How To Avoid Pitfalls When Renting a Car

If you consider that renting a car today involves two factors, low cost and excellent service, doing it well today is becoming more difficult daily.  The following are some of the factors to consider and a few traps to avoid in renting a car well today.

Reserve Well In Advance

I can’t stress this point strongly enough.  

With most of the rental agencies in Hawaii, you can rent a car with no cancellation penalties.  This is due to the fact that they do not require your credit card information when making a reservation.  With this in mind, there is absolutely no risk to making your reservation now.  You may alter it or cancel it in the future as the need arises so there is no risk in having plan A in place now.

For those of you who like to wait until the last minute thinking there will be better deals in place, please consider the following:  When the major automakers in Detroit met with financial difficulties at the start of the fiscal year 2008, the first thing they did was to cut back on their low-profit, discounted sales to large fleet buyers such as the rental car agencies.  This has made cars both more expensive and less available to the rental agencies.  Secondly, when the economy hit the skids in mid-2008 and travel dropped off, the rental agencies in both Florida and Hawaii either returned a portion of their fleet to the original manufacturer or sold it off to the general public in order to reduce their overhead costs.  While the inventory reduction was designed to reduce overhead, there were several undesirable side effects.  One of the side effects of reducing inventory is to reduce the incentive to dump excess inventory by lowering prices at the last moment.  The reduction in inventory has also created shortages during peak times like major Holidays and other travel spikes.  While you might be able to scare up a compact or two (at an inflated price), all of the more expensive cars such as minivans and SUVs will be sold out many months in advance.

While it is sad that some great people have been laid off during this difficult period, the rental agencies have worked hard to maintain an excellent level of service.  As an example, the rental agencies that service West Maui Airport (JHM) operate from 7 am t o5 pm.  If you are flying into the West Maui airport after 5 pm, which is not all that uncommon, the workers at Avis and Dollar will take great pains to take care of your rental needs in order to make your holiday less stressful even though they have already put in a 10 or 12 hour day.  

In summation, rental car inventory is lower now than during previous periods and the costs of the cars are higher due to escalating costs and a poor economy.   You can make a reservation now at contracted, lower than market rates AND due so with no penalty for cancellation or alterations in the future or you can hope that the rental car companies will magically over stock and at the last minute offer a wide variety of cars in Hawaii at rock bottom rates because they are just sitting idle.  

BOTTOM LINE:  IF YOU CAN RESERVE THE CAR NOW AT NO RISK AND ALTER IT LATER, WHY NOT RESERVE IT NOW?  If you find it is less expensive in the future, book it then.  

Don’t Limit Your Search
There are a lot of companies which rent cars in Hawaii and even more that represent them.  Sites such as are helpful in speeding up your search because they will compare a large number of companies and give you pricing in both base rate and with all taxes and surcharges included.  Hotwire and Orbitz also do a nice job of this (in my opinion).  

Watch Out For Additional Surcharges
A lot of travelers have heard about problems arising from companies not offering unlimited mileage.  However, companies not offering unlimited mileage are becoming rarer every day.

Other issues to watch out for are additional charges for additional drivers.  These charges can be up to $10 per day plus tax these days and can add up to a substantial amount quickly.  With our corporate contracts, Avis and Budget will allow a spouse to drive at no additional charge while Thrifty will allow any number of additional drivers at no additional charge in Hawaii only.

Historically, young drivers have compiled had a higher than normal record of accidents and mishaps while renting cars.  In response to this, most rental agencies will charge a driver 21 to 25 an additional $25 per day surcharge (plus tax of .045%) to offset the risk.  In Hawaii, companies such as Enterprise and Thrifty will bypass the underage surcharge when you reserve through our corporate contracts.

Drop charges are only applied when you pick up a car at one airport and drop off at another.  This is common in Hawaii on the Big Island when a traveler might pick up in Kona but drop off in Hilo.  These costs arise because the rental agencies plan their inventory very carefully and have to return the car to its original pick up point.  In 2008, this charge ranges from between $65 to $75.  Some companies, such as Budget, will waive the drop charge but generally only on the more common, less expensive part of their fleet such as economy through full size vehicles.  Sometimes, the cost isn’t a bad thing though.  Let’s say you pick up a minivan in Kona with 6 passengers and need to drop it off in Hilo.  Even if you pay a $65 drop fee, it’s still less expensive than flying the 6 passengers to Hilo at $40 to $90 each.

Fuel charges are another well known but common issue.  If you fail to return your car with a full tank, the rental agencies will fill it up for you and charge you a $2 or $3 per gallon premium which could result in an additional $40 to $60 in charges.  The obvious answer is to fill it up prior to return.  If you think this may be difficult, most agencies have a program you can sign up for at time of pick up which has them fill the tank for you but at a more reasonable rate.

In Hawaii, the Jeep Wrangler is a very popular rental.  The Jeep Wrangler comes with a canvas, soft top which snaps on and off.  Most rental agencies will apply a $40 surcharge to install the top for you.  Please make sure to return the Jeep with the top installed to avoid the additional charge.

Make Sure You Factor in Concession Fees and Taxes
Rentals should be quoted in both base rate (the rate for renting the car) and with all taxes and surcharges.  Obviously, applicable state taxes are applied to the base rate.

One thing to consider is concession fees.  Concession fees are the rate applied to the base rate for the right of conducting business on airport property.  Concession fees are applied at a rate of between 8% to 10%.   In places such as Maui, concession fees can be avoided by renting from companies off-airport such as Enterprise and Thrifty.  You may also consider flying into the West Maui airport (JHM) and renting out of Lahaina.  Since these agencies are not on airport, you save a great deal of money and you are already near the majority of condos in the popular North Maui, Kaanapali area.

Paying For Damage You Did Not Create
Rental cars run into a lot of unintentional abuse.  Floods, high winds, falling coconuts and other acts of nature can inflict damage as can human mistakes such as dropping your surfboard while loading it with your tired arms or bumping into a guardrail while parking.  

Most of us are tired after a long day of travel when we pick up our rental cars.  Even so, it is very important that you do a thorough inspection before driving the car off of the lot, noting any and all damage, dings and dents on the sheet provided by the rental agency.  If it is late at night, make sure you move the car into adequate lighting before making conducting your inspection.

Even if you did not cause the damage, if the car is returned with a dent not noted on the check out sheet, you may likely be charged hundreds of dollars so it is worth your time.

The daily insurance rates charged by the rental agencies can be quite expensive.  Full coverage LDW insurance ranges from $24.99 to $26.99 per day plus taxes.  It is not uncommon to hear people advise you to skip the additional coverage since it is expensive and optional.  This is fine, as long as you do in intentionally and with some research.

In general, the coverage you’ve got on your personal vehicle at home will carry over to your rental while traveling.  Your major credit card company will also usually supply supplemental insurance as well.  Along with all of that, your homeowners policy should cover your personal property if it’s stolen while parked at some secluded beach.

This is good news, however, my advice would be to call and confirm the extent of your coverage prior to passing on the supplemental insurance just to be on the safe side.

If you are traveling from other countries that create the need for taking out the supplemental insurance there may be a few options.  For instance, under our corporate contract with Thrifty, we can offer travelers from Australia and New Zealand full coverage LDW insurance at strongly discounted rates.

Express Check In
Even if you reserve with an online service at discounted rates, you still should be able to sign up for most rental agency’s express check through service.  Services such as Thrifty’s Blue Chip program or Avis’ Wizard program allow you to pick up your car quickly after a long day of travel and are available for the asking at no additional charge.

All in all, if you do a little bit of research, you can still get a car rental in Hawaii at favorable rates while still achieving excellent service while shopping on the internet.