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Rental Car Companies in USA

I am in the process of researching a one-week car rental in Seattle in late January 2018, where I will be attending the RS Alumni Reunion plus doing some tourism requiring a car. Best rates by far seem to be with Dollar Rental Cars, but then I see a large number of scathing reviews of Dollar, citing expensive required add-ones to the quoted rates, charging for extra insurance which had been declined, cars delivered with near-empty gas tanks, and often horrible unfiendly customer service. I find it hard to believe that a company can continue to function with so many bad reviews. Maybe it depends on the particular locations. My questions for those of you with recent rental experience in the USA:
1. Have you had personal recent experience with Dollar, good or bad? What did you find?
2. Do you have a “best way” to arrange the best value car rental, a company or a travel site which books with various companies. I have AAA and AARP memberships, and Chase credit cards, for possible discounts.
Thanks for any tips! I’m just looking for a decent car at a decent total cost, with decent and honest customer service.

Posted by
5697 posts

When we were renting for weekend usage, we liked Enterprise because it had weekend bargain rates (in some locations -- not our local ones, but by taking public transit to a nearby town we rented Friday to Monday for under $50.)

Posted by
21075 posts

In my fairly limited experience, the more bargain-basement companies tend to be pushier at the counter, but it does depend on the individual employee (and probably management pressure to upsell at each specific location). I've mostly used Enterprise and sometimes Avis, and I haven't had a major issue with either one. It could happen the next time I rent, though.

Posted by
1348 posts

Slightly off topic but when I looked last year the fees charged for rentals that originate at the airport were significantly higher than those downtown. If you’re traveling lite you can hop light rail and pick up your car downtown. There was no additional charge for returning the car to an airport location. I haven’t checked recently so this may no longer be true.

The last time I checked the higher fees were for mostly local benefit like the stadium. As a traveler I hate being soaked by these fees and will go out of my way to avoid them.

Posted by
21075 posts

I mostly rent locally for out-of town trips (I don't own a car), and here Enterprise seems to have a firm line between the airport location and others. I was told that if I didn't rent at the airport, I couldn't return there. It mattered because of the considerably more limited hours of operation at non-airport locations. I have at least twice been able to pick up and drop off at two separate non-airport locations. Those are usually but definitely not always cheaper.

I should perhaps mention that I've fairly often saved around $100 on a rental by continuing to check prices after I made the reservation, then canceling and rebooking when something cheaper showed up. Don't count on that at Thanksgiving or Christmas, though.

Posted by
8631 posts

Do you have Costco membership? I usually start there and then check a couple of others that are not part of the Costco group.
Just had a rental in Hawaii from Dollar and all went well. Never had any problem when I was renting from Dollar in Portland. As I live here I have not had occasion to rent in Seattle

Most rental agencies try to sell the add ons and if you do not need them just say 'No'. ( Just be sure to say it firmly, and I find the agent moves on)

The airport ( in any city) always seems to have the highest fees so if possible to pick up somewhere else do so.

Posted by
1117 posts

I've had bad experiences with several rental agencies, no matter which ones they were. I kept booking a different one the next time and found that their policies about aggressively pushing you to take additional insurance or upgrades to be pretty much all the same. The differences may in fact depend mostly on the individual management or employees.

I've had one Alamo agent actually keep me - jetlagged with a 9 hour time zone change - at his desk for over an hour in spite of everything being pre-booked, the line behind me getting longer and longer and people getting really impatient. He was quite obviously trying hard to build up enough pressure to make me upgrade to the larger car.

I've had a Chicago airport rental (not sure if it was Hertz or Alamo) where the employee was so annoyed at me declining the upgrade that she seriously tried to give me a wreck of a car, in spite of a pre-booked contract that guarantees a car from that same year. And when I say wreck, I mean wreck: I heard the brakes make a familiar sound that told me "zero brake pads" before I even left the yard. Fortunately there was a friendly and sensible employee out there on the yard who agreed with me that I certainly wasn't going anywhere with that car.

That said, we've also been lucky and got a free off-season upgrade from a very friendly employee at the LA airport rental.

To make a long story short, I think it pretty much all depends on the employee and the management you happen to hit upon. You can be lucky or out of luck with any of these companies, at least from my experience.

Posted by
3111 posts

We've had no better to worse service from any car company so we shop around. We do it by booking through Costco, which prices several companies and book the cheapest. About a week and then a day before we travel we check again and rebook at the cheaper rate after cancelling the first rental.

Posted by
13086 posts

We generally rent from Hertz, unless they are significantly more expensive. Never had a bad experience, and the “upsell” at the counter never happened. ( I suspect Anna’s bad experience was with Alamo, not Hertz, as the budget companies are notorious for that kind of thing.

Now I am a member of their program, and don’t even have to stop at the counter—we just go directly to the lot and pick up the car. Very quick and convenient.

I have had two experiences with Dollar, when I fell for their low prices. The first time, it took more than an hour to get to the counter, as the agent spent 20-30 minutes with each customer trying to pressure them into extra insurance. The people in front of us were young and susceptible to the hard sell and scare tactics. When we finally got our turn, we still had to decline each offer separately and initial the contract, despite telling the agent at the outset that we did not need or want the extras. The pressure was quite heavy. The rental was otherwise uneventful.

More recently I booked Dollar again for pickup at SFO as Hertz was way higher ( this was a last-minute trip and the good Hertz rates were all gone). We stood in the Dollar line waiting for them to do the hard sell with each customer in front of us. I noticed the Hertz counter was free so I walked over, showed my card, and asked for a quote. They matched the Dollar rate and we were on our way in ten minutes ( instead of the hour or more it would have taken with Dollar).

Now if I want to comparison -shop rates I use Costco. It worked well for an Alaska rental, where prices fluctuate wildly. Ended up with Alamo and it was OK. Another time in Alaska we used Enterprise for an off-airport pickup and were very happy with them.

For Seattle, you will likely do better picking up the car downtown instead of at the airport. Hertz, Enterprise, and others have locations within walking distance of the Westlake light rail station. Whenever I check rates for out-of-town guests, this ends up being the best deal.

Posted by
5181 posts

Another vote for using Costco to find good rental prices.

I find that by taking responsibility for a thorough walk around both on pick up and return, problems are minimized whatever company I use.

Do check the rental prices of renting at Sea-Tac airport vs a downtown location. Sometimes downtown comes in quite a bit cheaper and it is easy to get downtown from the airport via light rail.

Make sure you decline optional insurance if you want the insurance feature from your credit card to be valid.

Posted by
6871 posts

I usually use and try to book cars many months in advance for the best rates (for leisure trips only). I just looked up a sample week for end of January 2018 for SEATAC, and it look like Sixt comes fairly close to Dollar in terms of base price ($17 per day vs. $14) versus the other companies which are much more expensive. I've rented almost every company imaginable, so I don't even bother reading company reviews (I've had a billing problem even with Hertz, which is supposed to be great).

If for some reason you want to stay clear of Dollar, then go with Sixt. I also agree with shopping around and seeing if the off-airport rates are better, provided you can get a shuttle easily. In January, you should be able to get a decent price on a weekly rental without much effort.

Posted by
5476 posts

I had a very bad airport-bus experience with Dollar at LAX, but that was about two years ago. Be aware that the big companies have bought the two major tiny companies. So they share desks at smaller (and European) airports. Because I am sometimes willing to take the company CDW for short rentals, I don't always get the upsell. The OP doesn't make quite enough about whether he plans to use his credit card coverage. There are downsides to that, especially in states with messed up car insurance businesses, like New Jersey.

Larry, remember that for all products and services, a bad experience is more likely to produce an internet post than is a good experience. And, (not an original though from me ... or Tolstoy) "All Five-Star reviews are alike, all One-Star reviews are unique, passionate, lengthy FLAMES!" One advantage of TA (which Rick doesn't care for .. ) is that there are so many reviews that you can get a feel for the unreliable ones, IMHO.

Posted by
1117 posts

I suspect Anna’s bad experience was with Alamo, not Hertz

The first one, yes. The other ones, I am not so sure. As I said, we (naturally) took a different company after each bad experience, and the most common ones we get to book from here are Alamo, Avis, and Hertz.

And while Alamo tends to be slightly cheaper than the other two, those three really aren't that far apart from each other in terms of being "budget". And I think the very positive LA experience actually was Alamo. So it's difficult to really find a system and say "this one is good, and that one is bad".

a bad experience is more likely to produce an internet post than is a
good experience

You're certainly right on that, and I'll almost have to say "touché" (though in all fairness I did also mention a very positive experience). :-)

However, my point was that with these companies, in my experience it doesn't make much of a difference. They pretty much all seem to have this aggressive selling policy, which I would certainly consider a bad experience in itself. And that in turn, IMO, makes negative experiences and reports concerning car rental companies accumulate more than with other businesses.

This is beside the point here, or else I would tell you all about the consistently positive experiences we had with camper van rentals. :-)

Posted by
2721 posts

I’ve also found good deals on AutoEurope also rents cars in the US. To save money, pick up the car in Seattle, not at Sea-Tac. It can be worth the trip!

Posted by
3491 posts

While not actually bad experiences with Dollar, I find them annoying enough that I have stopped renting from them. Top bad experience was in Hawaii where a woman checked in a car a couple people ahead of me and the lot driver hooked the rear bumper on a post while moving the car and ripped the bumper off the vehicle. The counter agent jokingly said "Must have been damaged by the renter, will have to charge her for that!" The renter had already boarded the bus to the terminal so was not there to see this. I unexpectedly ran into the woman in the airport and told her what I heard offering to be a witness if she did get charged for anything. Never heard from her. But this gave me a really bad feeling about the company.

I do rent a lot. I have found that the absolute lowest price or renting through a third party is seldom the best rental experience. While I am not going to pay a huge amounts to rent when a reasonably lower price is available, I find I get the best over all treatment renting directly from the company and not paying in advance. I usually rent from Hertz with Avis second. Both offer AAA discounts.

Posted by
6642 posts

I used to travel regularly for personal business (that is, expenses out of my pocket) and preferred renting from Hertz, as by joining their frequent renter program, I could check in using the "skip the line" kiosks to get my car. Thus avoiding the high pressure up-sell talk. I'm guessing that all the majors have something similar now.

Posted by
2560 posts

I am company agnostic and driven only by price. I have had good and bad experiences with all the agencies. They have consolidated so, for example, Thrifty and Dollar are owned by Hertz. Alamo, Enterprise and National are all one company. Avis, Budget, Payless-one company. They all will attempt to upsell when the agents are properly incentivized, which most are. I usually start with booking through Southwest as I fly them most often and I get points. I compare rates with Kayak, Priceline (being sure I'm not paying a non-refundable advance payment). As another poster advised, I check back very often and almost always find a better rate or a better car for the same rate, then I re-book. Recently we took a 4 day trip to Portland and did not rent a car. We choose to use Uber and Lyft for everything. It was liberating and much cheaper overall, especially when you add in the ridiculous prices hotels now charge for parking. Larry, consider this. Those drivers will take you wherever you want to go, whenever you want to go, and in Seattle there are many of them.

Posted by
6871 posts

I was in Seattle in May, and you definitely don't need a car if staying overnight in the city (my hotel had a $30 parking charge for example, and I bet that's not atypical in the city proper), so I would save it for any trips outside the city only. The light rail works well in Seattle and goes straight to the airport.

This would not be as efficient as having a car with you, but just putting it out there that Sound Transit also extends to Edmonds (and beyond).

Posted by
5262 posts

Since I live here, I have very limited experience with car rentals in this area. But a few observations anyway.

First, the Sounder is a commuter train service that runs only during morning and evening rush hours, not necessarily when a visitor wants to travel. Probably not a good option unless, for example, you want to spend a day in downtown Tacoma (museums, galleries, etc.) or Edmonds (urban beach, Rick Steves headquarters). The light rail service from SeaTac airport is different -- takes you into downtown Seattle in about half an hour, pretty easy to use even with luggage.

Second, as others have suggested and as seems true everywhere, renting from an airport location will cost more because the airports charge big fees to the rental companies. If you have time and mobility, look for a location in Seattle.

Third, that said, most Seattle sights are easily seen without driving, there's an excellent bus system, the monorail is useful for sightseeing (though not much else), and downtown hotels charge a lot for parking. By the way, if the weather's nice a great sightseeing bargain is a walk-on round trip on one of the state ferries from downtown across Puget Sound to either Bainbridge or (longer) Bremerton. It's free going across and cheap going back, with great views of the Sound, mountains, and Seattle skyline. No reservation or vehicle needed.

Fourth, lacking an income tax, Washington State hits visitors with a hefty sales tax and various other taxes to extract your money so we don't have to spend as much of our own on schools and such. (Don't expect me to defend this, just a fact of life.) In King County where Seattle is, there's a big hotel-motel tax and a big car rental tax, much of the revenue going to big downtown stadiums for our (mostly winning) Seahawks and Sounders and (mostly losing) Mariners.

Finally, my sense is that car rental companies are very competitive and charge about the same for a comparable product. How much aggressive counter upselling you experience may depend on how much experience the agent thinks you have fending off the come-ons. In my case, being older and acting cranky saves me a lot of aggravation. ;-)

Posted by
5488 posts

I have rented from most of the car rental companies. First I do a Kayak search for best price. Frequently, there are several that offer about the same prices. Hertz and Avis always seem to be priced out of the competition, so I never rent with them, unless the prices difference is small.

I recently rented from Budget and it went very well. I have never had a problem with Budget. I once used Enterprise, but now their prices are usually the same as Budget. Thrifty is another that I have used successfully. I have used Dollar and never had a problem with them, but, I would go with Budget, Enterprise or Thrify first.

Posted by
21724 posts

Hate to say it, but you kind of get what you pay for. The deep discount people have to cut corners somewhere. Dollar, Fox, and Alamo have been on my "Do Not Rent" list for years for many of the reasons previously stated. Recently have rented from Alamo because it popped up on the Costco site and experience has been better but not great. All will try hard to upgrade insurance and car size. Just the nature of the business. Have gone to the one time insurance fee with American Express. When I show the AE card and mention the AE insurance, the insurance discussion ends quickly.

When you ask for best value do you want the cheapest rate or the best balance between rate and service?

Posted by
409 posts

I book alot of cars, and i've found two really, really good ways to get the best fares. I compare the two, and go with the cheapest.

1) and go to the car rental section. They compare all the prices in a neat little row, and tell you which ones give Southwest points.

2) - obviously not everyone is allowed there, but you might be - and go to the rental car section of the members site. I always end up with Budget and it's almost always cheap by a good bit.

I just booked a car for D.C. for two weeks, the price on usaa/Budget was $85 less that all other sites i looked at!

Ex Pat in Waterville, Ireland

Posted by
288 posts

I love hotwire for rental cars. To me the companies seem about the same. Hotwire tells you a price on a certain size car and then after you buy gives you the company. If you are renting at the airport they will always be at the airport or a quick shuttle from the airport. More often than not I get hertz or avis anyway.

Posted by
3304 posts

After decades of car rental experience, I have come up with a couple of rules for myself. First, I only rent with companies that have in-terminal offices. Some airports have all companies in a rental car center, so of course, this wouldn’t apply. However, the need to find an off-site office and get back to the airport adds a layer of time and tension I really prefer to avoid when possible.
My 2nd rule is to buy the offered tank of gas so as to avoid the need to refill when returning. I’m a bit flexible on this one. Recently, for example, when visiting my daughter in Portland, I declined the gas because I knew we would use the car to get to her house, drive in town a bit, and go back to the airport. We had plenty of time, and the tank took only 3/4 gallon. It would have been foolish to pay for a full tank. However, some people sometimes focus on the “gift” of leftover fuel you leave to the company when you prepay for gas. I believe this is a misplaced concern. Again, I like to keep my eye on convenience when traveling.

Some folks will have different views; but after several frustrating attempts to find service stations and return locations , leading to nearly missing flights, these are my rules.

Posted by
5697 posts

Costco member ? We got a good price on an airport rental in New Orleans through Costco travel.

Posted by
271 posts

My 2 cents. Having used Budget (Denver & LA), Enterprise (Detroit), & Sixt (Orlando) in the last few months I can say that Sixt was the worse of the 3. Budget upgraded me to a different class of vehicle without fuss or delay when my requested class was not available. I used Budget Fastbreak and the lot attendant went so far as to tell me that if I saw anything else that I liked or preferred to bring my paperwork back and she will make the change to the vehicle I picked out. Enterprise was easy and problem free. Sixt; my first time renting from them. Orlando location. Arrived to pick up a Mustang/Camaro convertible as reserved. I see one and am told that is not available but one is in the wash rack and "will be right out". An hour later we are still waiting as I see car after car come out of the wash rack. While we are waiting the counter people disappear for minutes at a time. Finally am able to stop an employee (not a counter person) and ask where our vehicle is. The reluctantly upgrade us to a MB C class convertible (not impressed with the vehicle by the way). The counter lady we had initially dealt with brought the car up, handed me the keys and took off. Upon returning the vehicle I ask for a receipt and I am told that they will email me. They did. The receipt had an extra day tacked on because they checked in my 2pm return at 9pm that evening. I have found Hertz & Avis to be priced much higher than the others. So, pay your money, take your chances. A word of advice if I may when picking up the car. Do a pre-trip before leaving the lot. Walk around the vehicle and notice and have them notate any damage or scratch that you see no matter how minor. Turn the headlights and the emergency flashers on to verify the headlights and turn signals work. Turn the wipers on also. Upon return, take a picture of all sides of the vehicle and and the dash with the returning mileage. Good luck!

Posted by
21075 posts

Also check to be sure you have windshield-wiper fluid. I learned that one the hard way.

Posted by
5697 posts

And hold on to the paperwork for a couple of weeks -- we received a bill from a rental agency for "damages" because the receiving agent didn't do a check-in review while we were there and when he later found damage he didn't go back to his agency's records (which showed existing dent/scratch in that same area) but assumed we caused it. Because I had kept the original paperwork, I was able to easily counter their claim. $2,000 saved.