A Pinoy Expatriate’s Insane Musings

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Rental Cars

Posted by Marvin on October 10, 2006

America has a love affair with the automobile. You might even want to describe it as a very long fling. Ever since the end of the Second World War, Americans took to the roads and never slammed on the proverbial brakes. Take rental cars for example. People here in America will more likely rent a car at the airport than take a cab to their hotel. The reason is quite simple: “America was created, designed and engineered for people who drive cars.” Want to go a store? You will need to drive. Want to buy stamps? Drive. Want to go to the office? Drive, drive. As such, people who can’t drive in America are like non-citizens nerds i.e. they don’t get out much.

As an expatriate, my company provided me with a rental car for two weeks – not because I’m a big shot or something but in order to make me mobile. The car came from Avis. I’ve been using Avis ever since I started flying to the U.S. on a regular basis (circa 2004) and I’ve never had any complaints. Haven’t tried the other rental car brands yet like Hertz, Budget, Alamo and similar companies so the tips I’m about to give you might not apply to them.

TIP 1:

Remember that you are in the United States. Not Divisoria in Manila, not Bangkok – but the US. As such, remember that the US is the only country that I know of which uses the Imperial System of measures (and they call the Philippines Third World?). Distances are reckoned in miles not kilometers and volumes are in gallons not liters. For example, a speed of 60 MPH is no where near what 60 KPH feels. A car travelling at 60 MPH is actually travelling at 96.6 KPH. Mixing up your miles and kilometers could be fatal especially if you are travelling on the freeway.

TIP 2:

Einstein became a household word when he formulated the Special and General Theories of Relativity. Relativism is everywhere. Case in point, if somebody tells you that Wal-Mart is pretty near – always remember that “near” is a relative term. Near in the US could mean a 10-minute drive at freeway speeds (around 60 MPH) i.e. 10 miles away or 16.1 kilometer from where you are standing. Always keep this in mind. Hindi puwede ang paggamit ng nguso dito in order to indicate direction and distance.

TIP 3:

Maximize the use of the Internet when availing of rental cars. Always try to make an online reservation. Walk-in clients can find it a bit hard to find the cars they want when they want it. Almost all of the rental car companies have online reservation facilities. Do this and you’ll be sure that the vehicle you want will be waiting for you in the parking lot.

TIP 4:

Rental car companies have tie-ups with airlines, hotels, credit cards and other companies and normally have promotional deals highlighting low rental rates. Do not buy into these promos automatically. These will likely give you lower than rack rates but they may not give you the best value. Check with your company first. Companies normally have tie ups with rental car companies to benefit their employees. My company, for example, has a special discount code issued by Avis which employees can quote when renting a car. This allows the employee to get a good rate for BOTH business and personal travel. I checked the rates and my company rate is either the same as the lowest possible rental rate or just slightly higher. This may not sound like a fair deal but companies tend to negotiate for other add-ons – this is what is often called “nibbling” in negotiating jargon. This may include insurance coverage, free upgrades, dedicated hotline & support etc. This makes it a better value proposition, right?

TIP 5:

Name drop. Use your company name when renting cars at the counter. You’ll be suprised at what you might get. After my two-week rental car expired, I opted to extend it for another week. I called Avis San Ramon to ask for an extension plus I mentioned my company. To cut the long story short, I got the week-long extension without the need to bring the car back to the Avis branch office, got the very low corporate rate ($25/day all-in) for the same car – without getting out of bed.

TIP 6:

Avail of their preferred customer program. Avis has Avis Preferred Service. It will save you a lot of time. Just reserve online using your customer profile and then head on straight to the parking lot counter, mention your name and your car is ready. No license checks, no credit card swipes and all that crap. Off you go. I always use this when I’m flying into SFO.

TIP 7:

Be nice to the rental car folks. A little good cheer and friendly greeting goes a long, long way. My wife and I were visiting Fisherman’s Wharf about two years ago and opted for a walk-in arrangement with the Avis branch there. Unfortunately, there are no cars available (refer to TIP 3 above). We had a friendly chat with the counter lady and found out that she’s Filipino. After the usual “kababayan” banter, she said that she has a reserved car but it looks like the guy who reserved it is still not around so she decided to rent it to us, she asked where I worked and tacked in the corporate discount for our company, gave us tips on the sights in and around San Francisco and finally enrolled me in the Avis Preferred Program. So smile…You may not get anything in return but you could at least make someone else happy.

TIP 8:

Never, never, never ever opt to use the rental car company’s option to refill the fuel by themselves. People have a tendency to return the rental car with the gas tank empty and just pay for the fuel refill charge. With today’s gas prices, this is bordering on insanity. In some cases, the unit price of gas used by the rental car companies is TWICE that of your friendly neghborhood gas station. For a car with a 15-gallon gas tank, this could result in an additional $45 charge. This is where rental car companies make their money. Either that or they probably source their fuel from Iraq or Kazakhstan or something.

TIP 9:  

Maximize the freebies. Always be on the lookout for giveaways. The last time I used Avis for a week, they sent me via e-mail a voucher/discount code which entitled me to 10 free songs from Apple iTunes!


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