Tag Archives: Tips and Tricks

Navigating services and companies for the Bozeman Airport and beyond.

7-Tips for Saving on Rental Cars

This article is from The New York Times. Full article archive.

The U.S. Issue | Practical Traveler

7 Tips for Saving on Rental Cars

Andy Rash
By MICHELLE HIGGINS
Published: May 16, 2012

HITTING the road this summer? Better get booking.

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As the busy summer car-rental season begins, prices are expected to climb. “In early June through the end of August, these rates will spike,” said Neil Abrams, president of Abrams Consulting Group, which tracks the car rental industry. Last July, for example, the average rate for a weekly airport rental of a compact car booked seven days ahead was $369.62, or 56 percent more than the $236.73 charged in March, according to the Abrams Travel Data Index. Here are some tips to keep costs down.

Let go of name brands. Look beyond Avis, Hertz and other big national chains to independent agencies like Payless and Fox Rent a Car. Because of lower operating costs, their cars, which can be found at Web sites like CarRentals.com and CarRentalExpress.com, typically cost 15 to 30 percent less than rentals from mainstream agencies. Another company with an unfamiliar name, at least to most Americans, is the German agency Sixt, which has begun opening branches in the southeastern United States, including in Atlanta, Miami and Orlando, Fla. To boost brand recognition, the company, whose fleet includes BMWs, Mercedes-Benzes and Volkswagens, is offering deep discounts. For example, a Mercedes C-class cost $38.81 a day in late May at Sixt’s Orlando airport location, according to a recent search. By comparison, the lowest rate offered by Hertz for the same dates was $50.57 a day for a Kia Rio or similar economy car.

Dig for virtual discounts. Search for discounts and coupons on sites like Promotionalcodes.com and CouponWinner.com, or type in the name of a rental company and “coupon code” into Google to see what turns up. Rental car companies offer discount codes to members of frequent flier programs, and other organizations they partner with, including AAA, Costco and BJ’s, so check those sites if you’re a member. But don’t stop there. Most major car rental companies allow you to combine discount codes with a coupon code. For example, a full-size car from Hertz over Memorial Day weekend at Washington Dulles airport was $255.71 in a recent search. Plugging in the discount code 62455 for United Airlines frequent fliers and Hertz’s promotional coupon code, 168210, brought the price down to $160.02.

Track rates through Autoslash.com. This site, which continually checks for lower rates and coupons until your trip date, can be used in one of two ways: You can track the price of a rental booked elsewhere, or you can book directly through Autoslash, which currently works with Payless, Sixt, Fox and E-Z Rent-A-Car, and the site will apply any discounts it finds.

The drawback with the second option is limited inventory. Major companies don’t like the idea that Autoslash capitalizes on the fact that consumers can usually change or cancel car reservations at any time without penalty. Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, as well as Hertz and Advantage, recently pulled its inventory from the site, as my colleague Ron Lieber recently reported. Enterprise, which owns National and Alamo, won’t let AutoSlash list its cars either.

Avoid the airport. Off-airport locations are typically cheaper than airport locations, which tend to tack on fees that can raise the price by 30 percent or more. For example, a compact rental from Hertz at Boston Logan International Airport over the Fourth of July weekend was recently listed at $50.49 a day, or $219 a week with taxes at Carrentals.com, a unit of Hotwire. By taking the subway to the Arlington stop and walking a couple of blocks to the local Hertz lot, a traveler could cut costs to $39.98 a day, or $146.65 with taxes for the week.

Reserve the car for longer than you need it. This may sound counterintuitive, but tacking an extra day on to that weekly rental or even adding a couple of hours to extend it over a weekend — with no intention of returning the car that late — can actually lower your rate. The strategy takes advantage of lower prices aimed at leisure travelers who are more likely to travel on weekends, said Marty Paz, a telecommunications manager from Las Vegas who has become something of a car rental pricing sleuth since he began avidly renting cars to pad his frequent flier account. (Last year alone he rented more than 100 vehicles, accumulating a quarter-million miles.)

Mr. Paz said you are essentially tricking the system into thinking you’re booking a two-day weekend rental, which typically has a lower base rate, with the goal of returning the car early. For example, the rate for a midsize car rental from Alamo at the Las Vegas International Airport, from noon on Thursday, June 7, to noon on Friday was recently listed on Alamo’s Web site for $35.95 (or a base rate of $27.27 plus $11.41 in taxes and fees). But extending the return time to 2 p.m. — two hours after the weekend rates “officially” kick in — drops the base rate to $15.18 a day. Though the overall estimated cost shows an additional $10.12 extra in hourly charges, you can still return the car at noon and get the lower rate, said Mr. Paz, who added, “Oops, you got there early.”

Negotiate. Even after you’ve booked the best possible rate, it can be worth swinging by the rental counter to see if you can finagle your way into a better car. You don’t ask, you don’t get,” said Mr. Abrams, the rental car consultant. Success with this strategy can depend on everything from the type and number of cars on the lot to the mood of the clerk, he added. But some companies are happy to put you in a bigger, or less popular, vehicle for the cost of a compact — if it’s in their interest.

“I frequently need minivans for the volunteer activities I do with teens,” said Marty Paz, the car-rental rate hacker, who has noticed by perusing the parking lot that there is often a glut of minivans at one location he frequently rents from on the weekend. “Often times I’ve reserved an economy car for a Friday and just offered graciously: ‘If there’s a van, I’ll take that. I don’t mind,’ and for the price of the economy car I get the minivan.” (A larger vehicle, of course, will require more fuel.)

Prepay. Taking a page from hotels, rental car companies are offering discounts of up to 20 percent to travelers willing to prepay. In a recent search for weekly rentals at Boston Logan International Airport in mid June, for example, Hertz was offering economy cars for $173 a week at the “pay now” rate. The “pay later” rate was about $30 more. The trade off for locking in a low-rate? Cancellation penalties ranging from $10 with Budget to $50 if canceling within 24 hours with Hertz. And don’t forget about Priceline.com and Hotwire.com, which offer deep discounts to travelers willing to be locked into a preset price before finding out the rental car company.

Off-airport parking at BZN?

Cheaper parking with better service for BZN does exist

Off-airport parking is nothing new, but it is now for the Bozeman Airport

Recently our ‘sources’ have brought to our attention a company that is offering discounted airport parking for BZN. Well, this is not exactly true- but it is pretty close. We recently had a chat with Will Casella, owner of the off-airport rental car and gear agency Phasmid Rentals who is beyond this new company, Bozeman Park and Shine.

Unnofficial Bozeman Airport Guide (UBAG): So, please explain to me how and what Bozeman Park and Shine is?

Will Casella (WC): Well, even though parking at the Bozeman Airport is pretty reasonable in the grand scheme of things ($7/ day for ‘economy’ and $10/ day for ‘premium’) it is still paying for nothing, and that bothers me. Especially in the winter when your flight arrives at 11:00pm and you are worried if a) your car is going to start b) if you will break your leg walking across the parking lot, and c) if you can even find your car buried under 3-feet of snow. And to have the opportunity to pay for such a privilege! So I figured there has to be a better way.

Discounted off-airport parking exists at pretty much every other airport in the world, however, there are a couple of issues at hand with the Bozeman Airport that have led us to tweak our offerings away from standard cheap parking. First, the price. $7 per day is pretty reasonable. Charging less than that is tough to justify from a business perspective. Further, we just do not have the volume of parkers to get into the whole shuttle bus, cheap parking model. So we figured that instead of charging less for the same product, we will charge the same for a completely different product- and this is how Bozeman Park and Shine came about.

The first business I ever started was an Autodetailing business when I was 12, so cleaning cars is nothing new to me. So why not combine the convenience and reduced price of off-airport parking with something every one loves; a clean car and actually getting something for your money!

UBAG: So please explain to me how it works.

WC:  First, you call or email in advance to schedule your drop-off. Next, at the appointed time you stop off at the office, right off of the Frontage road a mile and a half east of BZN. A member of our team then jumps in your car  and drops you off at the departures terminal. On your return to Bozeman, call the office when your flight lands and a member of our team will pick you up right outside of arrivals in your freshly cleaned car. As a result: you no longer have to slip across an icey parking lot, you don’t have to worry about your car starting, and your car looks like new.

UBAG: This sounds luxurious! So how much does this cost?

WC: This is the thing, what we charge is the same price, or less, than what Bozeman Airport charges for parking only. Typically for a week of parking and a very thorough exterior hand car wash we charge $49- same price as the airport parking. Right now, until February 28, 2013 we are running a promo: $35 for up to a week of parking and an exterior car wash.

UBAG: That is a smoking good deal, especially considering I do not think there is an automatic car wash in Bozeman that is less than $10. Anyway, what if I do not care what the outside of your car looks like but want the inside cleaned?

WC: Not a problem. We handle everything from basic inside cleaning to full detailing. All for typically less than our auto detailing competitors. We are able to do this because our wash bay and cleaning goods are all paid for by our main business, the rental cars, lowering our operating costs. We also work with a number of local providers who are able to complete other tasks to your car while you are gone; windshield repair, oil changes, tires, and even mechanical repair. We can get all of those unpleasant things you have been putting off doing done- while you are away.

UBAG: So I can be playing golf in San Diego and you can be doing all of my dirty work. I like it, sign me up!

Editors Note:

Bozeman Park and Shine is located at Phasmid Rentals, 32 Dollar Drive, Belgrade, MT 59714. www.BZNparking.com, info@BZNparking.com, 406-922-0178.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheap rental cars Bozeman

Cheap rental cars Bozeman?

Those that are not in the know, generally opt for the smallest, least expensive rental car they can find while visiting Bozeman, MT. Those of us who live here, would never recommend anyone to rent a motorized roller-skate and this is why: a head-on collision with an elk. If you do get in an accident in a rental car here in Montana, chances are it will be with an animal- and we have BIG animals. A bull elk, like the one that caused this damage weighs about 700 pounds. Can you imagine what would have happened if these people had rented a compact car to save a few dollars?

Cheaper car rentals are not always better here in Montana!

Why you do not want to rent an economy/ compact car in Montana
Why you do not want to rent an economy/ compact car in Montana

Departing BZN

BZN Departures terminal
Lines for certain departures can be long, but in general nothing like a major urban airport.

Bozeman Airport departures- typically painless

We love the Bozeman Airport and give much respect to the way it is operated. Typically, we recommend guests to show up at the airport 1-hour prior to their departure of their domestic flight. This being said, we have heard some horror stories that will be mentioned later.

If you will be arriving via airport shuttle or off-airport rental car agency, you will be dropped off right outside of departures terminal. Typically, if you are in a private shuttle or with one of the off-airport rental car agencies, they will even help you with your bags right up to your airline counter.

If you have rented a car from an on-airport rental car company, we recommend dropping your family and luggage off at the departures terminal then doing a ‘lap’ around the airport back to the rental car returns parking lot. Departures and the rental car returns area are about a half-mile walk. Not a big deal in the summer, but when it is -4 degrees in winter and you have screaming kids, this is an unpleasant experience.

If you are  a local and need to park a vehicle at the airport there are two options. Bozeman airport offers on-site parking. ‘Premium’ is $10 per day, ‘Economy’ is $7 per day. There is a new company who is offering discounted off-airport parking, Bozeman Park and Shine. Listed prices are $4/ per day $100/ month. They also offer very reasonable car cleaning services.

If you are a second home owner and looking to store a vehicle long-term you can: purchase a car condo on airport for $25k+, or lease a garage at Airport Valet and Storage.

Once you have dealt with your rental car or shuttle service, head to your respective counter for check-in/ baggage drop. Typically our counter attendants for all airlines are extremely pleasant, real people. Rarely do we witness the superiority complex and attitude found in larger airports. Then again, even our DMV in Bozeman is hosted by nice people. Treat them with respect and you will be treated the same.

Once you drop off your bags, or if you have pre-printed your boarding pass, head upstairs to proceed through security. This is where things will likely slow down. TSA for Bozeman Airport can be painfully slow and deliberate. Fortunately, the volume of people they process isn’t large so you can still get through in a timely manner, just be forewarned the will want to bomb-scan your bag, frisk each individual, make you take your shoes off, etc. TSA is the only downfall of the airport, and to our latest knowledge BZN has been looking to outsource this role.

Once you are through security the worst is over. There is a small cafe inside departures where you can get an overpriced coffee and stale bagel. Fortunately, we rarely have delays on departing flights so most likely you will soon be on your way back home.

Arriving at BZN

BZN Airport Arrivals
Bronze geese adorn the Bozeman Airport arrivals area

Welcome to Montana

We find that many travelers arriving and departing Bozeman Airport (BZN) are not adjusted/ used to using such a small and personable airport. Arrival to BZN is very straight forward; follow the signs and head towards baggage claim and ‘Arrivals’.  We do not have separate terminals/ buildings- just one big one. Enjoy the bronze goose sculptures, the ‘Big Bear’. and the cast tyrannosaurus Rex skull. Additionally, the Yellowstone Association, a non-profit conservation group has an excellent information area/ kiosk. The majority of the workers in the store are passionate volunteers and are more than happy to provide as much information as possible about the park. Purchasing a membership not only goes to help preserving Yellowstone, but also offers significant savings on Park Services.

Although luggage is typically released quickly, sometimes it takes a LONG time. Check out some of the free rack cards of mostly non-pertinent information. These are paid for spaces, and just because a provider has a card there does not mean they are the best. Be wary and do a little review research before booking anything- especially some of the fly fishing guides. The abundant Discovery Maps are a great resource.

Be wary of the cafe and gift shop at arrivals. These stores are horrendously overpriced in order to pay the airports concession fee. Think $9 for a piece of reheated frozen pizza. You are better off waiting a couple of minutes or using the water fountain (underneath escalators along with restrooms).

If you are renting a car from an on-airport provider (Hertz, Enterprise, Thrifty, etc) it is recommended that one person waits for the bags while another person goes and collects the rental car as the rental car kiosk lines can often be long as well. The airport car rental agency’s kiosks are at the far western side of the building. With your back facing the baggage carousels, turn left and keep walking till you run out of building. Once your rental car is collected  you can pull forward, hopefully finding a parking spot, while your family takes the luggage outside to arrivals. Or, you can walk with the family to the rental car parking lot. Just be warned, it is far.

If you have opted for a) a shuttle/ taxi or b) an off-airport rental car agency they will meet you at the base of the escalators as you head towards baggage claim with placard. Whether it is your shuttle to Big Sky, taxi to Bozeman, or rental car- these off-airport concessionaires have dedicated parking lanes outside of the arrivals terminal. If your concessionaire is not parked in the Karst Stage, shuttle lane, or taxi lane be wary as they are probably not an authorized airport sanctioned company. Concessionaires to Bozeman Airport are all required to charge their customers additional airport fees. Shuttles and taxis range from $2.00 per person and car rentals 10% additional airport fee.

If you are able to find transport to one of the off-airport rental car agencies, like Phasmid or TRAC, you will be able to save the 10% concession fee. Very beneficial if you are renting a vehicle for an extended period of time. Hint: both of these companies offer free pick-up service at hotels and around the greater Bozeman area, and many of the hotels offer free shuttle service.

There are no regular buses between the airport and Bozeman. There is a scheduled service via Karst Stage to Big Sky, West Yellowstone, and Mammoth Hot Springs. As mentioned in BZN ground transportation article, there is not a taxi stand at BZN- so all of your travel arrangements departing the airport need to be made in advance.

Navigating BZN Rental Car Options

Dec-22---Jan-3

First and foremost, book in advance. Car rentals at Bozeman Airport can be extremely expensive during peak times. The above search is for a Premium SUV December 22 – January 3, 2012. As you can see, SUV rentals command an extremely high price in Bozeman. At this time, economy car rentals were $100/ day as well. The moral of the story- book in advance. Options 2; think outside of the Big Box. We checked with the off-airport rental car companies, and although they were almost completely booked out, Toyota Rent-A-Car had a 2012 Sequoia for $120/ day and Phasmid Rentals had a 2012 Chevrolet Suburban z71 for $150/ day. Nobody likes wasting money on a rental car, so think in advance and if you forget to do that- think outside of the Big Box.