“Extras can double car rental bill,” headlines a recent release from Insure My Rental Car. And when you include all the extras, that’s probably true. Not many of you will likely add all the extras, but the fact remains that rental car companies, like airlines, are fond of piling on fees—often, very stiff fees—for anything beyond the basic use of the car. Fortunately, you can avoid at least some of the more onerous extras.
If your rental car gets damaged while you’re driving it, you’re on the hook to reimburse the rental company for the costs of repairs plus loss of revenue while the car is out of service. You absolutely must cover the risk, but you have some options.
The rental company’s collision/loss damage waiver (CDW) is by far the most expensive. It costs $20 to $30 a day, which can be more than the base rental rate, but it has one big advantage: If your car is damaged, you can return it to the rental station, hand over the keys, and walk away from the problem, except maybe having to pay for minor damages the waiver doesn’t cover.
Other options cost a lot less but add additional risk: If you don’t buy the CDW, the rental company may put a big hold on your credit card, and you have to pay the rental company immediately for the estimated repair and loss costs and claim reimbursement later. The options:
- Your own automobile insurance may cover you if you damage a rented car while driving in the United States. A claim on your policy costs you nothing out-of-pocket beyond a deductible, but any repair bill will go on your record and may increase future premiums.
- Many credit cards offer “free” collision coverage, but it’s secondary, meaning you must first collect from your own insurance. Again, it costs nothing out-of-pocket, and it typically pays your policy’s deductible, if any. Because your regular insurance typically doesn’t cover you overseas, your credit card coverage becomes de facto primary.
- If you don’t want to risk a hit on your own insurance policy, or when you rent in a country where your credit card doesn’t cover you, you can buy primary coverage from third-party insurers. Insure My Rental Car charges around $30 for a single trip (depending on where you live) or $93.99 per year. Protect Your Bubble (protectyourbubble.com) charges $7.99 a day.
- Big OTAs now offer their own rental car insurance, usually for $10 to $11 a day. But beware: I’ve seen some OTA rental car buying systems where its own coverage is “opt-out,” and you could wind up buying it even if you didn’t intend to.
If you’re renting a car and want someone else to share driving, rental companies typically charge $5 to $10 a day for each additional driver—and more if the additional driver is under age 25. This is a pure gouge: Having someone share driving chores doesn’t add a penny to the rental company’s cost. Fortunately, you can often avoid this gouge: Some rental companies waive the fee for spouses or business colleagues; rentals through AARP, AAA, and other organizations often waive one extra driver fee on each rental. Also, membership in a rental company’s loyalty program may include an extra driver at no additional cost.
These days, many of you rely on GPS for navigation. Most rental companies now offer it as an extra option, typically for something like $40 to $100 per week. As with extra drivers, some companies reduce the GPS fee for organization or loyalty program members. Of course, you can beat the cost completely by using the GPS on your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.
Child Car Seat
Rental companies charge anywhere from $60 to $100a week to provide a child seat, which is mandatory in most states and many foreign countries. If you’re flying to a destination where you’re renting a car, most airlines check a child seat for no extra cost. If that doesn’t work, and if you’re renting for more than a week, you may be better off buying a new seat at your destination.
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Ed Perkins on Travel is copyright (c) 2015 Tribune Media Services, Inc.