FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA--Renting a car is one of the easiest travel tasks there is. And rental prices can be tricky. You think apps, agents, and websites easily find you the best rates in any destination. Then all you have to do is fill in the form and stand in line at the rental counter, right? Plus the Fort Lauderdale airport (FLL) makes car rentals easier than almost any airport I know.
But maybe it's not as simple as you thought. Here are thirty things not to do when renting a car.
Reserve the car class you want. If you choose the car you actually want, you eliminate your options for cheap or upgrades at the counter. Go one category lower when you book. The exception is when there is a distinct need for an option like 4-wheel drive that could be sold out when you arrive.
Use the kiosks. Unless you are a time-crunched business traveler skip the self-serve kiosks. They eliminate all possibilities of a lower-priced upgrade.
Forget to ask for an upgrade. No matter what you reserved, always, always, always ask for something better. Smile sweetly and say, "What kind of price can you get me on something a tiny bit bigger?"
Don't join the frequent rental program. Even if you only plan to use this rental company one time ever, you should join their club. It just looks better. It's a toss-up whether to join in advance or to use that as leverage for your upgrade ask.
Don’t use your frequent flier programs. If you are a frequent flier for any airline, be sure to get your points. In fact, check that airline's rates first.
Leave your insurance card at home. In some states, this is a costly mistake. Recently in Florida, I was charged a mandatory liability insurance fee simply because I did not have my own auto insurance card with me.
Let someone else drive. This would seem like a no-brainer. Don't. Do. It.
Think that a debit card will get you a car. You can certainly use a debit card for payment, but in most cases, you will need a full-fledged credit card to secure a rental car.
Think that roadside assistance always costs extra. Most rental agencies, large and small have some form of roadside assistance, even if it's just helping you get towed.
Ignore the fuel pre-pay. If you are unfamiliar with the area surrounding the return location, you may be better off allowing them to charge you upfront. Fuel prices at gas stations near drop-offs are notoriously expensive.
Go too small to save money. When I said go a category lower than you want, I don't mean get the tiniest car on the lot. Use the online calculators to judge the appropriate size for the number of people and pieces of luggage.
Go swimming with the key in your pocket. Unless you are renting from a rent-a-wreck, car keys are no longer waterproof. If your plans include swimming, snorkeling, surfing, or scuba diving, tell the agent at the rental counter you will need either a water-proof valet key or the key code if there is a digital keypad. The alternative is to get a small dry box or bag for the key.
Return the car late. Sometimes rental companies ding you for an additional day if you go over your time of return. If you encounter a delay call the rental agency and let them know. In most cases, this will keep extra days from automatically being applied.
Don't plan for taxes and fees in your budget. When you are comparing prices for cars, be sure to get "all in" quotes that include destination taxes, mandatory insurance, and fees. Florida will hit you with every fee possible, including airport fees for the luxury of walking straight to the rental counter from your arrival gate.
Think you must have a car for your entire resort stay. If your resort is large enough it may have onsite rentals and airport transportation. If that's the case, you may be able to save money by only renting for the days you plan to explore beyond your resort. Even at small hotels and resorts, you may find that everything you need is within walking distance, making a car unnecessary for the full stay.
Forget about hotel parking fees. When you are pricing your car rental, be sure to include parking fees that the hotel will charge you for having the car. Fees can be as high as $25 per day.
Put important things in the seatback pockets. The alternative to this is to remember to check those seat-back pockets when you return the car, but who really remembers to do this at the end of the trip? Better to let the backseat be messy than to tuck things out of sight.
Put wet beach gear in the trunk every day. This one I learned from personal experience. Seawater is full of microscopic creatures that die in automobile trunks. Put your beach gear on the trunk carpet repeatedly for a few days and the odor is guaranteed to be overwhelming.
Skip the walk around. Make notes of all scratches, ding, and dents. Better yet, take pictures.
Skip any advice the prep guy offers. There is a reason he is telling you that the emergency lights flash if the rear window of the SUV is rolled down. Sometimes cars operate differently than yours at home.
Rent for five days without checking the weekly rate. This is one of the biggest money savers there are for car rentals-- especially in Florida. Don’t assume that the website or app is going to check for you. Add two or three extra days and check those rates before you book.
Ignore local laws. There are cameras everywhere these days. Don’t assume that you won’t be sent a bill by mail for speeding or illegally parking.
Assume that the rental company will pay for your tolls. They won't. Your choice is to pay for a toll package upfront or pay the bills when they beat you back home.
Forget to verify the return location. There are a few rare instances where you drop off rentals at a completely different location than where you rented. Sometimes it's what you planned, other times it's just the way the company operates. Either way, trust but verify.
Rent a convertible without checking the weather. There's an app for that, you know.
Cheap out on features that would greatly enhance your trip. If you think you will want to go dirt-road driving, then pay for 4-wheel drive.
Pay extra for GPS. Use your phone. Even if you have to pay a little extra for data roaming, in most cases it is cheaper than the GPS charge on a rental car.
Assume that your phone will connect. Not only is there a possibility that your phone won’t connect for hands-free calling, but it may be a bad idea. Do you really want your contacts being viewed by the next renter? If you need to talk while driving a rental, bring along your own hands-free device.
Leave expensive things in the car. This is a no-no at all times during your trip. Locals can usually identify a rental car, making it a prime target for theft. In fact, it may be better to leave the car unlocked than to face window replacement when thieves break in to check for your valuables.
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