Archive for the ‘Car rentals’ Category

This Alamo is worth remembering

March 23, 2009

Remember the Alamo?

I’ve done enough grumbling about rental car agencies that it’s a relief to have something nice to say for a change. A couple days after I got home from a trip to Florida, I realized my credit card was missing. I remembered throwing it on the seat of my rental car after getting gas on the way to return the car, and that’s the last time I’d seen it. 

I called Alamo Rent A Car at Tampa International Airport, where I’d turned in my car two days earlier, to see if the card had been returned. I assumed absolutely nothing would come of the call, until, that is, I spoke with Wini McKee, a customer service rep who organizes the lost-and-found department. Wini said no one had turned in the card, as I expected, but then she went above and beyond to track the car using my reservation number, call the people who were then renting it (!), and ask if they had found the card. They had! They were turning the car in the next day and said they would turn in the card. Wini mailed my credit card back to me immediately.

A little aside. When my card was turned in, Wini had initially forgotten I was the one she had talked to about it. So she called me to say my card had been found. Which is to say, even I hadn’t known it was lost, Wini would have tracked me down to say it had been found.

Some of this is about Alamo’s policy, not just Wini’s. But it takes conscientious employees to follow a company’s policy. Wini has worked at the company for 15 years, and in Tampa for about five, around when Alamo decided to have a bona-fide lost-and-found. Before, “it was a complete disaster,” said Wini, who ably whipped things into shape. Some of the items she’s reunited with their owners: wallets filled with cash, digital cameras, glasses, retainers, and hearing aids. “I find that most customers are honest and will report things found in the cars.”

Thanks to Wini, Alamo, and their honest customers for inspiring me to write a positive car-rental story for once.


Vroom’s claim doesn’t get my green light

October 9, 2008
           I was momentarily excited when I saw the headline on a press release from PJ Inc. Public Relations in New York hawking an “eco-friendly car rental site.” Cool! I thought. This will be a great place to locate hybrids, and maybe even electric cars!
           Oh, I can be so naive… No, what the “green” refers to with Vroom Vroom Vroom, an Australian company making its US debut, is that it’s providing carbon offsets for customers (it also reportedly offsets its own operations).
             While I’m not complaining that Vroom is spending some money to *in part* mitigate the carbon dioxide it and its customers’ cars will be emitting, this smells more like a marketing effort than an honest attempt to “be green.”
             If you look at all the fleets of all the companies Vroom3 does business with (including Hertz, Alamo, Enterprise) you won’t find a hybrid among them, but you will find all types of SUVs and pickup trucks. Yes, I do know that some of these companies offer some hybrids, but if it were a standard option, it would be on their fleet lists. If Vroom3 really wants to *do* something instead of *pay* for something, it should be pushing for more hybrid rentals.
            When I asked one of the PR folks who wrote the release about all this, she said, ” People still need to get around and are facing a number of limitations, including budgetary constraints, that preclude them from buying or renting hybrids/alt-fuel vehicles (the good news is, if they are renting a car, it’s likely they’re not driving every day!). With the carbon offsetting program, Vroom Vroom Vroom can contribute to minimizing the damage, without putting the burden on the consumer.”
            OK, first of all, most people who rent cars have actually flown somewhere, which is a heck of a lot worse that driving. And to say Americans can’t afford alt-fuel vehicles when many cars on the road cost the same or more than a Prius is just ridiculous.
             Now, back to carbon offsets. They are NOT the answer. They help somewhat, just like it’s helpful to give money to a “Stop Littering” campaign. But if you are littering at the same time, that’s just counterproductive.  OK, not a perfect analogy, because we live in a car culture and not, thankfully, a littering one. But there are more and less “green” ways to drive. 
             As Washington Post writer David Fahrenthold said in his wonderful article this week titled “There’s a Gold Mine In Environmental Guilt,”  watchdog groups say offset vendors sometimes do not deliver what they promise. Some offset projects, such as mass tree plantings aimed at absorbing carbon dioxide, deliver climate benefits that are difficult to measure. In other cases, it is unclear whether offsets funnel money to existing projects or to projects that might have been done anyway.” David, of course, isn’t the first to say these things. I’ve read about problems with carbon offsets in many, many reliable publications.
             So, as I wrote to said PR person, while I think it’s laudable that the company is providing offsets, I don’t see it as a “green company” but one that mitigates some of its contribution to carbon emissions. But then, that doesn’t sound so exciting in a headline, does it?


How to beat rental-car ripoff during spring break

February 1, 2008

If you know me, you know I have a big thing against most rental-car company practices. Jacking up, up, up the prices during peak season is one of my beefs. For you folks Enterprise Car Rentalflying to Florida (and I’m sure this works elsewhere) in the spring and renting a car, here’s a little trick of mine you might be able to use.  (I’d love to hear others’ strategies.)

In January I booked flights to Tampa from Manchester, NH, (where my friend Kristin is flying from), and Durham, NC, (where I’m flying from) on Southwest, and both were about $200 round-trip. Not bad for Easter weekend! But get this. Car rentals from the airport for five days were around $500!! Unbelievable.

Here’s what I did. As you probably know, Enterprise has little neighborhood offices all over the place, and they’re often (usually? always?) cheaper than airport rentals. I reserved a Indian Rocks Beach, FLcar at a location on my way to where I’ll be staying (Indian Rocks Beach). I’m paying a mere $30 extra to then drop it off at the airport when I leave. The grand total? $156!! Now that is a deal. If I picked the car up at the airport, still using Enterprise, the price would be $438. Other companies were charging even more!!

To do this fancy-schmancy different drop-off reserving, you have to call, not go online. But then Enterprise *offered* to give me the online price, saving me another whopping $5.

Enterprise is tops in car-rental customer service, and I’ve been saying this for years, not just since my $275 savings.

I’ll probably be able to get a ride from the airport to Enterprise, but if I couldn’t, a Super Shuttle ride for about $20 (including tip) would take me straight to Enterprise.

My scenario may not exactly suit your needs. For example, you could use a neighborhood Enterprise office in Tampa and be even closer. If you’re traveling in a group or family, it would be cheaper to take a taxi than pay for individual shuttles.

My main message here is that when prices are jacked up, try to rent away from the airport. Get creative!

License to kill (a rental-car reservation)

November 1, 2007

As Wessel was driving me to the airport to go to my mom’s, near Tampa, Florida, I said, “I have this feeling I’m forgetting something really important.  Well, whatever I’m missing, I can get it there.”

Not quite. What I couldn’t get was another driver’s license. Arrrrgh!! Just before going up to the ticket counter I discovered that my driver’s license was nowhere to be found.

Wessel, already late for work, dashed home to see if he could 1) locate it and 2) bring it to me. (I did this for him with his passport once – and made it back in time!)

No luck.

Southwest said I could fly without a non-government-issued ID, but that I’d get the full pat-down and search. Then I thought about my rental car, through Dollar. This would not be good. Once in Tampa, the Dollar clerk said, “Sorry, there’s nothing we can do. We can’t rent you a car without your license in hand.” Period. 

Super Shuttle van at TPA airportMeanwhile, I counted my blessings that I could get a Super Shuttle van drive to Mom’s. Of course the “15 to 20 minutes” I was told I’d be waiting was more like 30. When I asked the ticket seller, “why do you say 15 to 20 minutes when you don’t really know?” she answered, “I’m sorry, hon, that’s what I’ve been told to say.” Good to know their policy.

At my mom’s, an hour later, I had a brilliant flash of one more place to look for my license — my rain jacket, which I’d luckily packed. Yep, I’d put my license there while on a bicycle ride a week earlier. There it was!! I’d had it all along.

Because I travel so much, I keep a packing list. At the top, in large letters, is my reminder to “take Swiss Army knife out of purse!” Now I’ll be adding: “Check for license!”