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Beware of hidden car rental fees

by , SmarterTravel Staff - August 5, 2004

Make sure to check the car thoroughly before leaving the lot, noting any damage to the interior and exterior of the car. Also, make sure your list stays with the contract, so that the company doesn't try to charge you for existing problems when you return the car.

  • Airport concession fees: Also called recoup fees, consolidated facility charges (CFC), facility usage fees, and concession recovery fees. These fees can be as much as 10 percent of the total rental cost.

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    Although base rates may be higher at non-airport locations, you can avoid paying airport taxes and surcharges by renting at a downtown or suburban location. You can estimate taxi costs and relative inconvenience to assess whether this is a practical option.

  • Parking tax: Fee that the agency charges to cover the rental of the parking lot. Usually around 30 cents.

  • Reimbursement fee/Vehicle license fee: The fee that contributes to the cost of registering and titling the car, usually between three and eight percent of the base rate. This fee is sometimes referred to as a vehicle excise tax.

  • Convention center/stadium/sports arena tax: The money from this fee goes towards construction of area centers. Charges of this type are calculated as daily fees or as a percent of the rental rate. For example, you'll pay $10 at Boston's Logan Airport, and five percent of the rental rate at San Antonio International airport. You pay regardless of whether or not you visit the venue.

  • Peak season surcharge: Sometimes car rental companies will charge a per-day or flat fee for rentals during popular times. For instance, a Dollar compact car rental in Boston during August has a $3 per-day peak season surcharge.

    Other possible fees

    If you plan on deviating at all from the rental norm, expect to pay for it. Drop-off location, age, and the number of drivers are just a few of the things you can expect to pay extra for.

    • Drop-off fee: A fee charged for returning the car to a different site than the pick-up location. One-way rentals are the likeliest type to incur such a charge, although agencies sometimes offer specials that waive it. Fees of this type can be high, so it's a good idea to ask about them before booking. For example, we found a drop-off fee that was over $500 on a Thrifty rental from San Francisco to San Antonio, TX.

    • Frequent flyer tax: Charges that you incur when earning miles for your rental. The fee tends to be 7.5 percent of the value of the miles. This charge covers taxes the rental company pays on the frequent flyer miles it gives to customers.

    • Late fee: Rates are charged based on the 24-hour clock. If you pick up the car at 9 a.m., you must return the car at 9 a.m. on the last day of your rental, or steep charges will be added to the bill. Some agencies, such as Budget, grant drivers a 59-minute grace period, while others begin charging late fees immediately. Late fees are charged by the hour until the hourly charges exceed the daily rate, at which point most companies charge you for a full extra day.

    • Fuel charge: Per-gallon gasoline charges that you pay for returning a car without a full tank. Agencies often charge up to double the local price for gasoline. When you rent, always check to make sure you leave the lot with a full tank; if you notice that the tank is not full, ask a rental attendant to fill it up before you leave.

    • Mileage fee

      : For rentals without unlimited mileage, a per-mile fee based on the number of miles overall, or number of miles over the per-day allotted usage. Mileage fees tend to come from smaller rental companies that offer a certain number of miles per day and then charge a fee (usually between 15 and 50 cents per mile) for mileage above the allotment.

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