A ‘mid-size’ would be OK, but we could not have an ‘economy’ one as we are going to Alentejo and roads can be interesting. So I found this company (who had been following me on twitter, but never tried to sell me anything, to be fair): Argus Car Hire results were very similar to the Expedia ones (I do understand that there is a clear supply/demand issue . We rent every year at a cost of £300-400/week, which seems reasonable. £1000, not so much for a ‘compact special’, which you know it will not be a VW Golf as shown on the image).

Look at the difference!

Look at the difference!

My actual car is not coming up on search results anymore, and I contacted the company to check if everything would be OK with the local agent. I was told it would be a Meet and Greet service and that they would be available for any support via twitter or email. I have just done 1 rental with VipCars and did not have a problem. Also, with Vipcars, you know who the provider is before booking.

I also don’t understand (and would love if someone from the industry could clarify and enlighten me) – why is a car rental cheaper if provided by a third party where the main company has to pay them a commission?

But the problem is.. I have to do this all over again every time I book a car. It takes hours – and I just wished it was less painful. And then, it is always a roulette when you arrive at the rental counter. Because it is, without a doubt, the worst part of a travel experience and it is such a shame, as it is relatively simple and could be vastly improved if the companies really had a good grasp about their operations around the world. McDonald’s can do it. It isn’t easy, but it is not impossible. The challenges of a global operation indeed.


So my next rental is with Sixt, the one after with VipCars and the following one with Avis. Does this make any sense to you? Or does it not matter?

I would love to hear from you: what have been your best and worst car hire experiences? Do you also feel some frustration in dealing with these companies? Have you used third-party websites to book? Did you have any nasty surprises? Are you loyal to a particular company? And is there a country where an experience was so bad it may put you off for life? Tell all!

Which UK, the consumer-rights group has also launched a car hire campaign, and they have contacted me to join – and oh, yes I have and will. Find out more on their website.

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View Comments (67)


  1. Lynn

    December 12, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Hi Anna,

    You have experienced a lot with car rentals I believed. May I ask you few questions?

    I have rented car before (not many), and this time I would like to rent in the Geneva airport. As in your comments, I saw you have rented their, and in your article you mentioned you are happy to rent with Sixt. I am probably going to rent with Argus Car Hire, and I asked from the online chatter, he told me the car is from Sixt company. My question are: How do you recommend Arguscarhire and Sixt? Good bad things? Things to take care of? When is the best pick up time I set for booking? Let’s say I arrive at 13H in Geneva airport…

    Thank you for your help in advance! I know renting a car here and there, we can never predict anything unless all the car companies are righteous…


    • @mrsoaroundworld

      December 16, 2014 at 10:07 am

      Argus is a consolidator – ie a website that buys stock (or something similar) from the big brands. It would be interesting how much the same car directly with Sixt costs – I bet it will be more expensive and Sixt will even have to pay Argus a commission. I don’t get it. The good thing with Argus is that their customer service is fab and they are always open. Sixt will be the service provider and most of my experiences with them were very positive. I would very happily rent with them at all times, except that their prices are mad – sometimes the same car with them costs 4-5x more than with Avis, which makes no sense.

  2. Lauren

    July 7, 2014 at 11:38 pm

    THANK YOU!! I could not agree more with this!! I will sometimes forego going somewhere if I have to rent a car. It is just the BIGGEST hassle EVER!! It definitely takes the vacation out of, well, a vacation!! Next week we’re flying into LAS and driving to a few places in CA over the following few days, and it has just been the worse experience shopping for a rental.

    We settled on Hertz, and I am terrified to see what our bill will be (since they didn’t have the pay in full now option). There was a mention of mandatory fees not included, AND to make things worse, they allowed us to book a return to a location we now found out is closed the day we are supposed to return the car!!

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      July 7, 2014 at 11:40 pm

      OMG, how about you try someone like Argus or Vip? You will pay in full and no surprises. Best of luck, Lauren… And hope that location is sorted!

  3. inspireourtrip

    June 25, 2014 at 7:51 am

    Hi. This is a great article & couldn’t agree more with comments re Miami Airport.

    I am currently in the middle of an interesting dispute. Hired a car with Hertz for 2 days via AutoEurope, £54.53. Just got my credit card statement & found that Hertz have billed me $108, £64.58 at current exchange rates. Initially I thought they’d billed me for the hire too as the amounts were similar. Raised the issue with AutoEurope customer service & Hertz have charged me for fuel (car was returned fully fueled)& a service. Needless to say I have gone back to AutoEurope & I await their response with interest.
    inspireourtrip recently posted..Minimising Transatlantic Jet LagMy Profile

  4. lola

    June 23, 2014 at 2:48 pm

    i have REALLY loved my experiences with Sixt. BUT otherwise agree that the lack of universal service is awful. even in just a state to state comparison in the US or one franchise to another. i do think the insurance thing is crap too. i had to pay about $300 extra in insurance in Iceland for “sand and ash” damage that doesn’t come standard. it’s a real thing there but give me a break.
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  5. inspireourtrip

    June 22, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Great article. I have clocked up many, many miles in rental cars over the years & rarely have an issue thanks to having learnt some lessons the hard way a long time ago. However, I recently got back from a trip to the US where I had rented a car for a couple of days. I was surprised to find that in addition to the Auto Europe transaction I was expecting in full payment of my rental, there was a duplicate charge from Hertz. This is a new one on me. I have written to Auto Europe’s customer service team to ask them to investigate & get me a refund.

    On the nightmare matter of insurance for rental cars, we have a summary of the cheapest way to cover the excess

    as well as an explanation of all those technical terms & acronyms they throw at you at the car rental counter.

    happy driving!

  6. the lazy travelers

    June 21, 2014 at 11:27 am

    slow clap, mrs. o. we LOVE having a car when we’re traveling (as long as it makes sense and we’re not in a city, obviously.) it makes exploring so much easier, and gives you so much more freedom… but the headache at the airport always makes us wonder how worth it it really is?? being with you during your latest hertz experience, i can attest to how absurd it was. hopefully the brands start to take note and make some changes!! xo, ashley
    the lazy travelers recently travel requiredMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 22, 2014 at 5:00 pm

      I just wished that there was some true goodwill. And there isn’t – so we just go from one to another. And this will carry on forever.

  7. Ad-lib Traveller

    June 19, 2014 at 7:09 pm

    Great post and very comprehensive! I rarely rent overseas, in fact my only overseas rental was in Jamaica last year. It was a new experience and somewhat painful (the car was broken into whilst under hire!) but it was remedied by the company very quickly with no additional cost to me.

    Fingers crossed that when I hire a vehicle next time, I have positive interactions!
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    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 19, 2014 at 11:43 pm

      You will, you will! Do not want to jinx it for anyone!!

  8. Monica Suma

    June 18, 2014 at 7:29 pm

    I haven’t rented cars all that often, but when I did, I had some of the same issues. Bad service, long wait time, no cars available, some person bringing the car super late, which is why I do it so rarely now. It ends up ruining half your day and it’s not cheap either.

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 18, 2014 at 11:36 pm

      This is so sad to hear. The question is… what is the alternative? And are they so bad because they know there isn’t really any?

  9. Becky Padmore

    June 18, 2014 at 9:35 am

    So true I think our worst ever experience was in Barcelona, customer service was non-existent!
    Becky Padmore recently posted..The best Vegetarian/Vegan restaurants in the USAMy Profile

  10. Anna Parker

    June 18, 2014 at 8:07 am

    Worst bit of a trip, every time (apart from in HEL actually..)

    We got caught in jamaica – as we didn’t have a MasterCard world card (who does) we had no option but to pay an extra insurance. This was with Avis and nothing was mentioned on the booking that I think we did through BA. Can’t remember the outcome with Avis at home, but after a business class flight and the relaxing that gives you, not ready for the standard nasty and hidden charges…
    Anna Parker recently posted..Lunching in the south downsMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 18, 2014 at 10:20 am

      I know what you mean! But it is sad reading some of the stories here. The one in Perth is very worrying.

  11. Rhonda Costa

    June 18, 2014 at 2:43 am

    Interesting you brought up Mallorca because this is where I rent cars throughout the year as well as recommend (only) rentals for clients. We set up adult tennis camps in rural Mallorca and in general it’s almost a must to have a car on the island here, especially for long stays / agrotourismo accommodations. Most our people go in high season (Summer) and many haven’t been to Mallorca. Americans coming must have an IDP to rent should book a car early for the best price – ESPECIALLY if you need automatic over manual trans, the ladder being easier to get and easier on the wallet. Dare I say I have not had a problem yet with Doyouspain, Goldcar and Amigos Auto. Pretty easy going and quick to get me in & out. I have rented from Sixt in Barcelona and also had a good experience. Do yourself a favor and get full insurance in Mallorca from the car hire company directly!!! Mallorca’s tough on tires, paint/dings since some of best areas come with unpaved roads. Thanks for the other great sites and info. We’ll be sure to check them out!

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 18, 2014 at 10:19 am

      My pleasure, Rhonda. Mallorca also known for the empty fuel tank issues and one may not need it!!

  12. Kim-Marie Evans

    June 18, 2014 at 12:22 am

    We hired a car in Provence a few summers ago. We were told it would hold all six of us, they were correct. However we then only had space for exactly one tiny bag. We had to hire ANOTHER ENTIRE car to carry our luggage. We were at EuropCar for an hour waiting while someone took their break, God love the French. I got angry and marched over to Avis, had a car in under 15 minutes. And for only a small fortune more had a car to carry our luggage.
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  13. Nadine Jolie Courtney

    June 17, 2014 at 9:34 pm

    Tell me about it!! I had a painful experience with Hertz just a few weeks ago that left me banging my head against the wall. Part of it is the disconnect between car companies and the popular sites you often rent them from (Orbitz, etc), I think. And insurance is SUCH a scam (at least, in the states, when you’re often paying with a credit card that already offers better insurance than what you’re offered at the desk.) Car rental seems to be all about the nickel and diming.
    Nadine Jolie Courtney recently posted..Hotel Review: Aria Las VegasMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 10:41 pm

      I understand it is a low margin business, but they do set the prices and the service standards. Getting third parties in the middle has done us all a favour – lower the prices (and the rental companies still pay them a commission). But I just wished they all said: pay this, and you get that. Like in a restaurant, or airline, or hotel.

  14. Tracy Antonioli

    June 17, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    I have to say–with one recent exception (which I am about to share)–renting a car is typically my favorite part of travel. But here’s why:
    1. I travel mainly for business, thus someone else is paying.
    2. I am extremely loyal to one company, and have high-level status.
    3. The company to which I am loyal has an express serviced, in which you just walk up to a certain area of cars, get in, and drive away (well, you have to go through the exit and show your ID, but that’s it. One minute, tops. And my receipt is emailed to me seconds after dropping it off–and the drop off process is just as easy. Park and go.)
    4. I like to drive. And because I have status, I get the fun cars.

    Now. For leisure it is a bit more challenging, as I do not have an unlimited budget. And this is where car rental companies bother me. You see, it is all based on supply and demand. Which benefits the car rental companies (and rarely the consumer. Unless you are traveling to south Texas.) My recent issue is a long story and my lunch break is over so….more in a bit! (Sorry for odd disjointed comment. My current life is odd and disjointed!)
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    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      Very interesting perspective, Tracy – and very honest too. Am I right to think that all this travel is US based?

      • Tracy Antonioli

        June 18, 2014 at 3:45 am

        Yes, you are correct. Only US. (So far…) 😉
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        • @mrsoaroundworld

          June 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

          Tracy, it makes a huge difference. Be ready! 😉

          • Kiera Reilly (@KieraReilly)

            June 27, 2014 at 11:34 pm

            Tracy has same feelings I have – when I travel for work, I use the same car rental place, I have status, I walk up to the car and am able to drive away pretty quickly. One caveat – getting to the car rental area. Now in the US airports are building car rental facilities away from airports, so you have to board a bus, with your luggage, and sometimes drive a long time (the worst was Phoenix where I felt like the car facility was 30 minutes from the airport) to pick up your car. If you’re doing a quick trip to a city, it would sometimes make it impossible to have a full day of meetings because of all the travel on these buses between the airport and car rental facility.

            Another thing I’ve noticed is the all the additional taxes. You’ll see a quote for a daily or weekly rate, then when you are on the page to reserve your car, the total amount is sometimes double to quoted amount because of taxes and fees – car facility fee, tourism fee, local tax, state tax, etc. I think they are able to get these taxes through because most people renting cars are business travelers and it’s just a cost of business expense, so companies have to eat it.

          • @mrsoaroundworld

            June 28, 2014 at 1:01 am

            The real estate, especially in the US is a killer. Train, bus, whatever.. is ridiculous! But as far as price is concerned, they know everything, so why not make it easier?? Funnily enough, I hardly ever rented a car on business. in Europe, not a chance – but I do understand it is different in the US.

  15. Raul @ilivetotravel

    June 17, 2014 at 3:22 pm

    Ana, first of all, your post should earn you a Ph.D. in some university as it covers well all aspects of the experience! I will have to call you Dr. Mrs. O from now on 🙂

    I agree that the hidden charges is about the worst. The dang shuttle thing, well, I guess there is nothing that can be done about it (can it?) given the “real estate” need of rental agencies.

    But the worst for me is when I book an automatic transmission and I am “forced” to take a manual transmission. See, it is not a matter of preference: I don’t know how to drive manual xmission. So when I book a car, dear rental agency, with auto xmission, I expect you will deliver one. Hertz many years ago tried to pull a stunt like that on me in southern France and they have to give me a car a couple of levels up because that was the only auto xmission they had left…
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    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 3:32 pm

      That is a huge issue, and I wonder how much stock there is around the world for automatic cars. I do remember driving my first automatic car (a rental) in Miami. When we parked for the first time and then tried to move the car again I had no idea what to do with it, so my sister and I literally asked a guy off the street to help us out. He thought we were mad. Funnily enough I have now been driving automatic cars for 5 years but I know what to do. I can imagine the frustration. The good news? They are getting more popular in Europe. And Dr. Mrs. O is always delighted to be of service.

  16. Nicola

    June 17, 2014 at 3:00 pm

    I get very annoyed when they don’t honor the perks of your frequent flyer programme e.g. Diamond Marco Polo member gets a free upgrade etc. Despite confirming this with both the airline loyalty programme AND the reservation team when booking, we often turn up to find they’ve never heard of such an upgrade. Argh even talking about car hire makes me frustrated!
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    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 3:07 pm

      Oh God, I know what you mean. We only claim the British Airways ones and now that they partner only with Avis, it has been OK – the perk is additional driver, not an upgrade. But I know the feeling. Oh yes I do.

  17. Pandora Skies

    June 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm

    The fact this article is so long and complex says it all. I’m not one for waiting. My travel is so frequent and eats up so much if my day, I want seamless transfers and no queues. I won’t lie that I am a slave to taxis, as a result. I never hire cars, based in all of the above, only on a very rare occasion. If they met me at the door handed me the keys and made it simple then I would. But I am not one to gather luggage and trek to a remote car park and lose an hour plus, when I can grab a cab instantly.
    There is a huge market here in corporate travel that car hire could do better on, and get her business from people in a hurry like me!

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 2:55 pm

      I don’t think I ever rented a car in a business scenario – it has always been ‘leisure travel related’, i.e. weekends away or longer trips where you dont want to be stuck in a hotel forever. But all I want is what you say: for them to me at the door, hand me the keys and made it simple. But they don’t. And then you think you find a good company, and then in some location they are awful, so you try another one, and it keeps happening again and again. Very frustrating.

  18. Paula

    June 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

    Rental cars = queues and bad memories of my children moaning and crying after long flights. I remember that in Florida I almost got down on the floor and cried with them.

    No one behind the desk ever seems to be in a hurry…or able to explain things poperly. But luckilly the worst thing to have happened was unknowingly paying the fee to bring it back empty of fuel, and then filling it up just before we brought it back!So, compared to others, I can’t really complain.

    Like you, I don’t have any companies that I’m loyal to in this area. There just doesn’t seem to be anyone that stands out.
    Paula recently posted..Grace Kelly Talks about How Cities Inspired CityGirl ConfidenceMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      Oh the fuel… so sneaky isn’t it? I just wished they made things uber clear. Uber!

  19. Jean | Holy Smithereens

    June 17, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    Goodness. This is all a headache, but thanks for the comprehensive write up on this Mrs O. I have to admit, I’ve only done car hire once in my adult travelling life (!) and it was on a major US road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles (Did the big C of midwestern states). It was a smooth first time experience considering we paid a hefty one way fee, and it had to be an all terrain SUV for long drives. But we made sure to photograph EVERY corner and surface of the car when we got it, before even driving. it seemed very CSI-ish at the time but I think it is necessary. Oh this was with Hertz btw. Perhaps soon I will have my share of car hire experience in Europe but I’ll be well prepared thanks to this well written piece.
    Jean | Holy Smithereens recently posted..Skydiving in Perth: The Thrill of Freefalling from 15,000 feet High!My Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 2:52 pm

      We don’t want to jinx anyone’s good fortune. Fingers crossed, Europe will be smooth sailing!

  20. Trevor

    June 17, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    We have had a few of your documented problems and a few others.
    Scam 1. My wife and daughter were scammed by Europcar in Perth, Australia. They took the car back in perfect condition, but then after flying back to Sydney, my daughter noticed that $2,000 had been taken off her credit card.
    When she asked why, she was told that the roof was damaged.
    She knew it wasn’t and so asked for photographic evidence.
    They said it had already been fixed. This was 1 day later!! We don’t use Europcar any more.
    Scam 2. Hertz used the car cleaning scam on us in Faro, Portugal. When we took the car back we were asked for 8 euros to wash the car. It was not dirty, just dusty. When I complained they pointed to a very small piece of paper in the hire pack, saying that the car should be cleaned before return. We don’t use Hertz anymore.
    Scam 3. A number of smaller hire companies in Faro airport charge 70 Euros for a full tank of petrol, even if you just want the car for a short time. There is no refund for remaining fuel. We read the contracts carefully now.

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 12:14 pm

      Trevor, this is shocking – and again a great example how one experience with one company will make you discount it worldwide forever. The cleaning thing I don’t understand, especially if exterior – and in the Algarve, cars are known to change colour because of the dust. I cannot believe about the Sydney experience – did you take the complaint further?

  21. WhatKateMadeNext

    June 17, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Rental cars= rental pain. Enterprise Glasgow gave me a breakdown (nervous kind) they were soo bad! Rest have been ok so far! *toucheswood*
    WhatKateMadeNext recently posted..The one where I cook on a stove made from a coke canMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 17, 2014 at 11:24 am

      And I hope it continues – it should be that way! I really don’t get why this industry is SO bad!

  22. Michelle Chaplow

    June 16, 2014 at 10:46 pm

    Ana, hi, The photo file (jpg) will have an automatic date stamp. To be double sure you can email the photo to yourself on the same date and to be treble sure, email it to the car hire company, the worst they can do is delete their copy.
    If you open the file in any imaging software, then close without saving, to avoid re date stamping. In any case the meta data, should have a creation date and a last viewed date.
    Hope this helps, Michelle

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 11:09 pm

      That was what I was hoping for, and now I know for sure. Thank you, Michelle!

  23. Kelly

    June 16, 2014 at 6:20 pm

    I agree with everything you have said in this post! Rental cars are a pain in the bottom especially after a flight.

    Last year we used Hertz at Munich Airport – I had prearranged for the baby seat and a price was agreed. I collected the bags while my other half collected the car – we were charged all these additional costs on top of the baby seat charge that was agreed and the staff at Hertz couldn’t even tell me if the baby seat was for the correct age group (it was my friends child who was one) and they weren’t with us! After numerous huffs and puffs from the Hertz staff member I think we got the right carseat but it was dirty and didn’t look safe.

    We told the guy at the Hertz counter that we were possibly going into Austria and could I buy a tax disc from him (I had done this before on a previous rental at Munich Airport) and he said no no tax disc not needed anymore – we asked the same question about three times mainly as I didn’t believe him. Say hi to an instant 100 euro fine as we were caught on the autobahn in Austria for all of about two minutes; I cursed that guy at the airport – luckily for us the Intercontinental in Berchtesgaden had bubbles waiting for us on check in and kept filling up our glasses which took some of the pain away from the instant payable fine!

    I have never used Hertz again – when I’m giving a rental car company my hard earned money all I want in return is a safe vehicle, reliable travel advice with excellent service – it can’t be that bloody difficult!

    That’s my rather long rant
    Happy Monday
    Kelly recently posted..Poland: Taking the Road Less TravelledMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 6:26 pm

      This is fascinating, from a bad experience, you discount a whole company worldwide. I am not blaming you – I would do the same, but surely you will never forget that trip to Munich. And the local advice, my God, wouldn’t the guy know it? And interestingly, what did you do when you returned the car? This industry needs to get their act together.

      • Kelly

        June 17, 2014 at 7:00 pm

        Unfortunately it wasn’t the first bad experience I have had with Hertz – it’s a worldwide brand and service standards should be consistent.

        We went to complain at the desk (they weren’t busy) when we dropped off the car and were told to email the customer complaints email address and were instantly dismissed. I never emailed them, I just took my business elsewhere. I would have been happy with an apology from the rental desk at Munich Airport but that wasn’t going to happen!

        I have had great experiences with National and Alamo in the past but I’m careful who I book with and at times pay a little extra to avoid Hertz!

        Kelly recently posted..Poland: Taking the Road Less TravelledMy Profile

        • @mrsoaroundworld

          June 17, 2014 at 10:39 pm

          Funnily enough, I had never rented with Hertz, for no reason at all, just never happened. I am just thinking that the service these companies are supposed to deliver is SO simple. I mean, compare that to hotels? The variables are much.. more logic. I have had some bad experiences in the US, but overall, they are MUCH better than 90% of my European ones, there is always ‘something’.

  24. Michelle Chaplow

    June 16, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    I really good tip when hiring a car, photograph very side of the car BEFORE YOU LEAVE THE CARPARK, If possible add a date stamp to the photo and there will be no arguments on scratches, this has saved me in Australia and on a recent UK trip.

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 6:24 pm

      I do that now too, but how do you time stamp them? Really useful idea.

  25. Lisa Corcoran

    June 16, 2014 at 5:25 pm


    I have never understood why car hire is so painful. I have lost count of the number of hours I have waited around before finally getting the keys to a car. It absolutely baffles me in this age of technology why it isn’t a much easier process.

    I had a particularly bad experience in Mallorca (off site) where on return of the car, the person checking it charged us for something they said should have been on the front of the car. I doubt it was ever there in the first place. Not really in a position to argue as we would have missed our flight. Another experience in Rome meant that we were charged a fortune for a tank of fuel because we were unable to return it full as the traffic around Rome was horrendous. Again, we had no choice as we would definitely have missed the flight. Over the years we have been given some shocking cars, this is more usual in Europe ..better in the US.

    Another thing that you have to be careful with in Europe is tyres. Driving up to ski resorts in the US, winter tyres are standard. In Europe you need to check if your car comes with winter tyres or snow chains. We had chains driving from Venice up to the Dolomites, tries to drive to a restaurant one night and had to turn back. The road wasn’t bad enough for chains but the car was sliding everywhere. Not that we would have had any idea how to put the chains on anyway. I think it was Geneva airport where if you were driving to France it was chains but for Switzerland, winter tyres.

    On the insurance front, we have now taken an annual policy with although you now have to take a separate policy for USA and Canada which is a pain. Much easier at car hire desks though as you can just tell them you have your own insurance.

    To try and keep it as pain free as possible, I now make sure the car hire is on site. As for companies it is difficult to choose because nothing is ever consistent. Personally I like Sixt but even this you have to be careful with e.g. in Dublin it is a franchise and not up to the same standard.

    Sorry for rambling on but this really is a huge bugbear of mine. I would also like to hear an industry view because I just don’t get it!
    Lisa Corcoran recently posted..Chema Restaurant, GuardamarMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 5:41 pm

      Lisa, thank you for this – and the pointer for the insurance website. I will definitely have a look. And you stroke gold: the whole business model is based on franchising and this is where the problems begin. You never know where you are going and if it is an owned location or not – and I don’t mean this in a rude way, because I couldn’t care less who owned it, I just care how much do they really care about their customers. And look after them. And this is a challenge – but if Mc Donald’s can do it…
      And good tip on winter tyres – we always rent in Geneva with the chains just in case (and we always get a proper car as we need the luggage space for 4 people) and obviously I wouldn’t know what to do with them – but always hoping Mr. O and the rest of the boys would.

  26. Monica

    June 16, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    I think I must be super lucky because I’ve only had really good experiences with hiring cars abroad. (I’m aware that I’ve probably jinxed myself for life now!)
    Monica recently posted..Everything you need to know about a holiday in DominicaMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      You have not. This is happening for you and I hope it continues forever. And I mean every word of it. I would avoid Southern Europe in the summer, just to make sure 😉

  27. Corina

    June 16, 2014 at 4:18 pm

    Love this post because renting a car for me It’s just frustrating most of the time. The customer service is really bad, at least for me, and they don’t seem to care about it. Rent a car companies have a lot of “small letters” issues for me…. The prices are rising and most of the time cars are dirty and in really bad shape.
    Definitely there is a difference between Europe and the United States, but here it could be really disappointed too, it depends on the city and airport. Miami is tough.

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 5:10 pm

      Miami is possibly the worse arrival experience in the US – the airport is dreadful, immigration is shocking and then the car rental experience is the cherry on the top. Car condition funnily enough, I only noticed issues in Italy (we had 4 cars between us) and were shocking – I had never seen that before!

  28. Sue Sharpe

    June 16, 2014 at 4:12 pm

    It sounds like a complete nightmare! It has been many years since I last had cause to use a hire car and, after reading this, I think I’d find another way of getting around – should I ever find myself in need of transport. The process of hiring a vehicle seems to have got more complicated over the years – I certainly don’t recall having so much trouble when I did the majority of my travelling back in the 1990s. I think, perhaps, that (like with so many other sectors within tourism & travel) the hire car firms are so focused on trying to out-bid each other for the lowest price, that they have forgotten about customer service – trying to provide a product that ‘fits all’ – rather than aim for a specific kind of traveller.
    Sue Sharpe recently posted..Apricot JamMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      That is a really interesting point, Sue, correct targeting. Every company seems to be on google bidding wars for ‘cheap car hire’. I always perceive Avis as being a bit above it all, and now see Sixt taking that place as for example their counters and cars do have an edge on the others for sure. Interesting.

  29. Megan

    June 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    I’m with you. Renting a car is absolutely rage inducing, especially when you play both sides of the pond. When I hire a car here in the UK (and in Europe), the insurance associated with my US credit card doesn’t always apply. In countries beginning with the letter I…Italy, Ireland, it isn’t accepted at all. I kid you not. In the “I” countries, purchasing CDW is mandatory and often increases the rental cost 30%. If you choose to live on the edge and decline the insurance, the value of the car is “held” on your credit card. In places where the credit card associated insurance does apply, you are responsible for a hefty deductible (5k) for which they also hold on your credit card. Sadly, you can’t play it both ways, if you accept the hire company insurance, it negates your credit card coverage. I’ve also tried opting out by using my UK credit card that comes with magical “covers everything” trip insurance. The hire companies insist on holding some spectacular amount on our credit card, despite what the policy says. I’m convinced the counter agents have no idea of what is/isn’t covered and just push off a costly product because it’s easiest and most profitable. I’m renting a car in MIA next week (pray for me), but at least my second driver is free, I don’t have to pay more to cover the car and gas is cheap. If there are any cars left, that is

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Omg, this insurance thing is even worse – and applies only to countries with starting with an I? With the insurance, I just want someone to make it simple – or at least explain to me why it is not that straightforward. MIA… be prepared to walk a little bit to the rental car centre. I think there is a train involved too – I cannot remember 100%. And don’t forget the e-tolls reader too!!

      • Megan

        June 16, 2014 at 4:20 pm

        I have to make it through immigration first . The last time I was in Miami I gave up at the car rental counter and had them deliver it the next day to my hotel. I was mean, jet-lagged and hangry. We haven’t even talked about the price differential in booking on the actual US site vs a UK site for car hires. Now I’m angry all over again!
        Megan recently posted..Next Trip: Wales!My Profile

        • @mrsoaroundworld

          June 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm

          The price differential makes no sense and I wished someone explained to me, I really do. Why why? In Miami I would definitely try Sixt, if the price is not all over the place, which happens with them sometimes. 5x I have seen on more than 1 occasion. Which obviously makes no sense.

  30. Stephanie

    June 16, 2014 at 2:11 pm

    A very well researched and presented post as always Anna. Thank you.

    I am 100% behind you on this. I sometimes wish I could be an intern for 2 weeks in the summer at a rental car company so that I can understand the reasons why we have all of these problems. It would be good if one of your readers worked for a car rental and gave us the behind the doors knowledge.

    Two recommendations to car companies
    – fund some kind of alliance (like airlines) and create a meta search website that covers it all.
    – introduce a real speedy service where if you prepay and pre-filled all information, you do go straight to your car in the parking lot as Anna said can be done in the US. I wouldn’t mind paying for that.

    My tips
    – established brands will often have car parks near the airport. Cheaper brands will often send you on a 20 minutes walk to the back of the airport next to a dumping site (hello palm trees and bad rubbish odour). This is why I prefer to pay a bit more to stay with those established brand.
    – I never take the extra insurance they offer at the counter. I figured that the savings I make over the years of car rentals will be used to pay the damage if/when we get an accident (one accident in 10 years of rental so I did get my money’s worth).
    – pay by a credit card as most of the time, you can use their insurance
    – check and double-check the opening days and hours. Call to check if it’s not written anywhere. You may arrive at your destination and find the counter closed. Car rentals websites don’t always send you a prompt.

    I will also join/look at the Which campaign !
    Stephanie recently posted..La Maison de la Prade review – sleeping in a former summer campMy Profile

    • @mrsoaroundworld

      June 16, 2014 at 2:32 pm

      Thanks Stephanie. For me, convenience is a must – and I will pay extra to have it every time. This industry is very one sided – we tell you what it is like, and if you don’t like it, go somewhere else who will do the same to you, and I don’t like it. Airport locations are a must for me – I object to taking other types of transportation from the plain. Some locations (Atlanta comes to mind), are such a pain, you have to walk miles and get on a train. Seriously. I now want to check the credit card insurance as I am actually not sure what it includes, I actually never checked. Re: hours, it is funny, in the US is almost always 24h at airports and I wrongly assume it would be different. But what I loved about Italy is that they were late opening the counter and objected to our complaints. So frustrating!

      It would be very good to hear from people in the industry – I really would appreciate that. And if someone could explain to me why when there is a third party involved, who get a commission, prices are still lower. Makes no sense to me.

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