MAKING CENTS: Book early to get the best deal if you’re hiring a car

When it comes to getting around while on holiday abroad, renting a car is a popular option, writes Gráinne McGuinness

It frees you from reliance on public transport or expensive taxis. And, if you have children, it’s great to have a boot and the freedom to come and go as you please. But hiring a car can be fraught with hidden costs and it pays to do some research:

So when to book?

Like your holiday itself, renting a car is another area where it pays to book in advance. The cost of renting the same car will vary widely depending on the time of year and when it is booked. Families can’t do much to avoid the price spike during school holidays, but they can still save money by having the car booked in advance. Someone arriving at the car hire desk in the airport without a booking is a sitting duck for the highest charges. Add in post-flight tiredness , fractious children, and commission-motivated agents and the result is a bad deal for the driver. By booking ahead you can specify the size of car you want and lock in a better rate. Even booking from home in the days leading up to the holiday will save money, but getting it sorted a few months in advance is the best value.

Martin Heap, corporate travel consultant with Cork based-company Corporate Travel Management, warns people to read the description carefully when booking.

“A lot of company describe themselves as “on airport” but that doesn’t mean the car is at the airport, it means they have a desk there. Check that the car is within walking distance of the terminal. A shuttle bus to the car might be fine for singles or couples, but is more hassle for a family with tired kids and luggage.”

Insurance

The price you pay when you book the car includes basic insurance, but there is normally a high excess on these policies; as much as €2,000 in some cases. At the airport, expect to be offered additional insurance to cover that excess. This can be more expensive than the original booking, but if you don’t take it the company may insist on placing a hold on funds on your credit card in case something happens. If you are going to spend your holiday worrying about an accident it is worth paying excess insurance for peace of mind. You can buy car hire excess policies online and these will normally work out much cheaper than the policy offered by the rental company.

Also remember, a hold on credit card funds could prove disastrous if it locks up money you were planning on spending on the trip. Ideally, if there are two credit cards in the family, set one aside for the car rental.

“You will always need a credit card in the name of the person who booked,” Heap said. “And not a debit card, on the continent in particular they insist on a credit card.”

Heap also advised people to be careful if they are planning on driving in more than one country. “Be aware of cross-border charges, there can be additional charges if you leave the country,” Heap explained. “Let the rental company know where you’re planning to go, never assume you are covered.”

Fuel Policy

Another thing to watch for is the company’s fuel policy. Try to avoid companies whose policy is ‘full to empty’.

What this means is you pay them the cost of a full tank of fuel when you pick up the car and return it as close to empty as you can. Many renters won’t get through anywhere near a full tank in a short holiday. There is no refund for the amount of fuel you return the car with, so the rental company benefits. This is a win-win for the rental company.

“And with ‘full to empty’, you are also paying their charges for fuel, rather than getting better value at the pumps,” Heap added.

A much better policy for the driver is ‘full to full’. You leave and return with a full tank of fuel; so all you pay is what it costs you to fill the car up before you go back to the airport.

If there are any consumer issues that you’d like Gráinne to address or if you have problems that Gráinne could help with, she can be contacted at makingcents@examiner.ie

DEAL OF THE WEEK

If you decide you want the peace of mind of cover for the excess on your car rental, you will get much better value by buying it yourself online before you travel.

You can choose to pay per day or get an annual policy if going for longer or on multiple holidays. There are plenty of insurers offering excess cover; I compared the online rates from Axa, Getcover.ie, AIG and Blue Insurance.

Blue Insurance offer good cover at a reasonable price, with cover in Europe for €2.99 per day, or €49.99 for the year. Worldwide cover is from €3.99 per day or €59.99 for the year.

That rate is for fully licensed drivers aged between 21 and 84 — some insurers charge a higher premium for older drivers.

Cover is for excess of up to €4,000 (annual €5,000) and insures against fire, theft, vandalism, tyres, keys and windscreen.


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