What to Look for in Car Rental Companies

There are many different deals out there when it comes to renting a car. It is easy to get scammed or get stuck with a rental package that doesn’t meet your needs. Below are some tips for things to look for to make sure you are getting a good deal.

1. Look for a company that has a discount program. Some let you sign up for their own discount rewards program and others will give you discounts if you use a certain type of credit card.

2. Look for a company that does not pressure you into using their insurance. Your insurance likely already covers you and your rental car, and the added insurance is unnecessary. Some companies will refuse to rent to you if you do not purchase their insurance.

3. If possible, rent your vehicle from a company outside of the airport. Car rental taxes can be upwards of 45% higher at an airport. Take a taxi or shuttle away from the airport to save some money.

4. Comparison shop and look out for special offers. Many companies will offer discounts during the slow season or other times of the year. Taking advantage of these offers can save you some cash.

5. In order to make sure you aren’t getting scammed, it is best to rent through an established chain of car rental companies. Hertz or Budget are two well-known examples with good reputations.

6. You should rent your car from a company that allows you to fill up the gas tank off-site. Car rental companies will charge you a surcharge for filling up with them, so getting gas elsewhere will often save you money.

7. If you have time in advance, consider shopping online. This allows you to comparison shop easily, and reserve your car ahead of time. Sometimes you can combine this with a hotel stay or flight to get a discount on a packaged deal.

8. Make sure your rental fits your needs. If you are driving one place to another, you need a company that will allow you to drop off your vehicle at a different spot. If you are staying in town, the same location will probably be fine for drop-offs.

9. Try to find a company that offers free unlimited mileage, and make sure it applies to the places you will be driving. Some places offer it, but only for local travel. Check into these questions before booking.

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Currency conversion scams used by car rental companies

There are usually transaction charges whenever you buy services with your credit card in your own country, although the merchants that sell you the services or goods will normally pay these (they will, however, cover the charges by increasing the retail price). But the moment you use the credit card to buy goods or services in a different currency, you will suddenly find extra charges appearing. The first is simply for handling a transaction in a foreign currency. The second is the currency exchange rate commission.

The prevailing national exchange rate will be charged if the bank is being honest. This will mean the transaction has a neutral cost. But if the bank is less than honest, it will use a lower exchange rate. This means it costs you more to buy the goods and services than if you went to a money changer and used cash. Worse, you are being charged for being given the poor value in the transaction. For these purposes, it can be worth acquiring a “foreign” credit card if you’re a regular traveler. This way, you avoid foreign currency charges. However, there’s a further problem to avoid.

Some international car rental companies operate their own currency conversion. So let’s say you have a US$ credit card and you go to a branch of a US rental company in Paris. Some branches do their own currency conversions and bill your credit card in US dollars. That sounds good to you because there are no foreign currency conversion charges to pay. But suppose that conversion uses an exchange rate that’s significantly worse than international rate. You might be paying 10 or 15% more than locals would pay, i.e. rather more than your honest bank would charge you.

Some local car rental companies offer conversion through third party banks. This sounds good. You’re being billed in your own currency so no administrative fees. But what often happens is that the exchange rate is very poor and the difference between the rate you pay and the rate the converter uses is split with the rental company. Always prepay or, if you speak the local language, refuse the option of local conversion. This reduces the risk you will be scammed.

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Don’t save money on cheap flights and then lose out to fraudsters

Years of continuous warnings have begun to pay off in the war against the scammers who send junk email suggesting you can, with a few clicks of the mouse, find yourself in possession of thousands of dollars. Most now know never to reply, even if the sender appears genuine and the rewards look significant. But when you get on an airplane clutching your cheap flights tickets, it’s easy to leave your early warning system behind. The fact you’re going on holiday is not a guarantee you will not be targeted. Indeed, the reverse is true. The fact you don’t know the local culture or speak the local language may mark you out as the most desirable of targets. So here are a few things to watch out for.

The most common scams are the people who approach you in the street or cafes, and ask to buy your US dollars for local cash. It’s true that, in some countries, there’s a black-market currency exchange system. But are you confident you can spot forgeries of the local currency? Unless you’re very careful, you can be handing over your genuine greenbacks in exchange for local Monopoly money. Then ask yourself what the accepted international rate is. Are you absolutely certain you are getting the right rate or better than the right rate? What is your reason for buying local currency on the street when you could walk into a bank and get the same deal with guaranteed rates and genuine local currency?

Now let’s say you’re in a restaurant or paying your hotel bill and the merchant offers to bill you in US dollars. This sounds like it’s a good deal because you avoid the extra fees and exchange commissions on your credit card. But do you know what exchange rate you’re going to receive? Yes, you will be billed in US dollars but this does you no good if you are being substantially overcharged. Beware because, in some countries where cheap flights land, there are third parties who convert the amounts billed and claim from your credit card in US dollars and split the additional profit on conversion with the hotels, restaurants and other merchants. Never trust what the local say. Verify before you accept.

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