Q&A With AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg, A Car Rental Guru (Part 2)
Yesterday we kicked off a two part series where AutoSlash CEO Jonathan Weinberg was willing to answer some questions about the industry he knows so much about. Yesterday’s questions focused on how to decide which car rental company to go with. Today we focus on renting internationally, the plethora of customer service issues in the industry, and what the future holds.
What are some of the biggest differences when renting domestic vs. international and what should people consider when renting international?
Insurance, insurance, insurance. We’re not in Kansas anymore, and I mean that both literally and figuratively. In the US, added insurance is always optional, whereas when you’re renting abroad, the rules can vary significantly. At one end of the spectrum is Italy where basic CDW and liability insurance is included by law with all rentals. You can upgrade to a higher level of coverage, but the basic coverage is already pretty decent.
At the other end of the spectrum is Mexico where $1 per day base rental rates are not all that uncommon. That of course is really just to get you in the door. Once you’re there, you realize that it’s impossible to leave without taking one or more forms of “mandatory” forms of insurance coverage. That super-cheap rental doesn’t look so cheap anymore. We had so many customer complaints, we wrote this blog post to give customers a heads up.
The other thing people need to keep in mind is that when you’re renting in a foreign country, many times, you’re renting from a local franchise. The rental sign out front may say Hertz or Budget or Alamo, but the likelihood is that it’s a local firm that has licensed the rights to operate the location franchise under the company’s name and everything else about the experience follows the rules and regulation of the franchisee. If you run into a problem or have a complaint, you may be on your own as the corporate office back in the U.S. may have limited sway over the franchisee. It pays to do some research and a few read reviews before deciding who to book with.
What are some gotcha’s to look out for in the rental industry?
Unfortunately, the rental car industry is replete with customer service issues. We do our best at AutoSlash to help our customers avoid them with advice in our emails and our blog articles, but sometimes it can feel like walking through a minefield. It doesn’t help that most rental sales agents work on commission, and the more you buy, the more they make—over six figures, in some cases.
Obviously, the most common issue is being sold overpriced insurance at the rental counter that you probably don’t need, especially if you have a decent credit card and own your own car with your own full coverage auto insurance policy.
Insurance overseas is its own ball of wax, and renting a car in some countries (like Ireland, Israel, or Mexico) can leave you banging your head in frustration.
Other issues people commonly run into are:
- Upgrades: if you get a bigger car than you reserved, look at your receipt carefully before signing or leaving the lot and make sure the agent didn’t charge you for it. If the agent tells you they’re out of your reserved car and the only way to get on the road is to pay for an upgrade, call their bluff or ask for a manager. If they fail to stock what you reserved, the upgrade should be on them, not you.
- Prepaid fuel, where you buy the full tank of gas and “don’t have to return it full,” but it’s not usually explained well—you don’t get any refunds for fuel you bring back, so it’s rarely a good deal. Of course, if you don’t buy prepaid fuel and you fail to fill it up before you bring it back, you’ll get hit even worse with punitive refueling fees.
- Geographical restrictions: be careful when renting from a franchised location or one of the smaller discount or regional agencies. Florida is notorious for this: rent a car with someone like Fox in Miami and you’ll be slapped with obscene mileage fees if you take the car across state lines. Some rural locations (parts of Montana, etc.) have similar rules or tight mileage limits. Most corporate locations of the big-name agencies are pretty liberal (unlimited mileage anywhere in the US and Canada), but it never hurts to double-check the rules when booking.
- Drop fees and mileage fees: not a “gotcha,” per se, because they’re usually disclosed when booking, but know that taking a car one-way can significantly jack the rate. Sometimes a mileage limit will even sneak in on some one-way rentals. That can get expensive if you don’t notice it. And be very careful before returning somewhere different than you specified in your reservation—unauthorized drop fees can be downright retaliatory.
- Taxes and fees: some websites only show you the pre-tax base rate until you click through a few screens. Taxes in the rental car world can range upwards and even sometimes over 50%. In general, airport locations have higher taxes, though it’s still worth checking both on and off airport if you have flexibility in where to rent. At AutoSlash, we deal strictly with after-tax total prices, because ultimately that’s the only figure that matters.
- Additional driver and underage driver fees: listing someone else to drive can sometimes cost more than your base rate, and if you’re under 25, be prepared to pay a very pretty penny. Fortunately, there are lots of exceptions and ways around these fees. We detail them in our blog (example: here and here).
- It doesn’t end there—toll passes, strict damage inspections resulting in (sometimes even fraudulent) damage charges, debit card restrictions, and many other issues pop up regularly.
What is something you would like to see in the future for the car rental industry?
I’d honestly love to see the car rental industry take a leading role in adopting self-driving technology and electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have gotten a lot of hype, and rightly so as vehicles like Tesla are not only less polluting, but a hoot to drive as well. I personally think that the first rental company to make a serious commitment to electric vehicles that also have some form of self-driving capability will have an advantage over their competitors since many people will flock to them for the experience alone. It’s not a question of if, but when. I hope it’s sooner rather than later.
What are some recent changes in the industry that you find interesting?
I think the industry, in general, is working toward embracing technology, especially in the area of mobile apps. Avis has a whole initiative around what they term the “connected car” which basically just means that the vehicle is in communication over with Avis over the major cellular networks which, in turn, allows customers to manage their entire rental experience through Avis’ mobile app. Honestly, it’s more style than substance at the current time, but Avis is moving in the right direction.
National is also improving the experience for mobile customer by letting you check out the vehicle by scanning a barcode on the windshield using their mobile app, and even check your rental back in at the conclusion of your trip using a similar process. As Patrick Warburton says in the their popular Control Series commercial, National gives you control.
Hertz unfortunately trails behind their competitors in this area. Their app is fairly slow and buggy and has much less functionality than their main competitors. Hertz really needs to step up their mobile game or they risk losing the all-important millennial segment who are more tech-savvy and have higher expectations from the companies they do business with.
Once again, the biggest thanks possible to Jonathan for sharing his knowledge with us. I hope you found this series as interesting as I did.