Discount Car Rental

Online Car Rentals - When Are Discounts Not Such a Good Deal?

Web-based travel companies promise huge bargains, from cheap hotel rates to discount car rental. But are you really getting great deals when you book through these sites? You might be surprised to discover that those wonderful bargains may not be bargains at all.

Suspicious practices by Internet companies

Consumer WebWatch, an arm of Consumer Reports, took a look at seven leading sites offering travel bargains, including airfares, hotels and car rentals. They compared the sites in 150 trials, and found that Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com led the pack as far as prices and customer service were concerned. To judge online discount car rentals, Consumer WebWatch compared rates for five different car rentals at 30 U.S. airports. The results were surprising.

On Orbitz.com, the lowest rates were sometimes listed as unavailable or mysteriously jumped higher than originally advertised when researchers went to make the booking. In one instance, the rate jumped by $90 for a three-day rental. Consumer WebWatch found similar “vanishing rates” on Expedia.com. Both companies told Consumer Reports that the problem was being fixed.

Several of the companies failed to adequately disclose fees, taxes, and surcharges early in the booking process, and those fees can raise the cost of car rentals by as much as 72 percent. In one comparison, Expedia.com and Hertz.com didn’t add up the cost of those extras. In other comparisons, some didn’t bother to itemize the charges, making it unclear what renters were being charged for.

First price may not be the best price

When you pull up a page of rate quote for discount car rentals on Expedia.com, you may believe that lowest rate offered is, indeed, the lowest rate that Expedia.com has to offer. But in some cases you’d be wrong. After looking at the initial offering of “lowest to highest” prices, a click on a button labeled “show more vendors” will take you to more rate offers – sometimes lower than the ones first offered. As Expedia.com explains it, the rates on that first page are from “preferred vendors” – companies that Expedia.com has special relationships with, and who get preferential treatment during price searches. Is that legal? Well, yes and no. In 1992, the U.S. Department of Transportation prohibited a similar scam by computer reservations systems caught listing their partnered airlines’ higher airfares on the first screens of the systems and burying the cheaper fares. But so far, no one’s outlawed Internet discount providers from doing the same thing.

So, how should you protect yoursewlf and find the best discount car rental rates? The folks at Consumer Reoprts say that your best bet is still to stick with multipurpose travel sites such as Orbitz.com and Travelocity.com, as their prices are always better than the rental-car company site – just spend a little more time and search the site thoroughly to find the best deals. Before you make a reservation on any Internet site, be sure you understand the requirements and penalties. And shop smart – grab a pad and a pen, and make notes on what the sites charge for discount car rentals, including taxes, fees, and surcharges, because none of the Internet sites give you a comprehensive list of all the additional fees.

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