Car rental in Europe – Top 10 tips for traveling in Europe – Tip #6: Rent Rent Rent
For most of us, the basis of a car rental in Europe is the journey, not the destination. We spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars so that we can see everything we want in the minimum amount of time available. Here’s what a rental car is perfect for, what it’s made for, and what you should use it for. While I’m not against taking a train from one place to another (especially after a long car ride), I constantly find myself looking out the window and wondering “What’s going on there?”
Of course, the destination is a factor when choosing our itinerary. Equally important is the starting point. The beginning and end of your car rental can not only save you money, but if chosen poorly, it can also be the beginning and end of your vacation.
First of all, if possible, try to pick up your rental car in the city. In some countries, this can be the difference between fifty and five hundred dollars or more. In some places, it’s just not worth it, as the airport can be 20 kilometers or more from the center with little or no public transportation. In other places, such as Rome’s Fiumicino (or Leonardo da Vinci) airport, there is a train between the airport and the city’s main station. And in some places the airport is practically in the city. Common places where you’ll find a flat rate for airport pickups are France, Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and the UK. In Germany, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria it is usually a percentage, between 10% and 17%. In the Netherlands, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe it can go either way. Please note that this is for the major car rental providers and does not cover everyone. Always be sure to ask if the airport surcharge is included and if it is a percentage or a flat rate, and if it is waived if you pick up in town. Also, it’s good to note that if you pick it up in town to avoid a fee, you can usually drop it off at an airport without having to pay the surcharge.
Picking up in the city center won’t always save you a fare, although it usually reduces it if anything. Train stations sometimes have a surcharge (Germany, Italy, Spain, Belgium) and if you pick up from a “Premium Location” like Russell Square in London or Haddington Way in Dublin, you will also have to pay a fee. In addition, some port offices also require payment, either independently or for a “meet and greet” situation, where the office is out of walking distance, so agents wait for you at the dock. Again, be sure to ask if there is a fee if you are picking up at a station of any kind.
Aside from saving money, convenience is always a sticking point when deciding where to pick up your rental car. If you’re hesitant to drive in a big city, but want to save money, then you have a couple of options. For one thing, you can always pick up outside a busy area but still “downtown” but this alternative comes at the price of having to get there, which is fine if you already have your hotel nearby. You can also find a rental location that is close to a freeway slip road, which is particularly good if you need the rental car not for the city you’ll be in, but for the city you need to get to. A mapping program using the Internet is, of course, invaluable in this search. Get directions to your hotel and available pickup locations, and choose the one that’s most convenient for you.
Finally, it’s important to know what locations are available on the way to your destination. If you need to add an additional driver in the middle of your trip, or if you need to trade your car for whatever reason, then knowing where you can choose will help you optimize your time and money. There’s no point going back if you can do the same going forward, right? It’s a good idea to have the phone numbers of the locations you’ll be dealing with, as well as the head office number for further inquiries. Try to use a service that has 24 hour support. The locations may not always be open, but you can at least contact someone who can advise you of your options. Oh, and try not to get involved with a rental location that is part of a gas station, restaurant, barbershop, or any other mall business that isn’t car rental. Although many of the major vendors have locations like this named after them, they are independently owned and licensed subsidiaries and you will find the shadiest employees and worst service here. However, this is just common sense.
In conclusion, we all know that getting there is half the fun. But the other 50% depends on the beginning and the end. If you know where it is before you try to move on, you’ll get there just fine.