My family and I were in Florida this past weekend visiting colleges for my son and daughter. We rented a car from Thrifty in Orlando for four days. While I thought I did everything possible to get the best possible deal, it turns out I made three critical mistakes that cost me about $100. So before you rent from Thrifty or any other car rental company, learn from my mistakes.
Mistake #1: Not subscribing to travel sites
We booked our car rental directly through thrifty’s website. But before confirming the reservation, we compared prices on several travel websites, including hotwire.com. So we knew we were getting the best available price at the time we made our reservation. And that’s the key point. It turns out that prices dropped about a week later. How do I know?
Because friends of ours who went with us and also booked through Thrifty received an e-mail notice from several travel sites alerting them to the better price. They called Thrifty and received the lower price on the rental, saving about $10 per day. Because I wasn’t subscribed to e-mail alerts, we missed out on these savings. So even if you book directly on Thrifty.com or another rental car company’s website, subscribe to several travel websites so you can easily monitor price drops and special deals.
Mistake #2: Paying a set fee for an EZ Pass
This was our biggest mistake, at least in terms of my own stupidity. When we got to the Thrifty rental counter at about 1 am (Ugh!), the young lady behind the counter tried to sell us about a billion extras (see insurance discussion below for an example). One of the extras was the use of an EZ Pass for tolls for about $6 a day. I should have known it was a rip-off.
Instead of just saying no, I asked her how much in tolls it takes to drive from Orlando to St. Pete Beach and back. I’m paraphrasing, but her answer went something like this—” It’s all toll roads and it will cost you a trillion dollars.” So we spent a total of about $27 to use an EZ Pass for 4 days.
Actual cost of tolls—about $5.
Lesson learned. And if you want to become a rental car ninja, remember to bring your own EZ Pass on the trip.
Update: An alert reader raised the possibility that using your EZ Pass in a rental car could be a problem. Having researched the issue, it appears that you can register a rental car to your EZ Pass account via the web or by phone. But to be certain, contact EZ Pass first.
Mistake #3: Filling up near the airport
We never bring the car back on empty. While prices vary, rental car companies charge more for gas than they do the use of an EZ Pass. I believe Thrifty’s price of gas was about $7.50 a gallon. So we did the “smart” thing and filled up near the airport just before returning the card. It cost us $5.50 a gallon!
It turns out that the gas stations near the Orlando airport have jacked up the price of gas to take advantage of travelers. Everywhere else in Florida the price is about $3.50 a gallon. I’m told these gas stations have even been in the press for ripping off customers with ridiculous gas prices. So when you fill up, make sure you don’t go to a gas station right next to the airport.
Mistake Avoided: Paying for unnecessary insurance
There is one mistake I managed to avoid—paying for rental car insurance. The Thrifty representative did everything she could think of to get me to buy the blasted insurance. Her primary strategy was to tell me that if the car is in an accident, I’d be responsible for paying the rental fees while the car is in the shop. I didn’t go for it.
If you know of other rental car gotchas to avoid, please let us know in the comments below.