Hertz Launches Dream Car Rental Service For Those Who Just Can’t Drive 55

Aston Martin Vantage available from Hertz Dream Cars
Courtesy of Aston Martin

Yesterday, Hertz, one of the largest rental car companies in the world, announced the launch of their new Dream Cars service in the U.S. This new offering allows customers to rent exotic sports cars and high-end luxury models that typically haven’t been available from the company in the past, granting travelers an opportunity to explore their destination in head-turning style.

Some of the vehicles that are available for rent include the Aston Martin V8 Vantage, Bentley Continental GT, Ferrari F430, Lamborghini Gallardo, Mercedes-Benz AMG, Porsche 911 and the SRT Viper, just to name a few. And for those who want to enjoy a luxury ride while still remaining eco-friendly, Hertz is even offering the Tesla Model S electric sedan.

The Dream Car service extends well beyond just renting an amazing luxury ride. Hertz will also send a representative to deliver the car to the customer and give them a one-on-one orientation of the vehicle as well. Customers can be met at their terminal in the airport or the car can be delivered to a location of their choice.Hertz says that Dream Cars will soon be available in 35 markets across the U.S., including such major cities as Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Miami, Dallas and Chicago. As of this writing, the website lists only Florida locations such as Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach, however, so it may take some time for the service to spread out. It should also be noted that not all vehicles are available in each location, so if you’re considering renting your personal dream car, you may want to peruse the catalog ahead of time.

The website doesn’t list pricing for these high-end vehicles, but you can bet they’ll be well beyond what most of us can afford. Still, if you’re looking to splurge on your next vacation and you want to spend a few days driving around in a car that is above and beyond anything you’ve ever imagined, this is a service that can deliver that experience for you.

As for me, I’m already daydreaming about living out my James Bond fantasies with that Aston Martin Vantage.

Saying ‘No’ To Add-Ons At The Car Rental Counter

Thrifty Car RentalI’m a rental car company’s worst customer. I always refuse all the additional insurance coverage options, the pre-paid fuel option and the toll pass. I bring my own GPS and car seats for my little boys, I tend to say, “no thanks” when they tell me I can upgrade for a fee, and I often prepay for my rental cars on Priceline. Usually car rental agents size me up as a cheapskate and quickly hand over the keys to a car, but a gentleman at the Thrifty branch at San Francisco International Airport actually almost managed to sell me something last week. Almost.

He seemed strangely dismayed when I told him I had my own GPS and car seats and didn’t want to pre-pay for my fuel or “upgrade” to an SUV. And then he threw me for a loop asking for proof that I had liability insurance when I told him I wanted to decline coverage because my credit card company would cover it.

“Do you have proof?” he repeated.”What, you mean a photocopy of my insurance coverage?” I asked, confused.

Indeed that was what he wanted, and I told him that in 20 years of renting cars no one had ever asked me for it.

“But this is California,” he protested. “If you get pulled over, you’re going to need proof. You’ll get a ticket.”

I told him I’d take my chances and he moved on to his final sales pitch: a toll pass.

“You’ll need a toll pass,” he insisted.

I actually thought about getting one, but when he told me they cost $9.95 a day or $39.95 per week plus whatever toll charges one accrues, I told him I’d pass.

“But are you going across the Golden Gate Bridge?” he asked.

“I don’t really know,” I admitted, “probably.”

“Well,” he said, sounding pleased with himself, “You’ll need the toll pass then because there’s no one there to collect money any more.”

I had no idea what he was talking about but I later looked it up and found out that he was right – sort of. As of late March, cash is not accepted at the iconic bridge, built in 1937, heading into San Francisco (it’s free heading north bound), so you have to call a telephone number (1-877-Bay-toll during bankers hours only, Monday-Saturday) and pay the fee before crossing the bridge. (Those who used the bridge often can buy a digital transponder that deducts money from a prepaid account or credit card.)

I told him I’d take my chances and, after I asked about how to cross the bridge, he handed me a flyer detailing the above procedure. Feeling exhausted from all the sales pitches, I asked him what kind of cars he had available.

“You don’t get a choice,” he said.

The last time I rented from Thrifty was in Costa Rica and that experience was less than positive as well, as they quoted me a price and then doubled it (unstated mandatory insurance) when I got to the counter. I’ve had two strikes with Thrifty in 2013 after numerous positive experiences in the past, but to be fair to them, I think these heavy handed sales tactics are becoming common for all the major car rental companies, as they seek new revenue streams.

Thrifty and some of the other discount chains advertise low prices so to make up for that they have to try to sell you add-ons. And their agents no doubt have goals and incentives to try to up-sell as many clients as possible.

What’s the take away here? First, if you’re visiting San Francisco, be aware of the situation at the Golden Gate Bridge but don’t think you have to necessarily buy a toll pass. With respect to the insurance, it probably is a good idea to travel with a copy of whatever policy you’ll be using. And as for all the other add-ons, GPS, car seats, upgrades, prepaying fuel and the rest, well, buyer beware.

[Photo credit: Birdie Holsclaw on Flickr]

How To Get Around Priceline’s Annoying New Bidding Hurdles

shatnerIf you’re accustomed to bidding for hotels, flights and rental cars on Priceline, you may have noticed that in recent months the bidding process has become more cumbersome and time consuming. When your bid is rejected, you need to change some element of your offer before bidding again – the dates, the geographic area, the vehicle class for car rentals or the star level for hotels – in order to bid again. Or you wait 24 hours to submit the same bid.

In the past, if your bid was rejected for say a full size SUV, you could try again for a mid-size SUV, and if you were rejected again, you could keep going right on down the line to full-size, standard, intermediate, compact, economy and so on (same concept for hotels but with stars and geographic zones). But recently Priceline appears to be making a concerted effort to prevent bidders from making more than a couple bids in quick succession.I’ve noticed that while bidding for cars and hotels recently that after my bid is rejected, the system will often try to sell me on an “exclusive offer” (none of which have ever been remotely tempting) or it will tell me I can bid again without changing any parameters at a higher price. For rental cars, the system now only allows one to bid twice before it fails to allow you change parameters and bid again.

For example, while bidding on a rental car for an upcoming trip to San Francisco, after having bids on two car categories rejected, the system gave me two choices: an “exclusive offer” of a mid-size car rental for a ridiculous $523 per week (double the lowest price I saw online) or a “limited time offer” of $26 per day, not including taxes and fees. I didn’t want either one, and there was no link to simply re-bid for a different type of car. But take a look in the upper right corner of your screen and there is a very small, almost hidden link that says, “Update itinerary.” All you have to do is click that, adjust your pick up or drop off time by 30 minutes and then you can bid again. (Don’t worry; the rental car company isn’t going to hold you to an exact arrival time.)

But in some cases, especially with hotels, that link isn’t even there, so you have to go back to the home page, re-enter all your information, adjust your bid and try again. This is extremely time consuming but it also beats the alternative. I use Priceline all the time and have found that whatever price the Priceline system allows you to rebid at isn’t usually the lowest price you can get. For example, if they allow you to rebid without changing any criteria for a car at say $20 a day, or a hotel zone at $100, you can probably get the car for $17-18, and the hotel for around $80, so it’s worth it to return to the home page and simply start from scratch, rather than following their prompts.

Remember, the more money you spend, the more they make, so Priceline has no incentive to get you the best price. For more on how to game Priceline’s system click here and for more on how Priceline sets their hotel star ratings click here.

[Photo credit: Loren Javier on Flickr]

New Spring Road Trip Options Save Money And Time

spring road trip

March 20 is the first day of spring and for those in the northern plains of the United States, the day just can’t get here fast enough. Battered by late winter storms, spring road trip thoughts were put on hold as attention was drawn to record snowfalls. Spring will eventually get here. When it does, plans for a road trip might be just to get out of town with the destination unknown or a direct route to a popular spring break destination. Since spring of last year, the world of road trip gear has seen some new, helpful additions. Let’s take a look.

Drive A New Car
If the family auto is not quite in its best shape and buying a new car is more of a dream than a reality, why not rent one?

Becoming increasingly popular for road trips is renting a car from any one of a number of car rental companies that offer discounted weekend rates. Starting at $9.99 per day, Enterprise offers a weekend special that includes an Economy or Compact car rented on Friday and ending the following Monday that includes 100 miles per day.

Hertz has a similar deal for $14.99 when the vehicle is picked up on Thursday and returned on Sunday with unlimited miles.

Google Field Trip
Location-based apps can be helpful in a number of ways. HipGeo, LiveTrekker and other GPS-fired renditions can almost automatically produce a travel journal, tagging our photos, video and more without a lot of work. At the end of a trip, just a little editing can produce an accurate depiction of where we go plus what we see and do.

Google Field Trip’s value is simple. Using that same location-based technology, it runs in the background on your android (initially) and iPhone (new) smartphone then directly taps Google’s rich content, automatically popping up a card with details about the location.

Nice for road trips, settings allow audible notification, speaking the name of places only or the title and description. Better yet, a choice of allowing audio all the time or selecting when “headset is connected,” “bluetooth headset or audio is connected” or “device is docked” are available as well as “disable when driving.”

Users can also select areas of interest like architecture, lifestyle, historic places and events, food and others.

All the GPS In One Place
Back to Hertz we go for something entirely different and not on the market last year. Their new NeverLost GPS option promises the best of mobile technologies and traditional GPS devices to help plan and navigate road trips.

Hertz told Gadling that their NeverLost system “eliminates the need (and risk) of juggling a cellphone to get directions and find destinations while driving, allowing users to manage their entire trip at the push of a button,” in an email. That claim looks to be true and NeverLost does include some unique features we look to see in other auto-based GPS in-dash systems.

A unique feature is being able to access the program on a phone or computer to remotely enter destination addresses, rather than sitting in the car to add them before hitting the road.

Synced with their My Explore App for iPhone and android, NeverLost has an itinerary planner, suggested sights and events in the area and even (you guessed it) a social element (“hey you in the pickup, got your ears on?”).

Check this video for more on how nicely this one might fit into your spring road trip plans:



[Image credits – Flickr user Black Photo Studio / Hertz]

Mandatory Car Rental Insurance: Watch Out For Bait-And-Switch Pricing

scamMandatory insurance. Those are two words that I hate to hear when I’m renting a car outside the U.S. On Thursday night, I spent an hour and a half in a Thrifty Rent a Car location near the airport in San Jose, Costa Rica, trying to understand how an eight-day rental that I expected to pay $394 for was somehow going to cost me either $786 or $946. I’m an experienced traveler and I should have known better. Here’s how I got scammed and how you can avoid the same fate.

I spent a huge amount of time shopping around for a deal on a rental car for an eight-day trip to Costa Rica and the best price I found was through Thrifty, which quoted me a price of $394 for an automatic transmission SUV. By American standards, this was no bargain, but in Costa Rica during the high season it was the best deal I could find.

I received a confirmation email from Thrifty that listed my estimated “mandatory charges” (base rental price, one-way drop off surcharge, vehicle license fee) plus optional charges (booster seat for child), and then the “estimated grand total” price. Two days before we arrived in country, the local branch also confirmed the reservation and the price via email. Even in the fine print of both emails there is no mention of any additional charges or mandatory insurance costs.We arrived at the Thrifty location near the San Jose airport on Thursday night and, despite the fact that there was only one person in front of us in line, we waited 40 minutes to find out that our $394 rental car was actually going to cost $786 if we opted for the lowest possible level of insurance or $946 if we chose the more comprehensive coverage. We spent nearly another hour unsuccessfully trying to untangle the mess and it quickly became clear why we’d waited so long to get to the counter in the first place: everyone was arguing with them about the same issue as they were shocked to find double the rates they expected.

I thought it was a scam because the agent was jotting down all these prices on a scrap of paper as though he was making it up as he went along. I’ve been hit up for mandatory insurance in other countries before but those costs were more an annoyance than the budget buster this was. So I walked out and tried two other rental car places, both of which quoted similar rates.

Rather than pay nearly $100 per day to rent the car, we took a cab to our hotel and I studied the confirmation email from Thrifty. Even in the fine print and “terms and conditions” of the confirmation email there was no mention of the mandatory insurance. I called Thrifty to complain and all they could manage was their contention that my rate was only an “estimated grand total” and not an “actual grand total.”

I went back to Thrifty’s website and tried to make a new reservation, this time studying all the fine print in the terms and conditions section and still couldn’t find any mention of the huge mandatory insurance cost.

I also checked the section on car rentals in my guidebook (Frommer’s) and there is no explicit warning about the exorbitant mandatory insurance, only a boilerplate sentence about checking to see if your existing insurance in the U.S. will cover you in Costa Rica.

I’m sure that Thrifty isn’t the only company guilty of this sort of bait-and-switch pricing, and as an experienced traveler, who has rented cars in a variety of countries, I should have clarified that their “grand total” estimate really was going to be the grand total. But I took the term “grand total” at face value. Next time I’ll know better and you should too. In the meantime, which way to the San Jose bus station?

[Photo credit: jepoirrier on Flickr]