HOLIDAY CAR RENTAL EXPLOSION is putting a brake on family travel.
Car rental costs have more than doubled in many destinations since before the pandemic, according to iCarhireinsurance.com.
The average cost of a week’s car hire in Spain is now £609, up from £258 in 2019.
And in the 12 most popular countries we travel to, which also include Portugal, Greece and France, the average price of renting a compact family car for a week this summer has soared to £652.
This is compared to just £310 in 2019, an increase of £342 – up 110%.
Experts say prices rose because rental companies sold off many of their cars during the pandemic when demand slumped.
They are now struggling to rebuild their fleets now that holidaymakers are back.
We explain how to avoid sneaky fees and reduce the costs of your family stay.
YOU should expect car rental to cost more this year, so if a company offers rates that seem too good to be true, they probably are – and you could end up paying more in unexpected charges.
To save money, do your research. For example, it may be cheaper to rent from the nearest town than from the airport.
You can also save money – and time – by taking a taxi to your hotel and then having a rental car delivered.
Ask yourself if you really need a car all the time.
With car hire reaching £100 a day in holiday hotspots, giving up your wheels for half or all of your holiday will save you a bundle.
Combining taxis with public transport might be a cheaper option.
If you choose to rent a car, arrange your own excess waiver insurance before you leave home and you’ll only pay a fraction of the cost.
Coverage saves you from incurring charges if your rental car is stolen or damaged.
According to iCarhireinsurance.com, drivers could save an average of £150 across Europe by buying self-contained car rental excess insurance, not from the rental company.
Comparison sites including Skyscanner, Travel Supermarket and Kayak allow you to compare prices from different companies, as well as through third-party car rental brokers, who may offer competitive deals.
But consumer expert Martyn James says it’s usually best to book direct.
It says: “If you book with a credit card you can get a refund through the Consumer Credit Act if something goes wrong or the insurer goes bankrupt, but you lose those rights if you book through a third-party broker.”
When you pick up
CHECK the fine print of your car rental agreement to avoid getting stung by outrageous charges for extra insurance, mileage charges, or confusing fuel policies.
Martyn says: “When you’re hot, you’re tired, the kids are screaming and you just want to get to your hotel, that’s when things can go wrong.”
So keep a cool head and make sure you know what you’re signing up for.
Agreements must also be provided in English to the office, so insist on getting one you can understand.
Average car rental price for one week in Europe: 2019: £310; 2022: £652
Avoid overpaying for accessories like satellite navigation systems or child car seats.
You can use your free apps on your phone to get your bearings, but first check what you’ll be charged for mobile data usage.
Some airlines, including Jet2 and easyJet, allow you to bring your own children’s car seats free of charge.
Before leaving, check the car carefully with someone from the rental company, taking pictures inside and out.
“Don’t forget the boot,” warns Martyn, “I’ve heard of people being accused of losing spare wheels.”
Also take a quick look at the fuel gauge and make sure you understand the policy.
Some companies will charge you if you don’t return the car with a full tank, others insist that you return it nearly empty.
When you return the car
IF you need to return the car with a full tank of fuel, try to fill it up before approaching the airport where prices will be higher.
Then be sure to check the car with the car rental company as thoroughly as when you left, again taking tons of photos as proof.
Stacey Belcher, 41, from Wolverhampton knows how important this is.
The civil servant and her husband Rob, 64, an engineer, were shocked to be charged £419 by Goldcar in Alicante.
She says: “The parking lot where I picked up the car was quite dark but nevertheless, I looked carefully at the car, including the trunk and the interior. I took videos of everything.
“We barely used the car that week, and certainly nothing happened while we were in it that could have caused any scratches.
“It was parked on a quiet road, with the passenger side away from passing cars.
“When we brought it back a week later, they pulled out a mega bright light and went around the whole car checking it out.
“Then they went back to where they started and said there were two scratches. You couldn’t see them with the naked eye, only in this light.
She thinks the scratches were there before she rented the car, but Stacey took £419 off the £1,200 deposit on her credit card.
Luckily she had taken out a waiver of excess insurance policy, costing £37.99 for the year, which paid off, but the experience left her with a sour taste.
Martyn says: “Make sure you inspect the car with the car hire clerk when you return it and confirm they are happy before you leave.
“If you end up being charged for a repair, ask to see proof that it was done. If they don’t give it, ask for the refund.
If you are still not satisfied, inform the company that the money has been taken “under reservation” and inform the credit card company you used to pay the dispute deposit – they are jointly and severally liable and you may make a claim under Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act. Law.
A Goldcar spokesperson said that in Stacey’s case, the correct procedures were followed to assess the vehicle and the repair costs were based on criteria set out in its terms and conditions.
The company’s spokesperson added: “Clients signed the rental agreement at the end of the survey to confirm the damage identified.”
Goldcar offered to reimburse Stacey as a goodwill gesture.
“I couldn’t believe that cost had gone from £70 to £1,000”
Rental costs are so high that some drivers are forced to ditch car rental altogether and make do with occasional taxis.
Wellness coach Marie Paterson, 59, from Fife, had to do just that when visiting her elderly parents, Angela and Patrick, both in their 80s, in Ireland.
Marie flies to Ireland’s West Knock Airport in County Mayo several times a year, then hires a car to drive the 50 minutes to her parents’ home.
She says: “Until recently I could hire a car for three days for £70. When I traveled in April this year to visit my elderly father, who was in hospital, I booked my Ryanair flight and then clicked on car hire.
“I couldn’t believe it when he said it would be £1,000 for the smallest car
“I immediately thought there must be something wrong with the site so I went to travelsupermaket.com to see what they could offer. The cheapest I could find was around £700.
“I thought ‘This is crazy’. I really couldn’t understand why that would be the case, so I phoned the Europcar office at the airport, where I usually rent my car, and asked to book a car directly with them.
“They gave me a quote of £570 as the best price.”
Just five months earlier, in December 2021, she had booked a car with Europcar for the same period for around £70.
“Needless to say I couldn’t afford nearly £600 for a three day trip.
“I ended up taking a taxi from the airport to my parents’ house each way which cost me £150 return.
“I ran into the exact same problem when I visited again in June, although when I recently looked for future travel some quotes were much lower, suggesting prices might be starting to come down.”
Consumer expert Martyn James believes there is little renters will agree to before voting with their feet and dumping car rental companies.
He says: “There’s a lot holidaymakers can do without their own wheels – and companies would be foolish not to realize that.
But drivers who decide to shell out and rent a car despite the skyrocketing costs should be very alert to additional scam charges. The industry also has a bad reputation for treating people unfairly.
“Not all car rental companies are terrible, but there are a lot of things you need to be careful of, so you don’t have a bad surprise during or after your vacation.”