I frequently use a rental car when in the USA. Why not, they are so cheap to use, especially if you go through websites companies like Hotwire.com! It is always best to become members of each rental car company so that you can also take advantage of their deals and perks. Some of these perks may only apply if you rent the vehicle from their website so that would be awareness tip #1. But with most things, there are ways around this. Budget Rental Car, for example, will not produce the best deal from their website however if you do go through Hotwire, you may not know you are renting from Budget until you have paid for the deal. But once you have and you see it is through Budget, you can sign back in to your Budget membership account and add the reservation from the "budget reservation #" found on the hotwire receipt/proof of payment. I might also mention here, since I am referring to Hotwire.com deals, you don't always have to 'pre-pay' as you will find some deals are listed in GREY, when you click on them they will say "book now-pay later".
Awareness tip#2: When you have signed up as a member for each of the rental car companies, you will want to go to your profile and update it routinely as you will find most companies change their rental policies and include "opt-out" clauses whereas you have to de-select certain items and in some cases you will need to "opt-in", otherwise you will find yourself getting a hefty bill added to your credit card a few weeks later. This can include road tolls in which case most of these companies now offer the ability to pay for the toll manager program which allows you, for a small fee either once per day up to a max amount per week if you are renting longer than a few days, the ability to use the toll pass lane. Some people may say that small fee you pay makes it not worthwhile but it does-big time! In most places you will find that not only are there major lines at the cash lanes for tolls, but you get a discount of up to 10% or more per toll when you use the toll pass lane. $1.75 toll through the toll pass lane is $1.50 so that's a pretty sweet deal if you are going to be using a lot of tolls, not to mention you are stopped in traffic for 10 to 20 minutes (or more-per toll) depending on where you are!
The main reason I am posting this was due to the fact that I rented a pickup truck for 1 day and then a week later, rented another pickup truck for one day (moving stuff). The second rental I found that I was charged $11 per toll for administration fees and tolls.. by the way the bill for this was $110 as I had gone through 5 tolls to and 5 tolls from the airport rental agency. Fortunately I complained early enough through the customer web desk stating that I was a Blue Chip Member (Thrifty) and that I had rented the week prior without any issues. I was then told they had changed their policy and that you need to choose this option,which I hadn't done as I was unaware of the changes. They were kind enough to remove all of this and make it like I had chosen this option which meant I paid a total of about $28 which included the fee for the Platepass opt-in program.
Awareness Tip #3: Pre-payment of gas, DON'T do it-EVER! There is never a savings here. The main reason is because you are paying for the ENTIRE tank of gas. They have a chart that shows the tank size on the vehicle you are renting and they charge you their deflated gas rate for the entire tank! Why is this a bad thing you say, when you know you are going to be cutting it close on the return time and don't want the troubles of finding a gas station, etc, etc. The main reason is the fact that when you get in your rental car the tank may appear full but odds are it is not. The newer cars may even have the 'miles left to empty' which may say something like 400 miles and the tank shows full so ok, you will get 400 miles.. wrong! I rented a car like this and after driving from Houston to Miami filling up numerous times, I was AVERAGING 430 miles to a tank. I got 528 miles on one tank and knew I was very low. When I returned the car, filling up at the closest place my gasbuddy app found with the cheapest gas, which I already knew was the Costco in Conroe, TX-about 15 min drive from the IAH and according to Google Maps 23.9 miles. The full gauge hadn't moved off of full and my 'miles remaining' said 498 miles! This is a difference of 98 miles from when I first started driving that car and, since I'm completely filling it up within 23 miles.. no problem as I'm still leaving the car with more gas than the person did before me-even if my driving habits were better than the previous driver.
I just now received a new statement from Thrifty's Blue Chip program introducing a new 'Express Fuel' program. Sounded good from what I read on the flyer they sent out but looking closer at the FAQ's I learn that this program is an automatic opt-in but customers can choose to opt-out however here is the fineprint "It is the default option for trips 75 miles or less for customers who do not produce a refueling receipt from within 10 miles of the return location."
I add that this express fuel service costs $13.99 and is automatically added so that if you do travel less than 75 miles you are going to be charged this regardless--unless you first opt out at the time of the contract signing and then produce the gas receipt from one of those gas stations surrounding the airport which is at least 15 cents per gallon more than any place else.. well guess what.. it is still cheaper to opt-out and buy from those expensive guys. A 20 gallon tank at 15 cents per gallon is only $3 more than buying it from Costco anyway--and I don't get in trouble by not producing a receipt. At the current gas prices, which in Texas at this time are down to $1.60 per gallon, that $13.99 fee is a joke as that would (almost) fill up an entire honda civic's tank!
So the lesson learned here.. first be aware and check often, your rental car membership profile opt-in/out options and do a little math on the other things like tolls and gas. In my case I will ALWAYS opt-in to the toll program as that fee to use the service outweighs waiting for any time at a toll where I have no choice but to use change or cash. If you have an airmiles credit card then you probably want the miles anyway! With this new "Law" Thrifty has put in place, I will likely just forget taking advantage of the low-prices "Costco Gas" option if I know it is further than 10 miles away because that $13.99 is nothing more than a scam.
What I think will be interesting however, at least for times when I rent from Thrifty, is just how full is the tank when I get in the car once this new program is in effect everywhere? It should be more full than before since people are going to be more aware, or are they? This could end up being like the payment for luggage through the airlines where people simply have no choice and that $13.99 goes straight in to the company for an injection of money but the end-user still finds as they drive off the rental car lot that the tank that shows "F" is actually not!