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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.com. 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.

I’ve got rental insurance coverage through Nationwide and through the American Express Gold Card I used to pay for the rental.

If you know of other rental car gotchas to avoid, please let us know in the comments below.

And if you are looking to rent a car from Thrifty, here are some promotional codes I found that can save you some dough:

  1. Save 5% at Thrifty Car Rental on your travel reservations! Enter Promo code LINKS.
  2. Rent a Minivan for $48.99day or $225.00week at one of our participating U.S. locations now through April 9, 2011. Enter code 3CO2M.
  3. And for our friends up North–Get 15% off weekly rates of an Economy through Mid-size car in Canada when you pick up through April 9, 2011. Enter code 3CNDM. See site for more details.

Author Bio

Total Articles: 1081
Rob founded the Dough Roller in 2007. A litigation attorney in the securities industry, he lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, their two teenagers, and the family mascot, a shih tzu named Sophie.

Article comments

jim says:

I had a bad experience with Thifty at the Orlando airport once myself years ago. They pushed hard sell on unnecessary insurance. They were kinda rude. And then after the fact Thrifty billed my credit card twice.

Big thumbs down for Thrifty in Orlando from me.

Annie Mack says:

Be careful bringing your own EZ Pass anywhere. Here in Delaware, you have to register to your car to your EZ Pass. If you don’t, you’ll get a nice little fine in your mailbox. I guess you could register the rental car when you get it, but just be careful, it could end up costing you more than stopping at the toll booth. It’s also just one more thing to possibly forget and leave in the car. Traveling is hard enough!

Matthew says:

Prepaid fuel option at Thrifty can also be a ripoff; they threatened me with the cost of their fuel and the cost at the only gas station within 10 miles of the airport, and then told me I would have to fill up there or they would fine me – they would be checking receipts to see if it was within 10 miles or some nonsense. I caved, and bought the prepaid fuel option on our Ford Focus. I hesitated but didn’t say anything when I noticed the total seemed higher than it should; he charged us for 17.6 gallons; the Focus has a 12 gallon tank and wasn’t even completely full (I don’t think so by the gauge) when we picked it up. Moral of the story? Don’t do prepaid fuel, make sure you have a full tank by topping off right after pickup, and fill up somewhere other than by the airport. If you have to fill up nearby, just do a top-off and give them your <1 gallon receipt.
I called Thrifty when I found out the gas tank was 5 gallons less than what they billed me and they refused to refund me. It's going to be a battle at dropoff!!!

Margy says:

Thrifty agent told my son that the car had an ezpass and he was all set.
It did not and he was charged the $2.50 for the two tolls he went through with a $15 adm fee for each toll.
It took hours to attempt to get this waived, in the end they would only waive $15 of the $30.
Each person referred the problem to another, customer service said the thrifty fine paying people could waive it and they said the customer service people would waive it. After long waiting on the phone for a supervisor, I left my number, got a call back from a great guy, but they said per internal policies they could only waive half, or ask for the ezpass charge and forgive the adm fee. On principal we stuck to the request for full waiver. Now paid $17.50 and will continue the dispute till resolved or never use them again..

Pete Linamen says:

I just rented a car from Thrifty in Charlotte NC which I won’t do again! While I avoided the gas option, GPS, car seats, discounted upgrades and every thing the agent threw at me, I was not going to be allowed to drive away without buying insurance. I have rental car insurance through State Farm and additional insurance with the Capital One credit card I used to book the trip, however I didn’t have a written copy of the plan with me for the agent to review. This happened on a Sunday morning after flying a red-eye with my wife and three kids in tow. I was stuck! I travel and rent cars often and always through Budget and have never had this problem. In this case, I tried to save a couple of bucks.

Terry says:

You guys are scaring me. I plan to rent a car in Dallas Oct 2016. My main concern was the Insurance. My allstate coverage for my car, and Credit card coverage should take care of the Liability, however I have no Physical Damage on my car, so I will have to purchase their Damage Waiver. And No Rental Company seems to show the cost until pick up the car. I hope I am here telling you my good renting experience instead of a bad one. Thanks for all of the the advice.

Vad says:

Regarding comment by Pete: Thifty’s official conditions stipulate that CDW is optional protection package (they call it LDW), and “purchase of optional products is not required to rent the vehicle”. If this happened to me, I would certainly (1) require their written policy at the time of rent, and (2) complained to their corporate office plus BBB and/or AG.

Laura Santello says:

DO NOT RENT FROM THRIFTY! They are a major rip off. I rented using their PREPAY option and was billed an additional $220 AFTER the car was returned. At the airport we agreed to add an additional driver for $13.25 per day which was fine, however, the agent suggested using the prepay option for gas and it cost us $88. There was also a $35 charge for using their rental counter inside the airport although you have to or else you cannot get on their shuttle bus to the car rental area. So my great deal of prepaying and getting a $45 per day price turned into an absolutely awful deal where we paid $90 per day for a 5 day rental.

Ray says:

Thrifty’s pre-pay directs you to a third party called Cartrawler and you can’t even tell you’re being redirected. You’ll be billed from Ireland and when you call Thrifty about it, they can’t even bring up the reservation number, they can only bring you up by your name. Very deceiving…stay away.

Kim says:

Recently rented a car from Kansas Airport Thrifty. Pre-booked.
Was completely surprised that the Thrifty had zero insurance on the vehicle and therefore I had to cover it completely. Have rented cars (including Thrifty) all over the world and never before has this been the case. Had to ask 3 times to make sure.
Normally the rental company has an umbrella insurance with a hefty excess or gap for the user to insure. I take out an annual insurance policy to cover these excesses, but was assured there was zero insurance on this car – no excess, no cover whatsoever. So if the car was written off for say $20,000 I would be liable for the entire amount.
This was a big let down and would make me re-think using or recommending Thrifty again.
This is no reflection on the service – just the value and the surprise – felt a bit ambushed by Thrifty. The charges seemed to stretch as well after being quoted $29.60 for taxes and fees at booking and then being $38 at collection. I had expected to pay $64.74 but ended up with $130.12

Jerry Skrandel says:

Used thriftyprepay.com for the 2nd time this year and both times could not check my reservation.After having to call and find my reservation and give my blue chip # so my car would be ready .both thrifty and the 3rd party comp made it a game when I asked 4 times if I was talking to thrifty or not.thriftyprepay.com can not even be fond on the web.I will be looking at other company after using them you 10 years