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.

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]

Car Rally Is ‘Halloween On Wheels’

Looking for a different way to celebrate Halloween this year? Do you love “The Amazing Race”? Do you like dressing up in costumes? If so, then round up some friends and spend your Halloween weekend going head-to-head with other road warriors in the Rental Car Rally. Described as “Halloween on Wheels,” Rental Car Rally (RCR) sends costumed teams on an expedition between two cities with checkpoints and challenges along the way, and is held multiple times each year in different cities across the country.

Meeting at a secret starting line, teams converge for a kick-off party and receive a briefcase containing a series of checkpoints they must find over the next 24 hours. The team that successfully finds all checkpoints (verified by requiring photos at each one) in the lowest amount of miles wins the prized Golden Gas Pump, and major bragging rights. Style points, defined by “looking awesome,” also play a role in the overall winner. Checkpoints include off-the-beaten-track places like haunted hotels, Cold War missile silos, closed amusement parks and brothels.

The $179 tickets are per vehicle, not per person. Teams wanting extra perks can upgrade to a $699 “Joe Viterbo” ticket, which includes a “deluxe steel briefcase” at the starting line, and a suite and steak dinner at the finish line hotel. There’s even a $2,999 ticket, that no one has ever purchased, and includes a shot of pure human adrenaline. Teams pick their own themes, which have ranged from Gilligan’s Island to Hooters Girls to Ron Burgundy and the Channel 4 News Team. While using an actual rental car is not required, it is highly advisable (with full insurance policies) due to mischief along the way.

The rally concludes with a party in the finish line city, which is still unannounced. Organizers say they got the idea of RCR by wanting to participate in international road trip adventure Gumball 3000, but not having the money for the six-figure entry fee. Previous RCR’s include Los Angeles to Tombstone, Los Angeles to Tahoe, New York City to Montreal and San Francisco to Yuma. Two 2013 RCR’s have already been announced for this year: June 21 from Los Angeles and August 13 from New York City. You can find out more at the rally homepage.

[Photos Courtesy Spencer Harrison and Rental Car Rally]

Weekending: Varna, Bulgaria

weekend bulgaria travel varna
Back in September, the end of the Muslim month of Ramadan offered locals and expats like me an excuse to go on holiday while our American friends were celebrating the end of summer and Labor Day. With more time to explore than a typical Weekending trip, I checked out Turkey’s most western neighbor, Bulgaria, and fell in love with modern and medieval captials Sofia and Veliko Tarnovo.

The place: Varna, Bulgaria

Varna is known as the summertime capital of Bulgaria, a Black Sea beach town that’s a destination unto itself with several notable museums, an active cultural scene, and the gateway to the coastal resort towns.

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  • Unlike many of the purpose-built, touristy resort towns that litter the coast, Varna manages to maintain a nice balance of beach town and actual city. Pedestrian streets Knyaz Boris and Slivnitsa are great for window shopping and people watching day and night, and Varna has a handful of quirky and interesting museums to visit. The Archaeology Museum is one of the country’s best, and my visit to the creepily-cool Medical History museum (with nice Bulgarian lady following me around turning lights on and off as in VT) was one of my favorite travel experiences. Strolling the Sea Garden is a pleasant way to spend an afternoon, though the zoo is maybe the grimmest I’ve seen yet (I could have easily stuck my head into the lion’s cage with no interferrence) but with admission under $1, it’s hard to complain.
  • The variety of daytime diversions extends to nightlife too, with everything from sceney beach clubs to seedy casinos to dive bars. Indian Bar has an eclectic decor of Native American art and Italian soccer banners which manages to be more charming that offensive, while Saloon Bar is just the kind of place I’d love in my neighborhood: cheap drinks, good music, and a bartender that remembers you after one drink. Varna is also the birthplace to Happy Bar & Grill, a chain restaurant all over Bulgaria (and now in Spain too) that resembles a love child of Hooters and T.G.I. Friday’s, in the best sense. Happy has a vaguely nostalgic rock-and-roll Americana theme going on, a menu of Bulgarian food and pizza (they also have some sushi restaurants), and waitresses clad in miniskirts and nude pantyhose. There are several location including a tiki beach bar, and any of them are good spots to take advantage of free wi-fi, decent coffee, and as many ’80s music videos as you can handle. Varna is a bit pricier than other towns in Bulgaria but still a steal by Western standards.

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  • Lovely as Varna may be, the travel season is really limited to summer. While there is plenty to do in cool weather, there is greatly reduced transportation in and around town, many waterfront cafes will close in winter, and you’ll miss out on experiencing the summer scene. The Black Sea has been the hot weather refuge of many Europeans for decades and Varna retains some old-school (and Communist-era) flavor (see the above photo of the thermal pools frequented by the elder residences) while joining the modern world with boutique hotels and sushi restaurants popping up to serve a growing international clientele. If you visit Bulgaria in cold weather, your time would be better spent exploring the old towns and museums in central and western Bulgaria.
  • I’d be remiss in wrapping up a series on Bulgaria without pointing out the obvious obstacle: Cyrillic. Invented in Bulgaria and not Russia, the alphabet is less complicated than you think but takes some adjustment and practice to feel comfortable reading signs and maps. I was fortunate to travel with my Russian-speaking husband who could at least read the alphabet (though Russian and Bulgarian are as dissimilar as English and Spanish) but I got the hang of it quickly enough. Rather than trying to memorize the alphabet in advance, transcribe a few key and familiar words, such as your name, your hotel, and the towns you are visiting so you can begin to recognize the characters. Also, Bulgaria’s quirk is the reverse head nod: they nod horizontally for yes, vertically for no. This feels very foreign the first time you experience it but makes an odd sense after a few days.

Getting there

Most of the international flights to Varna are from Eastern Europe, though the great budget carrier Wizz Air flies from London and Sofia. Bus service is excellent throughout the country (about 7 hours from Sofia) or from Istanbul (10 hours) or Bucharest (7 hours), but train service is slower and less comfortable.

Make it a week

Rent a car or bus hop along the coast if the weather is good, taking note that if a town has a foreign name (like Golden Sands) it’s probably an overbuilt tourist town. You could also combine with other regions of Bulgaria. I fit in Sofia, Veliko Tarnavo, and Varna comfortably in an 8 day Saturday – Sunday trip, traveling between cities by bus and returning to Sofia for my international flight on Wizz Air.

Read about more Weekending trips here.

Ask Gadling: Car rental scams, overcharges and paying for damages you didn’t cause

When it comes to rental cars, you can’t really live with them, and you can’t live without them. Despite weird pricing methods, overpriced gas charges and shady insurance tactics, sooner or later you’ll show up somewhere in need of a vehicle.

Thankfully, most rentals will make it from start to finish without any problems, but eventually, you are going to find yourself face to face with a rental company that claims you damaged their car, kept it longer than agreed upon or forgot to fill up the tank.

So, here are tips on how to deal with rental car company deals and scams – and what you can do to prevent and resolve issues.
Always pay attention to the contract

Logical tip, right? Rental car companies are extremely punctual. When you enter your rental information online, you’ll be asked for the exact times you need the vehicle. This is where they’ll get you – show up early, and they’ll add a few hours to the rental, show up late, and they may even charge you an extra day. The funny thing is that if you add extra hours when you place the rental order, the cost almost never goes up.

So – make sure to add a few hours to the front and end of your rental to allow for flight delays or early arrivals. Always print your online rental agreement and bring it with you. If you used a discount code when making the reservation, be sure to bring the coupon or page showing you are entitled to the discount.

When you arrive at the rental desk, take a close look at the contract, and compare it with what you printed at home. Do not let the rental company change the contract without discussing it with you. If you are offered an upgrade, make sure that any overages are charged at the original rate – you wouldn’t be the first to get a free upgrade, but be charged the upgraded rate for returning it an hour late.

If you are using an elite desk to pick up your vehicle, you’ll usually bypass the desk and drive straight to the gate – but even here, you’ll be given a rental agreement before driving off, so take a minute to go over the fine print here, and be sure to mention to the agent any damage you noticed on the vehicle (more on that in a moment.)

When asked whether you need insurance, you’ll usually be offered several different policies – most of which are already included in your own auto insurance policy or credit card. Be sure to check this before you arrive at the airport. Don’t pay for any insurance already covered by your own policy or card.

When renting a car, your credit card is your best friend

If you have a major credit card, chances are it’ll come with a variety of insurance protections built in. If not, consider upgrading to a card that does. When I was faced with a $2900 bill for a quarter inch scratch on a Mercedes I rented in Europe, American Express took care of the whole thing, and all I had to do was sign one piece of paper. Without the card, I would have been on the hook for the entire bill.

Always do a walk-around inspection before accepting your vehicle

What takes 30 seconds, and can save you $3000 on your insurance? (Hint: it does not involve calling Geico.) It is the rental car walk-around. Before driving off the lot, always do a close inspection of the entire care. Renting at night? Pull out your flashlight. Make sure you report every single ding, dent, scratch, scrape or missing body panel to a car rental agent. Then, get them to note it on your rental agreement and make a note of the name of the agent that witnessed the damage.

Never, ever accept their word that it is “ok” – when you return the car with damage that was not your fault, claiming someone said it would be “ok” won’t be enough to get charges waived.

I know how much of a waste of time this is, and I’m sure you just want to get the hell away from the airport and check into your hotel, but damage to rental cars is big business -and if you can’t prove you did not damage the car, you will be charged to get it fixed.

The gas pricing scam

Isn’t it convenient that gas stations around the airport charge up to 20% more than the same brand away from the airport?

I know of one major international airport where the gas station is owned by the largest rental operator – making for a perfectly legal racket. When you rent your vehicle, you’ll be asked how you plan to fill its tank – you’ll either fill it up yourself, have the rental firm fill it up for you upon return (pre-arranged) or just ignore the whole issue and pay $7/gallon when they realize the tank is half empty. Pre-paid gas is a scam because no matter how much you use, you’ll pay for a full tank of gas. The only way to make this work is if you know in advance that you’ll arrive at the airport running on fumes.

Whatever you do – don’t just return the car with an empty tank. Of course, if you are running really late for the last flight of the day, you don’t have a choice, but if you let the rental company take care of filling up the car, they’ll fill it with special Unicorn juice that costs three times the current gas price at the local station.

One word of advise: always keep your gas receipts, and make sure you use a local station no more than 2-4 miles away. I’ve experienced a firm that claimed the gas station I used was too far away to let the car qualify as “full” – so they charged me $15 for what they claimed was two gallons.

Upon returning the car, the rental firm claims you damaged it

Funny how the rental company lets you drive off the lot without checking their car, but insists on checking every corner of it when you bring it back. Even if they don’t do an immediate inspection upon return, rest assured that they will check it out, and charge you for any damage that was not reported on the rental agreement. And don’t think that they’ll ignore a single thing – even the smallest scratch is enough for them to charge you.

If you return a car and the inspection uncovers damage, always check against the rental agreement to see whether the damage was already reported. If the damage is new, and you had not seen it when you inspected it yourself, you are out of luck – and will have to pay for it. If possible, make photos of the damage from all angles and write a clear description of the damage the rental company claims you caused. This will prevent them from adding other damage to the repair bill that was not caused by you.

In some cases, they may not even contact you, they’ll just charge your card for the entire amount they feel is fair. Talk about a nasty surprise when you get your statement.

And get this – they’ll also charge you the full non-discounted rental price for every day the vehicle is out of commission while someone repairs said scratch. This means that the kind of damage you can get fixed at the local body shop for $200, could cost the rental firm $2000 to fix. Rental car damage is big business – and you could end up being the one that funds it.

Now, there are of course incidents where the damage is not only your fault, but also quite evident. In those cases, you’ll want to contact the rental firm before returning the car and contact your own insurance firm or credit card company. If the vehicle is no longer drivable, ask them to bring a replacement.

When returning your car, always ask for a receipt

This is where it pays to give yourself some extra time at the airport. When you return the vehicle, wait for an agent to do their inspection, hand them your gas receipt (unless you want them to fill it up) and ask for a final rental receipt. Yes – in many cases you can just drop it off, leave the keys in the ignition and walk away, but if they overcharge you, you’ll have a hard time fighting this. Like with rental car damage, they’ll simply charge your card without contact you about overages.

[Photos: Hertz rental: Flickr/Alex-S, Car crash: Flickr/Daveeynin, Gas station: Flickr/Fortyseven]