In March, Avis charged me a cleaning fee of $150 because the car I rented in Hawaii had excessive sand on the floor and sand on the seats from my two grandkids. The car was sandy, but not all that unusual after going to the beach several times. In spite of being checked-in and given a thumbs up, Avis levied the fee 2 months later. I was unable to have an intelligent discussion with their customer service people or their executives, in spite of being a 20-year customer spending more than $50,000 over the years and $6000 last year. I did some investigation and found many had similar experiences with Avis and their sister company, Budget, in Hawaii. Same story: checked in ok, then 2 months later the charge.
Ultimately, when I disclosed I was a columnist and doing a story, the Avis VP Customer Service waived the fee, but when I went ahead and published the story, Avis went into my records and removed a discount code I had been using for 10 years, and reported my use of it to the company who’s code I was using. (It had been given to me by my former client at the company). That discount fee enabled a $35 per day rental fee.
So I decided this was an opportunity to try some of the other rental car companies and see how they compared. I’ve not tried all of them, but I did try those with which I was able to register for a business discount or the discount provided by my Amex Platinum card. My other criteria was that I could go directly to my car and bypass the rental counters.
Most of my rentals have been in the Bay area at San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland airports. I registered at Avis and Thrifty as a business owner to receive discount codes, at National using my Amex Platinum, and with Hertz using a Club Gold number issued to me by a current client that’s a billion dollar corporation. I also used the Amex relationship as well.
Over the past 5 months I’ve rented about a dozen times. Each time I checked rates online with Hertz, National, Thrifty, and Avis. As a result, I was able to come to some conclusions based on my experience.
The best rates were nearly always Thrifty, averaging about $45/day. But Thrifty was the only company to add a $15 drop off charge between San Jose and SFO. Next was Avis with rates of about $55-$70/day. Third was National with rates of $60 to $90/day, but, as with all the companies, with some lower fees on weekends that were under $30. Hertz was always more than $90 and sometimes as high as $135. Rates seem to vary depending on supply and demand with National, but less so with the others.
For customer service National stood out. Phone agents were very polite, helpful and easy to reach. Avis agents were also easy to reach, but were less helpful and more robotic. At Thrifty I had one very unpleasant experience. When I returned a car on a Thursday to San Jose Airport, the check-in agent said their computer was down and couldn’t check me in. She said not to worry; I’d get an email receipt in an hour or two.
It never came, and on the following Saturday I got a recorded call saying my rental car has not been returned, and if I don’t return it immediately they’d report it to law enforcement. They gave me a number to call, which went to the customer service agent located in the Philippines, who had no idea why the call was diverted there and couldn’t help.
I had to wait until Monday to reach their security department who eventually located the car and sent me a receipt. But no apology.
Avis and National offer much better service when you check in than Thrifty. Rarely is there a wait. At Avis in San Jose, there is a wonderful gentleman that greets each regular customer by name as they arrive for their car. He said he was very concerned by my absence and welcomed me back.
With Thrifty there’s usually a single person at check out and check in, and often not very friendly, probably because the person is over-burdened. There’s often long lines to exit the garage since there’s usually only one booth open. An example of you get what you pay for.
Website. Avis has the best website. It’s easy to book, to make changes, and to access previous receipts. It’s particularly easy to a find a rental location when you enter a few letters into the pickup location line. National’s Website has major technical problems. Its pop-up calendar to select dates is crude, but worse, tt doesn’t recognize airport codes and city airports. (Note: I had problems with National recognizing airport codes using the Safari browser when I began using them, but I just checked again and the codes now appears to work.)
And it has trouble with the obvious.
For example, when I enter “San Jose”, it comes up with “San Jose Intl Airport/Shuttle” and “San Jose Intl Arpt Crcf.” That’s after you scroll past seven other entries such as Costa Rica Marriott, Jaco Puntarenas, Mal Pai, etc (It also doesn’t recognize the airport code SJC).
When I fill out a rental request for either of these San Jose listings, it often returns an error message in red saying “rental cars are not available at this location”. When I call National directly, cars are always available. Both Hertz and Thrifty sites are fine, with Hertz a close second to Avis.
Cars – The best rental cars are consistently National with its Executive Emerald Isle. Rent a mid-size car and you always get a choice of a full size car, most with very low mileage. Last week I rented a Ford Fusion with 6,000 miles. Thrifty also provides many large cars at prices similar to small ones, but they are often much older. This week they gave me a 2012 Ford Taurus with 53,000 miles. An attendant told me they retire the cars when they reach 60,000 miles. Avis also has good cars, mostly under 30,000 miles, and they allow you to exchange it for another by selecting from a special aisle.
- For low prices it’s Thrifty, but the rental experience comes with the bare basics. You get a feeling that it’s a low budget operation with the oldest cars.
- National is the best overall with higher, but not extraordinary rates, the best cars and the best consumer agents. But they need to fix their website. It’s surprising it’s so bad compared to everything else that’s so good.
- Avis is a close second to National for car quality, rates, and decent customer service, assuming you don’t get caught up in their “sand trap”.
- I never found Hertz rates to be competitive, even when entering discount codes from Amex Platinum and from my company affiliates.