4 tips for speeding through the rental car counter

by Сашка

How to make renting a car as painless as possible

Before you even make it to the rental car counter, doing your own homework can make the experience move faster.

Bringing accurate and valid documentation, reading up on your agency’s policies and making a reservation will all help you avoid delays once it’s your turn. But despite your best efforts, long lines and slow service are still common, especially during busy travel seasons, such as summer and the December holidays. Airport rental locations are the worst, seeing greater foot traffic in comparison to neighborhood locations, according to Tara Raffaele-Castner, auto travel manager at AAA Club Alliance.

There are several ways to shorten — or, in some cases, skip — the waits, such as signing up for a rental agency’s loyalty program or reserving your vehicle in advance. If you don’t take these measures, you may feel stuck.

“This is especially true for those who are new to renting or don’t rent that often,” she said. “Once you’re faced with a long line, and you haven’t prepaid or signed up for a loyalty program, you really just have to wait.”

How to get the rental car you actually wanted

You should also be aware that walking into an agency that is low on or completely out of cars can stymie even the most prepared guest. Michael Wilmering, public relations manager for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, acknowledged that there are “rare” occasions where branch locations run into supply issues. Renters might not bring back their vehicles on time, or cars could return damaged. Industry-wide fleet shortages, mostly driven by a lack of semiconductor chips, have also contributed to this over the years.

“We make every effort to ensure our customers are given the vehicle they’ve reserved, and we are able to meet this expectation in the vast majority of our customer transactions,” Wilmering said in an email.

Many of the programs and policies aimed to expedite renting a car can be found on the FAQ and informational pages for rental agencies. We collected tips from travel experts and the agencies themselves on how to avoid long waits and walk out with the car you prefer.

Sign up for a loyalty program

Car rental companies love it when you come back to them, so many major agencies will pad their loyalty programs with perks such as advanced check-ins, free car upgrades and points that could go toward free rentals.

Some programs even let you skip lines altogether, such as Avis Preferred, Budget Fastbreak and Hertz Gold Plus Rewards. Laura Smith, vice president of sales and customer experience at Hertz, said customers can usually go straight to the agency’s inventory to pick out their preferred car, where they can weigh any number of options based on the vehicle’s size, condition and model.

If you’re in a loyalty program that lets you skip the line, you may only have to present your driver’s license before walking away from the counter with a set of keys.

“That can be a really great timesaver, and [our] program is available at no cost,” Smith said. “There’s lots of other benefits, but from a time perspective, we’d say that’s key.”

What happens to your loyalty program after the pandemic?

Pay for your vehicle in advance

Agencies and experts swear by paying in advance for rental cars.

The deal is already locked in. You’re more likely to avoid the last-minute panic if an agency’s fleet is running low, because you’ll have priority over customers who didn’t pay already. Because you’ve paid, you also probably won’t run into surprise fees associated with your rental, Smith said.

When you pay for your vehicle ahead of time, you can book during a time that is less busy and expensive. During these low-demand periods, you’re more likely to lock in a lower price for trips planned during busier seasons, because you’ve booked far ahead. Raffaele-Castner recommends booking on weekdays and during slower travel periods, such as fall and winter. This is especially true in bigger travel cities such as Miami and Las Vegas.

Read also:
Can’t sleep before a big trip? Here’s how to get some shut-eye.

She added that most companies offer and encourage paying for a car in advance; the only caveat is that advance payments are usually nonrefundable. Some car rental agencies, including Hertz, allow you to include your flight number, airline carrier and scheduled arrival time, and the companies will be made aware of any flight changes, Smith said.

“This can be really important to protect the reservation if the flight is delayed. And at this time of the year — in and around the holidays — that can be really important,” she said.

Think about booking with a travel agent

Whether you’re a seasoned rental car aficionado or have never booked one, having a travel agent can help you sort through paperwork and policies and give you a breakdown of what to expect once you get to the line.

Agents can go over whether you should bring your credit or debit card and whether there’s a rental fee for someone under 25, and they can even foresee the best times to book and pick up your car. A travel agent will go over every step of the process, and although this can be a more costly option, it could help you find certain loyalty programs, discounts and tricks.

A travel agent can walk you through travel insurance options and what vehicle class and model would best serve your trip based on your destination, the size of your group and your budget.

“It can really just help you avoid issues — big and small — that you might run into when booking on your own,” Raffaele-Castner said.

Know what your insurance already covers

When you make your way to the rental car counter, you might be asked whether you’d like to purchase the agency’s rental insurance. During previous trips, Caroline Morse Teel, executive editor at SmarterTravel, said some rental agencies have required her to take their insurance.

In these cases, Morse Teel recommends shopping around for different travel insurance options and seeing which ones are compatible with you and the agency. You should be looking into what coverage is offered, such as whether you’ll be protected from car theft, damage and injuries.

Morse Teel also recommends looking into whether your credit card company or personal car insurance already offers rental car protection. You can find your credit card coverage in your benefits guide, usually listed online. Most will cover theft and personal damage in a car crash, but some don’t cover damage to other vehicles involved, she said.

You can also buy these protections from third-party agencies before your rental, with companies such as Allianz Global Assistance and Bonzah.

More travel tips

Vacation planning: Start with a strategy to maximize days off by taking PTO around holidays. Experts recommend taking multiple short trips for peak happiness. Want to take an ambitious trip? Here are 12 destinations to try this year — without crowds.

Cheap flights: Follow our best advice for scoring low airfare, including setting flight price alerts and subscribing to deal newsletters. If you’re set on an expensive getaway, here’s a plan to save up without straining your credit limit.

Airport chaos: We’ve got advice for every scenario, from canceled flights to lost luggage. Stuck at the rental car counter? These tips can speed up the process. And following these 52 rules of flying should make the experience better for everyone.

Expert advice: Our By The Way Concierge solves readers’ dilemmas, including whether it’s okay to ditch a partner at security, or what happens if you get caught flying with weed. Submit your question here. Or you could look to the gurus: Lonely Planet and Rick Steves.

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