Blountville, TN

Rethink Summer Rentals on Flying Road Trips

John M. Dabbs

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As we return to normalcy in the waning days of this pandemic, many of us are in serious need of a vacation. We all need to get away from the daily grind. Some of us have been grinding harder than ever since the pandemic began - such is life.

Vacation 2.0

My family scrubbed out European vacation (I think of Chevy Chase as I think about it). This year we'll be taking to the great American west. Our plans take us to Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, through several reservations, Yellowstone National Park, Grand Teton National Park, and even Rocky Mountain National Park. It'll be a lot of driving, but it's the only way to really see and experience the area.

Making the reservations as I normally do through an online travel platform, I made our reservations for a flight into one airport at the start of our journey, and out of another near the end. No problems there. The airline rates were suprisingly decent - all considering. The same with the rental car. One issue with the rental car though - it would not let me select a drop off location and kept defaulting to the original pick-up location. I let it go and finished booking, the instructions said I could come back later and change up to 24 hours before I picked the vehicle up.

Check with travel and tourism offices for information

Looking through the amount of travel and potential excursions along our way, we've narrowed our experience down to less than 200 possibilities at this point. A close friend has loaned me his Colorado travel guide, and I've made contact with the Wyoming travel and tourism bureau, requesting press assistance (for what ever than provide me). At this point we are still planning to play it by ear on our nightly accommodations, as we do not have a firm itenerary other than flying out and back.

As this will be a working vacation, writing about excursions and points of interest along the way, I'll also be posting relevant reviews of hotels and restaurants we encouter. Maps have been requested but not received, yet I have enough SIM cards and cleaning cloths for the trusty old Nikon and the lenses I'll be taking, and travel chargers galore.

Local Regional Airports

We found flying out of Tri-City Airport in Blountville, Tennessee adds an hour or two for our flights, and a few more dollars. It also reduces the amount of drive time we'd have to a larger airport in Knoxville, or a hub in Charlotte or Atlanta. We opted to stick with our local regional airport for simplicity, and convenience. It is definitely worth the cost of not driving further after a long flight.

Rental Cars

Checking back into the rental car, I was unable to make changes later on via the travel site. I opted to call the rental car company. The first time they told me the reservation had yet to show up in their computer, and that I should try again in a few weeks.

I logged into the rental car's website a few weeks later, with the confirmation number provided via the travel site. The rental information showed up, just as booked. I attempted to change the drop-off location again, with no luck. I called them on the phone. The agent for the rental company informed me that weren't doing one-way rentals for now - due to COVID. This was a real setback. Our plans were a fly-in and one-way adventure before flying out of another state.

Impacts of COVID

After several attempts at making changes on the travel site, I called the customer service number. I was connected to an agent with a strong accent that I was able to discern without much difficulty. My Appalachian accent is often difficult for others to decipher at times, so I'm used to it. The agent said we shouldn't cancel my reservation yet, but try making another one. He was successful in logging in and reserving a vehicle for me at our first airport location and dropping it of at the end of our vacation. The cost would be just under $4,000 for 9 day period.

At this point I would like to say I was dumbstruck and left speechless. Instead I took it out on the poor guy and ranted about how it would be cheaper to buy a car and sell it when we left. We left my reservation as is.

Consider your options

When I calmed down, I checked into changing our flight in and out of the same major airport, with picking up the car and dropping it off at the same location. I kept our flight with American Airlines and only had to change the initial leg of our flight. I chose to use a different rental car agency because they had a cheaper rate. I was able to add a little more time to our driving but saved us over $3,000 by making it a round trip for the car and flight out of the same airport.

I suggest you too consider all of your options when booking an extended vacation taking you away from home. In my haste, I had thought I'd considered all of my options and it would be grand. Instead, we now have an airline credit and will be saving money all around.

Most travel sites will allow you to go all through the travel booking process to check rates and fares without locking in the deal and paying until the last minute. I suggest you use those benefits wisely. I am also a big fan of travel insurance. It could have cost us a lot of money if we had found this out at the last minute and couldn't have changed our flight and car rental.

The pandemic has changed many policies at present for rental car agencies and airlines. Please heed their advice and follow their policies. It's their businesses and customers they are trying to protect. We need to honor that.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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