5 Vacation-Crushing Hidden Costs in Your Rental Car Contract

Hidden Rental Car CostsWhether you’re renting a car for business or you’ve planned an annual vacation with the kids, the logistics of getting to and from your destination is the last thing you want to think about when traveling. Hidden fees and surprise travel costs can ruin the most meticulously planned vacation, but you can protect yourself by being an informed traveler and doing your homework before you depart.
Here are 5 of the most devastating hidden costs to look for in your rental car contract. Double-check these items to make sure that you’re protected and your next vacation will stay on budget:


Driver fees
While you may already know that you will have to pay extra if you plan to have more than one driver pilot your rental car, you might not be aware that many car rental companies will charge an additional fee when renting a car to drivers under 25 or to senior drivers. This fee applies if the primary driver is young or old, but it can also be charged if additional drivers on your contract (one of your children, for instance) fall outside the rental company’s preferred driver age. Often listed on your contract as an “additional driver fee,” a “young driver surcharge” or a “senior driver fee,” you can sidestep this charge by planning to have only one driver on your trip. Rental car age restrictions can vary by country too – if you’re traveling abroad make sure that you double-check the particular age restrictions in your destination.

Fuel Policies
While almost everyone is aware that returning your car full or empty matters, it’s important to know what to look for when you check the terms of your rental car contract to avoid extra charges. Often listed in the terms of your contract as “Full to Full” or “Full to Empty” – ignoring the details of your fuel policy can result in costly surprise charges to your credit card after you’ve returned home. All rental car companies will charge a premium for any type of fuel – generally using the highest per-gallon cost in the area. To avoid surprise charges request (and verify that you’ve received) the “Full to Full” policy in your contract and fill your car with gas just before returning it. It’s a good idea to save this timestamped receipt just in case!

Location Surcharges
Where you’re going and when and where you pick up your car can make a difference. Today’s traveler can expect to pay extra for on-site pick-up at an airport – the cost of convenience. The lines “Airport Surcharge,” “Rail Station Surcharge,” and “Premium Location Surcharge” are becoming the industry standard on rental car contracts and while this cost is often about the same as the cost of hiring a cab to take you to an in-town rental car lot, comparing the costs at different offices in your destination will allow you to make an informed decision about whether the convenience is worth the price. Taking this extra step can, at the very least, prevent you from being surprised upon arrival.
A delayed flight can also cause headaches and surprise costs. “Out of Hours Fees,” “Late Arrival Fees” and “Late Return Fees” can quickly break a tight vacation budget, but sometimes these costs can be avoided by calling ahead to let the rental agency know about your delay.

Local Taxes
A word of caution about local taxes and fees: many are real and unavoidable (especially in Europe), but we’ve all heard stories of unscrupulous rental car attendants selling toll or parking passes which aren’t real. While these extreme cases are not the norm, you can protect yourself (and your wallet!) by doing your homework and knowing in advance what fees you’ll be expected to pay. Some of the fees in this category are determined by the size vehicle you choose to drive, and many of these charges can vary based on the rental car company you arrange your car with. Expect to pay most local taxes, but do some research to get a sense for what you’ll have to pay before departing. If you book online, be aware that some companies won’t include these charges in your quoted price … reading the fine print will help you score the best deal.

One Way Fees
Arranging a one way trip in a rental car can be convenient and fun. Whether you’re planning the quintessential European road trip or hope to cross borders and experience several cultures in Europe, being aware of one-way fees can save your budget and help you avoid frustration. These fees, perhaps more than any other cost on this list, can make or break your vacation. Often labeled “Drop Fee” on your contract, you can avoid massive charges by understanding that domestic one-way rentals will often carry little to no additional charge, whereas one-way rentals which cross international borders can cost you hundreds of dollars. Plan your itinerary so that you return the car in the same country and you can save a bundle. Sometimes renting two cars (one in each country, switching at the border) will be cheaper than paying a hefty drop fee for an international one-way rental.
If you do have to pay for an international one way rental – doing your homework will let you know what to expect so you can budget accordingly. Nothing is worse than arriving at a rental car desk with your whole family in tow only to discover that the “great deal” you’d bragged about finding will cost you several hundred dollars more than you expected.
To learn more about what to look for on your rental car contract, Auto Europe created an in-depth guide to car rental fees. Wherever you choose to do your research: remember that the person who has control over your vacation budget is you. Protect yourself with accurate information and measured choices and you will avoid vacation-crushing surprise charges during your next trip.

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