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badice.com ~ travel musings for the masses

My arrival at LAX was met with a huge rainstorm. I took the rental car shuttle for Avis and found my name on the board with a “See Preferred Counter Staff” note next to it. I walk inside and I am quickly greeted. The gentleman informs me that he has a number of different SUVs. I ask for a car, to which he replies, “well, the only available car I have for you is on the other side of the lot”. It is pouring outside and LAX rental car locations don’t have covered parking. Why should they, they don’t get enough rain to warrant it, but it’s 11:30pm and I just want to get to the hotel and get some sleep before a 4am wake-up.

I take the SUV, a Hyundai Tuscon. 28,000 miles on it but the Tuscon drives alright. Like most rentals, the windshield is filthy with a film on the inside making it difficult to see in the pouring rain. Rental companies, if you are reading this, clean the inside of the windshields! It’s important!

I end up driving the Tuscon for a few days all around Los Angeles. It guzzles gas like it is going out of style. I do not have to pay for the gas, but the client does and I think having to fill up once a week is a bit excessive, especially since I am only driving 40 miles a day. So, I place a phone call to an Avis location near the office and ask if they will swap out the Tuscon for a car. Nope, only SUVs left. I call another location, same response. I find a place that does have a car but it’s a Hyundai Elantra with 45,000 miles on it. No thanks.

Eventually, I call the Avis counter at Burbank airport and explain that I would like a car. They have some! It is a bit further of a drive but I make it there and inform the counter agent that I had called and requested a car. He thanks me for being an Avis First member, one of the “elite” levels in their program, then informs me that he has a Ford Mustang or a Nissan Altima. I ask if he has a Prius available, I saw three of them when I was walking to the counter. “Nope, they’re reserved”.

This is where I have to speak up. On Avis’s website, I had reserved an intermediate car, instead, they auto-assigned me a SUV as an upgrade. Yet, there is no way for me to specify that I want a hybrid vehicle or fuel efficient vehicle. Avis even touts their Prius rentals, yet there is no way to specifically reserve one.

Then there is the counter experience. If you have a lot full of cars and especially 3 or 4 Priuses yet when I ask to grab one of them and the answer is “they’re reserved”, how is that even possible? How is someone reserving that specific car? And, if they didn’t reserve it but it was assigned to them, why can’t you assign them something else.

I tried to have a little bit of this discussion with the person helping me but he was insistent that the only options he had were an Altima or a Ford Mustang. I took the Altima and it’s better to get 30mpg than the 20mpg I was getting with the Hyundai Tuscon, but the rental car experience is really abysmal. It is not just Avis, but all of the different car companies. Sure, there are “pick your own vehicle” rows with most companies but there is no guarantee those vehicles are not completely beat up inside or don’t smell like smoke. Even my Silvercar rental over the Christmas holiday was mediocre. The car had dings in it, the attendant pointed them out to me, yet he had a bunch of cars sitting around available.

There has to be a better way to do this. Let me look at your inventory and reserve a specific car or even a specific class of car. Let me state “no SUVs” in my profile and have that honored. Let me know how many miles a car has on it before I walk to it.

All of these things would make the entire experience better. I am interested to hear your thoughts on the rental car process. Leave a comment below and let me know what you think.

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  1. jackal #
    March 18, 2015

    Priuses and other hybrids actually can be specifically reserved. The ACRISS (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ACRISS_Car_Classification_Code) code is ICAH, for “Intermediate 2/4 Door Automatic Hybrid.”

    It often doesn’t show up on the first search through OTAs, as the pseudo code ACAR (see link above) doesn’t normally return hybrids, though some OTAs do allow you to specify “green” vehicles (which behind the scenes queries the GDS for pseudo code “AGRN” and shows ICAH and other hybrid cars). They are definitely reservable if you use an OTA that supports this, book directly on the rental agency site, or have access to a GDS terminal (Sabre, etc.) and can specify a search for “AGRN” or “ICAH.”

    Note that an ICAH is often much more expensive than even PCARs and SUVs. I threw a random date (5/1-5/2) into Avis.com for BUR and pulled up rates of $46/day for an LCAR and $144.99 for an ICAH. (Note you have to click “See more specialty cars” on Avis.com to see the hybrids.)

    Why no way to specify “no upgrades”? Rental car reservation systems are still largely based on ancient System/360 technology, and back when that stuff was new, a free upgrade to a giant Buick or a huge truck was a good thing, because gas was next to free, so the systems are programmed to oversell the smaller classes (they have to, with a nearly 30% no-show factor) and assume that larger cars will cover any unavailable smaller car reservations. That’s clearly changed in the last 5-10 years with gas prices shooting up so much, but the rental industry has been slow to implement both technological measures as well as internal policies that allow users to specify “no upgrades.”

    As well, there are still a lot of people out there who enjoy getting a bigger/nicer car for free (I’m one of them), and plenty of people book an ICAR even though they have 5 adults with 7 bags and are trying to economize on cost, so a free upgrade to a PCAR would be a godsend, and so the mindset has not really shifted away from the “if we run out of smaller stuff, just give the bigger stuff for free” (to the rental car operator’s mind, it’d be akin to someone turning down an op-up to F when Y is full) one that rental companies have now.

    That said, I know Hertz at least has the ability to specify “No Fords” and other makes (though not models) in their Gold profiles, so the ability to also mark “no upgrades” should be relatively trivial to program in. Perhaps suggest it to customer service or find an exec’s email address and send it on?

    • Stephan Segraves #
      March 25, 2015

      Jackal,

      Some really awesome information here, things I never even knew. I will give the Prius codes a try and see if I can get them to show up on a rental here in Portland. In Los Angeles I could not get it to work after I initially read your comment.

      It would be nice if they would integrate some of the car features into the booking. Some of the things that are important to me are Bluetooth/hands-free and USB power. If I can get a car with both of those that doesn’t smell like cigarette smoke, I’m a happy person.

      Thanks again for the comment!

      Stephan

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