Monday, January 21, 2008

Phoenix Car Rentals

Dave Cortesi

On our latest AZ trip we were, if not exactly burned by Thrifty Car Rentals, at least lightly singed by them. We'd used Travelocity months ahead to reserve a "premium" car at a very reasonable $35/day. But when we returned the car the rate had somehow ... swollen ... into a bottom line of $424 for four days. I'm going to break this down and then suggest how to avoid some of it. (And, please don't be shy about adding your comments at the end!)

The Bill

Here's the bill, slightly expanded from the indecipherable abbreviations of the computer printout, based on the explanation from the nice young man at the counter (large blank space courtesy of Blogger)

Rental fee $35/day times 4$140.00
Loss Damage Waiver $19.99/day79.96
Customer Facility Charge $4.50/day 18.00
"Tripsaver" at $4.99/day19.96
State car rental tax 36.84
State tax 5%17.39
County Stadium Tax (3.25%)11.62
Prepaid fuel 65.78
Kind of amazing, huh? And not pleasant to find out that your $35/day car had turned into a $106/day car. Now let's take some of those items in detail.

The Infamous LDW

The Loss Damage Waiver is a special insurance policy that protects the renter from owing the rental car company for lost revenue. Suppose the car is damaged, doesn't matter whose fault. Your own, or the other party's, insurance would kick in to cover the cost of repair. But typical policies do not reimburse the rental company for the loss of income while the car is off the road being repaired. So in theory at least, they could come after you for the value of the rental for every day it's in the shop. Or you can kick in $20/day up front and they'll promise not to do that. I have a query in to our insurance company (CSAA) about whether I needed this. Certainly Thrifty did not explain it up front and I feel I was mislead by a deceptively-worded "explanatory" sign at the counter. Normally I'd decline all coverages; now I'm not sure. But certainly this fee, $20/day, ups the original $35 rate by almost 60%.

Customer Facility Charge

At PHX, you take a shuttle to and from the snazzy new Rental Car Terminal. This fee is what it cost you for those shuttle rides and the privilege of using this fine new building. It does seem strange, however, that it is charged per day of rental. So the longer you stay away from the rental terminal, the more you pay. I strongly suspect that if you rent your car in downtown Phoenix, you'd avoid this charge.


This is a flat fee to cover roadside assistance in case of a breakdown. It is useless if you have AAA already. I was fooled into this by that same deceptively-worded sign at the counter. I thought by opting for the "Basic" contract I was declining everything. In fact I was accepting LDW and this. Absolutely needless if you have an AAA card; and in any case, since I didn't know I had it, I wouldn't have known to use it, or how to use it, if I had needed it. Shame on me for being hasty, and on Thrifty for not being more explicit.

State Taxes

AZ apparently levies both a %10 tax and a separate, 5% tax on all car rentals. This is over and above the normal sales tax, which is already included in the $35/day base fee.

County Stadium Tax

The county in which Phoenix is located (Pinal?) is building a stadium and one way they are paying for it is a 3.25% tax on rental cars. All three of these taxes are levied on the total contract including LDW, Tripsaver, and Facility charge. Sheesh.


I have no idea what this is. It is CONCFEERECOV on the contract, and CONCRECFEE on the bill. Concert fee recovery? Concrete Recreation fee? But it came to 11.11%, effectively another day's charge.

Prepaid Fuel

No problem here; pre-buying the fuel in the tank means you don't have to return the car fueled-up, which is convenient, and the amount charged was at or below the street price for gas.

Bottom Line

Be very, very suspicious of offered rates at PHX. Check with your own insurance company to find out if LDW is a good idea or not. Pick up the car in town if possible to avoid the $18 facility charge. Be suspicious of offered rates in general. At Travelocity, they claim their "TotalPrice" is guaranteed. That would be a guarantee of the $140 price of my reservation. Oh, well, except, "Charges for optional services, fuel, insurance waivers, etc. are not included." So the Travelocity TotalPrice Guarantee isn't worth very much.


  1. Wally Mersereau writes:

    My Phoenix car rental experience was better than yours. I am a steady Budget customer and a member of its Fastbreak Club--how about that? The Fastbreak membership saves a lot of time in picking up the car--no standing in line at the counter. At a major airport like LAX I get off at the Fastbreak stop, pick my car from those nearby which are arranged by size and drive to the exit booth. Non-Fastbreakers have to go to the counter and stand in line for an average of 15-20 minutes and discuss things with the counter person. I just select my car, get in and head for the exit booth. At Phoenix I bypassed the main Budget counter and walked to a Fastbreak office where the cars were parked.

    In Phoenix I reserved a standard size car from Budget, but got an undesired Saturn SUV which I reluctantly accepted when it appeared that it was the best choice available at the time. It rode nicely, but didn't get as good mileage as I should have obtained with a standard sedan.

    When I made my reservation online with Budget the estimated total cost, including fees, taxes, etc. for 4 days was $218.56, including a daily rental rate of $38.99. My actual cost was $218.74. ...My average overall cost per day was $65.31, including gas.

    ...As for insurance, I always decline all coverages. I have two rental car insurance coverages from other sources. On my State Farm auto policy I carry "broad form non-owned car coverage" which costs me $25.60 for 6 months or $51.20 per year... In addition I pay for all rental cars with my United Visa Signature card which includes auto rental collision damage waiver coverage. Losses covered by my Visa card include physical damage and theft of the rental vehicle, loss-of-use charges imposed and substantiated by the rental company... and customary towing charges due to a covered loss.

    To activate the Visa coverage I must use my Visa card for the rental transaction and decline the auto rental company's collision damage waiver (CDW/LDW) option.

    ...As part of my Budget Fastbreak membership I have on record that I decline all insurance coverages and this is done automatically at each rental and the issue never comes up.

    I suggest you check your credit card coverages for auto rentals. You also may want to look into adding non-owned car coverage to your auto policy.

  2. Like Wally, I always decline additional coverages. That helps some. However, the bill is still about 30% additional charges, including all those infernal city and airport taxes. I discussed this with my Hertz agent who explained that the car companies have no control over this--it is up to the city and voters. Phoenix is, according to her, only 18th in the US in "additions." I'd sure hate to rent in the top 17!

  3. Avis Discount is the biggest online renta car company.

  4. Has anyone experienced problems with their fast break membership being used at other budget locations? Mine was used in Auckland New Zealand. Different first name, all other information was the same. I'm thinking they didn't check his drivers license or ID...

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