Beware car rental comparison websites

As I travel fairly regularly, I am no stranger to renting cars. It’s always a slightly nervy moment for me after having so many unsatisfactory experiences over the years; from awful cars to tricky situations involving deposits. The most recent experience, though, is one that I want to share, as it’s an important lesson from which others may learn.

It’s obvious that I want to pay as small a fee as is possible for rental of a car, in order to keep the costs of the trip down. In order to do that, I have taken the same tack as when booking hotels, and used price comparison websites to ease the process of finding a good deal.

This sounds like a good idea and by doing so this time, for a two week hire from Edinburgh airport, I managed to find a good deal on a car from Alamo (part of the Europcar group). A saving of around 40% below the price available on the Europcar website made me book, although that was the biggest mistake of the holiday. By the unusual wording of the booking contract provided by rentalcars.com, it wasn’t clear that neither insurance nor “prime location” fee was included in the price quoted. A nasty shock was waiting for me on arrival at the airport, when the 40% saving – and more – was due on collection of the car, on top of the fee I’d already paid online.

Although it’s plainly my fault for not reading the finer small print, or questioning unclear terminology, it’s reprehensible that agencies use oblique or discreet terms to make their offering more attractive.┬áThe extremely helpful member of Europcar staff explained the reason for the additional charges and helped me to get in touch with the help desk at rentalcars.com: according to him, it’s a sufficiently regular occurrence that he even knows the telephone number off by heart. A two minute call cancelled the booking and confirmed a refund of all but the inevitable “cancellation charge” of three days’ rental fee.

The car rental centre at Edinburgh airport is of a reasonable size and after getting direct quotes from the other agencies – varying from the inexplicable to the acceptable – Hertz offered an all-inclusive price around 50% less expensive than the others. They therefore got my business and confirmed that such confusion is rife.

So my advice is: take the extra time to check the car rental websites individually instead of through a third-party website, as then it’ll be much clearer what you’re paying for. You may get a lower price from comparison sites, but there’s usually a reason for the lower price, with essentials being omitted or added on by the agency when collecting the car.

The following car rental companies are ones I’d trust, although thanks to continued poor experience with the Europcar group – not to mention their higher prices – I won’t be using any of their affiliated companies again.

Affiliated with Europcar: National, Alamo

Agencies with which I have only had good experiences: Hertz, Avis, Thrifty