Car Rentals

Stupid Mistakes and More Car Rental Tips

rental carsNothing sharing economy about this post, but just a tip for people who might find it useful. I had a backpacking trip planned with some friends for which we needed a rental car. The plan was to fly into Salt Lake City, pick up a car at the airport and drive out to the Tetons. I made a booking through Costco Travel because I found the best rates there and they include a second driver for free, which saves a lot of money. Unfortunately the booking was for the wrong dates! I have no idea how I messed it up, but by the time I figured that out the price had shot up from about $200 for 6 days (if I had made the right booking) to $400!

I frantically searched around for alternatives, discount codes, etc. But the airport cars were mostly booked and so none of the companies had any incentive to offer good prices. In fact some were just straight up sold out. I did take a look at Turo, which had a price of just over $300 for the 6 days on a car that included enough mileage for our trip and wouldn’t charge us for extra drivers. I was ready to book that when my friend Will suggested we look at rentals in Salt Lake City, and consider just taking a cab/Lyft there from the airport.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

That was a great idea, except that all the car rental places in Salt Lake City close at 6pm and we had a 10pm flight out at the end of the trip. There wasn’t much chance of us getting back to SLC before 6pm that day. But still I decided to price it out as if we could return the car at 6pm (the system wouldn’t let me put in a later time). The cost was $150 for 6 days! So I started searching around for the cost to return the car to a different location (the airport) and a few hours late.

It seems rental car shops  have different fees by location, and of course nothing is in writing online, so I called the location directly. The agent told me there’s no problem just returning at their location after 6pm; they have a drop off system with the Hilton hotel where the rental agency is located. Then I asked what would be the fee for returning the car a few hours late. The agent looked up my rental info and then said there’d be no fee and they would just assume we returned it at 6:01pm as long as it was there when they opened in the morning.

I have no idea if there was something special about my reservation through Costco Travel that gave me this free late return, or maybe my Avis membership (which is not of any status), or if this was just standard policy and he asked to look at my record just for fun. Regardless, we’re now saving a lot of money by taking a taxi the 6 miles from SLC airport into town to rent a car.

The bottom line: don’t forget to search for rental options off-airport if you can get into town reasonably easily/cheaply.

1 Comment

  • Inspect your hired car before leaving the car hire depot. Check for simple things such as brake fluid or window wiper fluid. Too little or too much may become a safety hazard once you are on the road. Check for suspicious markings, making sure that any are noted before you take the car anywhere.