Tag Archives: car rentals

Hotwire Price Alerts Are (at best) Only Marketing

Hurray! At the end of the month I get to go to Winnipeg! But I needed a reasonably priced car rental. One of the places I normally shop is hotwire.com which has a “price drop alert” and will email you when prices drop. Since it was $51 for the smallest of small cars – that’s what I did. Sorry, Winnipeg but at the end of October there isn’t a massive wave of tourists wanting to come to Portage & Main to pay that much for a one-day rental…

In total, hotwire sent me six price drop alerts for around $39. On one of them I clicked through to book that within 30 seconds of the email alert receipt. Nope…the least expensive one was still $51…and didn’t change the entire two weeks of looking.

So it’s pretty obvious that the hotwire alerts are somewhere between useless and simply marketing to give them an excuse to email you. For the entire two weeks, priceline.com was $5 cheaper anyway and today (October 13th) their price for the same compact car on the same day was $29 versus the hotwire $48.

Sad but true: Skip hotwire on car rentals and on any so-called price alerts. I’m going to miss them because I’ve dealt with them quite a bit over the past number of years. And, sadly, their media relations department chose not to reply to my inquiries for comment.

Careful With Car Rental Pre-Paids

If you’re flying anywhere, it’s probably a fair guess that most people rent a vehicle at least once a year or so. For me, it’s more like 15 times.

If you’re ever on one of the car rental sites, you’ll see a new category: Pay now or pay later. You now have the option of pre-paying at the time you reserve it. It’ll give you a 5 to10% discount. But, and it’s a big but: I’ve rented a vehicle 11 times in the last three months. In EVERY case, the rental rates dropped between my first reservation and the week prior to my trip.

All I did was cancel my reservation and make a new one at the lower rate. You can’t do that if you’ve prepaid with no refund or cancellation option. It would have cost me roughly $350 extra to pre-pay, instead of a saving.

If you’re close to the rental date, it might make sense. A month or two out, you’re likely way better off re-shopping over pre-paying! The best example was when I was in Kelowna last month. I had made a reservation with one of the Kelowna airport national chains. The rate was $48 base rate. The week before I re-checked at Hotwire.com I could get it for $26 a day. When I booked and paid it, the confirmation was for the same company I had booked direct with! What a rip off! Hotels and car rental places say come to our website directly for guaranteed lowest rates. Big fat lie! Even with the hotwire markup, it was almost 50% cheaper through a third party and not their site! Be careful when comparison shopping!

Car Rental Coverage on Credit Cards

What you don’t know can definitely cost you – either buy buying supplemental coverage when renting a vehicle, or not buying it.

In a study from Progressive Insurance, 62% of people thought their personal coverage didn’t include rentals, and another 24% weren’t sure.

Maybe it’s a necessary, but it’s a very expensive purchase for over 40% of people who always or occasionally pay for it. You should know before you go…and before you buy.

All four major card issuers, Visa, MasterCard, American Express, and Discover offer some type of coverage on many of their cards. If you have a gold or travel card, it’ll almost always be included since you’re paying the big annual fees. Any claim on your car rental could be covered if you decline the supplemental insurance and if you charge the entire rental on your credit card. It’ll always exempt exotic cars, antiques, trucks and off-road vehicles. You’ll need to ask your card issuer if SUVs are included – it’s only Amex that has them on their standard policy. You also have to remember that credit card coverage always stands secondary to your own policy. In other words, any claim first gets processed through your insurance, then the card insurance comes second.

What you need to do is to make two phone calls:

-To your insurance carrier or ICBC and ask if any car rentals are covered. If you’re renting outside Canada or the US, you’ll need to specifically ask about Mexico or Europe. If your ICBC coverage has Roadside Plus or RoadStar, you’re covered. If they say no, ask about adding a rider to your policy – it’ll be very cheap!

-To your card issuer. Call the 800 number and ask them where on their website you can get any coverage explained. I would not recommend you take the word of someone at a call centre in India for it. Find it on their legal documents that came with your credit card or on their site and you’ll know for sure.

When 86% of people think they’re not covered, or aren’t sure, it’s time to find out, even if you ‘re not planning a trip right now. The alternative is to waste a ton of money each day on each car rental when you travel. Two calls and you’ll probably save yourself hundreds of dollars.

Here are a few more tips:

-Keep your rental car value at or below your own vehicle to be sure you’re fully covered.

-If you don’t have personal coverage, or your credit card coverage is minimal, it may be wise to buy the supplemental insurance.

-If there’s an additional driver on your rental, you’ll need to disclose that and cover that!

-If you’re renting for business, you may not be covered and need to find out well in advance or take the rental car coverage!

-If your personal insurance doesn’t cover it, ask about a rider added to your policy to cover it. That’ll be a lot cheaper than supplemental coverage.

-Know the limitations of coverage from  your insurance company and credit card issuer.

-There are time limits on coverage. You probably won’t be covered for a two-month rental, so ask in advance.

And one more thing: Careful these days with your rentals. You’ll likely get a one or two-year old rental with more than 20,000 km on the odometer, and a lot of scratches and marks. The days of rental car agencies getting all new vehicles every six to nine months are gone. Make sure the marks and dings are noted on your agreement, insist on getting another vehicle, or take some pictures with your smart phone. I’ve heard lots of stories of getting billed for pre-existing damage after the fact!