Holiday car hire can be hell. But one tip could save you hundreds of euro, says our Travel Editor.
Car hire pick-up desks can be hell.
You arrive hot and tired. Queues are often long; kids cranky and adults irritable. Everyone just wants to collect their keys. Then comes the hard sell.
Do you want basic cover, or to pay extra to reduce the excess?
Wait, what now? Basic protection is usually comprehensive, including damage, theft and third party liability cover. But it also requires the renter to pay the first portion of any claim — an excess that can range from €500 to €2,000, depending on the car, company and location.
My most recent rental, in Sicily, had an excess of €900. Reducing it to zero would cost €24 per day — or €336 over a two-week holiday... on top of the rental fee.
Blood can boil in these situations. Insurance upgrades are perfectly legal, but because they hit disoriented customers fresh off the plane, and are framed in such a way as to make basic cover feel like a dumb choice (often by staff angling to earn commission on the upsell), they feel like a rip-off — a trap to catch out new arrivals.
Luckily, I was able to reduce our excess risk for €59.99 — not just for two weeks, but for the whole year. How? By buying annual car hire excess cover before we travelled.
This reimbursement policy (sold by AIG, Axa and CarHireExcess.com in Ireland) works by refunding the excess you pay in the event of theft or damage, including to tyres, keys and windows — subject to T&Cs, of course.
Cover starts from as little as €2.99 per day, but regular renters will save far more by buying an annual policy. For cost savings, peace of mind and reduced pick-up hell, it could be one of your smartest travel purchases.
Holidaymakers rocking up to car rental desks without a booking in July or August are asking to be ripped off. For the best deal, book in advance and consider taking the car for a few days rather than the full holiday.
“Check for damage, taking photos of any dints and scratches, and get staff to approve them on the form,” advises Ciaran Mulligan of Blue Insurance.
Finally, choose diesel for long trips, and fill up before return (pin a petrol station near the airport or drop-off location on your SatNav or Google Maps).
Rental companies often charge hefty premiums to refuel their cars.
“Don’t trust the key return box,” says Conor Faughnan of The AA (theaa.ie).
“When we see credit card charges appearing after customers get home, it’s generally because keys have been popped into boxes without getting signatures. Give yourself extra time, and get a sign-off to indicate that the car is fine before you leave.”
If you must use a box, take photos of the car, says Faughnan, who laments the fact that holiday car hire can be so problematic. “You can spend two hours flying, and then queue for two hours to pick up a car. It’s a car, for God’s sake!”
From fluctuating costs depending on the time of year to confusion over fuel payment policies, hiring a car when abroad can be a stressful ordeal. If you plan ahead, budget wisely and do some research, you can save yourself a lot of time, effort and money.