Enter to win jetBlue’s Jet and Drive Giveaway

I love a good travel contest, especially one that requires little effort to enter. So I’m excited about the jetBlue and Hertz Jet & Drive Giveaway, which runs now through through January 31, 2010. To enter, all you need to do is surf on over to the website, complete your free registration and then enter your email address. Easy, peasy.

For that minimal effort, you could win some pretty cool prizes, depending on the number of entries for the day. Yes, that’s right – the prizes will vary according to how many people have entered for the day, and you can enter every single day of the contest. If 2,500 people or less enter on a given day, the winner gets a $100 Hertz rental card. With 2,500 or more entries, the card’s value goes up to $250. But if 5,000 people enter, the lucky winner gets a $500 jetBlue gift card!

There will also be up to five grand prizes given away, one each time the total number of contest entries reaches another 50,000 milestone. The grand prize includes airfare to one of five destinations, Hertz rental car, and accommodations at a designated Starwood or Marriott hotel for two people. Destinations include New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando and Aruba.

Budget and Avis ban smoking in rental cars

First you couldn’t smoke on planes. Then trains banned smoking. Now, you can’t smoke in rental cars, at least, not if you rent from Avis or Budget. As of October 1, all cars in both rental companies’ fleets will be non-smoking.

Avis and Budget say the policy came about in response to the needs of renters, citing a non-smoking car as the most-popular rental request. Cars that have been smoked in also require additional cleaning and are out of service longer, costing the companies more money. A spokesman for the Avis Budget Group says they expect some smokers to be upset with the new rules and to take their business elsewhere, but that they think overall the new plan will attract more customers than it will lose.

Avis and Budget will be the first major rental car companies to ban smoking entirely (others offer “non-smoking” cars but many don’t guarantee them), though they are only instituting the ban among their North American fleet, not worldwide. Each car will undergo an inspection upon return and renters who have smoked in the vehicle will be charged a cleaning fee of up to $250.


No discounts for rental cars

There’s still money in rental cars, according to the latest from the New York Times. In May, the average rental rate (airport) for a compact ride was $345.99 for a week – as long as you booked it seven days in advance. That’s an increase of 73 percent from $199.65 in May 2008, according to Abrams Consulting Group, which watches this stuff. As of mid-June, the 2008-to-2009 change was narrower: $210.38 to $347.44 (up 65 percent).

The price increases, it seems, are our own fault. Demand is down 15 percent, which forces the rental car companies to cut their fleets back – ultimately engineering a shortage that pushes up prices. So, if we were renting more cars, they would be cheaper.

One of the side-effects of this dynamic is that cars are staying in the rental fleets longer. Remember when you’d never see a rental car with more than 30,000 miles on it? Well, don’t count on that threshold any more. The average rental car’s age is now up to 11 months – that has to be forever in dog years – as companies try to extract as much value from each ride as possible.

There are a few ways you can find a cheaper rental car, which you can learn after the jump.

Start looking early. If a rental car company isn’t sold out for when you want it (always a possibility), you’ll pay a fortune for the little remaining inventory.

Skip the airport lots. You could wind up paying an extra 30 percent that way. Head into the local city instead – or even better, the ‘burbs. A friend of mine used to manage a rental car location outside Boston and used to tell me just how accommodating they would be: discounts, pickup and drop-off and so on.

Don’t be afraid to upgrade. The last thing you want to do is sink even more money into this endeavor, but a few extra dollars can go a long way, especially if you need to be comfortable on a long road trip.

Want more tips? Read the original article in the New York Times.

Rental car shortages in Europe may spoil your summer plans

How typical – the poor economy has forced rental car firms in Europe to scale back their operations, and to delay purchasing new vehicles. This was all fine and dandy during the low season, when their business was hurting, but now summer is on the way, they are in trouble.

European car rental firms are warning summer tourists that they need to reserve their desired vehicle as soon as possible, as they anticipate many large location running out of rentals.

The situation is apparently so messed up, that some European roadside assistance firms have started to transport second hand vehicles to countries where they expect their customers to break down. Normally, those customers would be told to rent a vehicle, but the expected shortage is going to ruin that plan.

So, if you are heading to Europe this summer, reserve as soon as possible, and if you can, call the rental location the day before you arrive to double check they will be able to honor your reservation. The last thing you want is to show up at the airport with all your bags, and not have any way to get to your hotel.

Stand your ground on hybrid car rentals

Hybrid cars aren’t as hard to rent as you may think. Enterprise, the largest rental car agency in the United States, has 7,000 in its fleet. Sure, it’s only 1 percent of all the wheels they make available, but it’s a hell of a start. If you want to put yourself in the driver’s seat on your next trip, plan ahead.

First, you have to do some hunting. Cruise the rental car agency websites for green listings. Or, you can head over to Kayak, which has the largest listing of hybrid cars on the web. Don’t give up. Remember, you’re looking for 1 percent of the rental cars out there (maybe less).

Next, be ready to get tough. If you get to the counter and are told that there aren’t any more in stock, you have options. Ask for another vehicle – temporarily – until the next hybrid comes in. Get specific: demand a date. Make it clear that you won’t back down. If the desk agent won’t be able to deliver the hybrid you reserved, make sure you’re given a coupon for a future rental or some other form of compensation. Most of the rental car agencies make promises. It’s your job, unfortunately, to hold them accountable.

Finally, screw the rental car agencies. You have options! Head over to the local Toyota dealership. You can rent a hybrid starting at $50 a day, and you may actually get better service (such as free shuttle service from the airport).