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.
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!