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Rental car companies find another fee to add on

When it comes to larding on extra fees, airlines and hotels have nothing on that other big travel provider: rental car companies.

They're quietly introducing a new one — a "no-show" fee — that stands out only because it makes some sense. More on that later.

Sometimes the charges are imposed by local and state governments or airports. Others defy explanation, except as a way to get consumers to pay a company's costs of doing business.

Check car rental websites and you'll find an energy recovery fee, a tire and battery fee and one just called "rental surcharge."

A two-day Ford Taurus rental at Tampa International Airport last weekend priced out at $73.41. Taxes and fees accounted for $17.43, nearly a quarter of the total bill. That didn't include the GPS navigation system ($23.90), child safety seats ($26 each) or vehicle insurance ($26.99 per day).

Suffice to say, it pays to check your rental contract carefully before signing.

Here are a few fees to look for:

• Additional driver: an extra $13 a day or so. Some companies charge the fee for your spouse to drive.

• Underage drivers: Expect to pay a lot more if you're younger than 25. Fees vary by company and location. Budget charges $27 per day for drivers ages 21 to 24, more in New York state and Michigan. Companies say their liability renting to young drivers justifies the fee.

• Fuel: They charge a reduced price per gallon to sell you a full tank with the rental. But they don't give a refund for any fuel you leave in the vehicle, so this option typically costs more than refilling the tank yourself.

• Airport concession fee: Usually about 10 percent of the rental price. Companies charge this to recover what airports charge them for operating on site. It's one reason prices usually are cheaper away from the airport.

• State and local tax: Added by politicians to pay for projects unrelated to your car rental, such as sport stadiums, performing arts centers and other pet projects. Don't blame the companies. They hate them, too.

• Tire and battery fee: To pay for Florida's tax on the sales of tires and batteries. Revenues go to clean up sites polluted by the materials. At least it's just 2 cents a day.

Back to the "no-show" fee.

Rental companies traditionally took car reservations without asking for a credit card.

The Big Three — Avis Budget, Enterprise Holdings and Hertz — now request card information in select markets and charge between $5 and $50 if a customer cancels or doesn't pick up the car. The fee usually applies to discounted or prepaid rentals.

Airlines are way ahead, with painful ticket-change fees up to $150. Car rental companies say as many as 30 percent of reservations are abandoned by no-shows. A reasonable fee isn't unreasonable.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

Rental car companies find another fee to add on 06/22/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 22, 2010 9:13pm]
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