Sometimes, making a decision over a quarter can be so agonizing.
I found myself in a dilemma - should I pick the $4.75 per day "Pay Now" car rental deal? Or should I spend an extra 25 cents more per day and pay later allowing me the flexibility to change my mind if I needed to?
I couldn't believe that I was even spending time and wasting precious brain power over a decision involving five nickels. I guess I just wanted to see how good of a deal I could get…and more importantly I was curious to see what I would be driving for choosing the lowest possible rental rate.
After several minutes of indecision, I finally pulled the trigger on the $5 deal. As soon as I reserved the car, I knew that I had immediately relinquished any amount of leverage I had. I was now at the mercy of this rental car agency. You see, once you're in the absolute basement of rental car pricing, you have no negotiating power whatsoever. I mean - how could I really argue and negotiate over a rental that would cost me a little more than a Starbucks grande latte a day??
I needed everything to go right, but of course, it didn't. My flight getting into Orlando was delayed by an hour. I had a reservation at 6 pm, but since I wouldn't have been able to get to the rental car place on time, I called them to let them know. They mentioned that they ran out of cars (or so they said) and asked me to go to another discount rental where they would supposedly honor the agreement. I knew this would happen!
Of course, they didn't want to give me a car - I was that bastard cheapskate who wasn't even worth their time let alone a car.
This is where if I had a normal rental car paying a regular amount, I probably would have been upset and demanded that I speak to the manager so I could have paid $40/day for my Hyundai Sonata. But no - I was a bottom of the barrel sort of customer and anything I said would have been readily ignored.
For a $5 rental, what could i really say? "I'll never come back here…you've lost me as a customer forever". They would've happily lost me as a customer. In fact, I was most likely hurting their business by holding onto a car that they could have easily rented out to someone for $50 a day.
I had made up my mind to take everything in stride so none of this bothered me all that much. Although, I kept thinking - is the cheapest deal really worth the hassle?
I did notice that in the Orlando airport, all the big name rental places like Hertz and Avis were located onsite where you could conveniently drive a rental away from the airport. But for the discount no-name rental places…these are located far far away from the airport where there is a chance that you might not get out alive. And even if you managed to not get murdered, there is at least a high probability that somebody would steal your car from you before you can even leave the parking lot in which case you would really regret not opting for the full coverage.
On top of that, the buses don't come every 10 minutes like advertised. I waited at the airport for almost 40 minutes before the "El Cheapo Rental Hell" bus arrived. At that point I was just glad that the bus even showed up. The driver gave me a look as though he was thinking, "Man, I can't even believe I have to give you a ride." I could understand his concern since it was costing him more in gas to give me a ride than what I would be paying them.
By now, my already low expectations had gone out the window. At this point I would have been ecstatic to just have gotten a car.
So, after another 20 minutes or so, I get dropped off in a shady part of town where I'm surprised that they have any cars at all. It was kind of weird in that the place looked like a junkyard, except the cars strewn about in the junkyard were relatively new. Now, remember - I don't even know if these guys will honor the agreement - I'm just going on blind faith here.
As soon as I explained my situation to the guy at the counter, he said: "What?? They sent you here? I don't have any cars…"
He called to check with the original rental place and once they confirmed, he immediately had this look of disgust and despair merged into one. I could see the conflict in his eyes…
He must have been thinking…"I can't give this guy a rental - he's paying what it cost me to buy the footlong Subway for lunch."
"Do I even have something junky enough to give to this guy?"
At this point you may be wondering - how the hell do you know what he is thinking? Are you some sort of mind-reader? No, I'm not. But, I guarantee that if you were in my shoes staring at his face, you would be able to read on his face all of what I mentioned above. He was just that expressive.
He finally overcame his internal battle and shut the voice in his head that kept saying "Don't do it..don't do it"….and grudgingly gave me a car. Half-heartedly, he tried to upsell me on their insurance coverage plans but I knew he was thinking all along, "What's the point? This cheap bastard won't pay for anything anyway..". He was right.
So I went out to the parking lot and the guy handing out the cars immediately offered me some upgrade options. Free upgrade?! I couldn't believe it.
Not only am I paying $5 a day but I also have options?!?!
But alas - my euphoria was short-lived. The guy smiled at me, thinking that he is offering me the greatest car ever manufactured and uttered: "How about that minivan?" Almost instantly I replied back without even really thinking and fully processing what he had just said and retorted back "What else?" In my mind, the word "minivan" tends to elicit immediate responses that immediately divert the conversation involving anything other than minivans.
He offered me another amazingly tempting upgrade option - one of the ugliest SUVs I've ever seen sitting all by itself in a far corner of the parking lot. Needless to say, I declined his generous offers and went with whatever they were willing to give me - which was surprisingly a 2012 Ford Fusion.
After all that, I really thought they would give me a complete piece of crap. So, in the end, I was pleasantly surprised.
I noticed a Taurus sitting next to the Fusion which sort of looked like an SUV next to it. It was a gigantic car. At this point, I thought "Oh…what the hell…might as well give it a shot." I asked for the Taurus, and was immediately denied. That's fine. I was perfectly happy with the 2012 Fusion.
I actually liked the car. It had a comfortable ride with decent handling although greatly underpowered with only the 2.5L 4-cylinder. Passing cars on the freeway meant, flooring it…counting to 3 seconds, and then getting a slight power bump with the downshift. I'm sure the V6 would been a much better driving experience.
The interior was pretty good; Ford has come such a long way in improving the quality of the materials and the feel. I liked the back-lit gauges on the dash.
Aside, from the stoplights that seemingly stay red forever at every intersection, I enjoyed driving the Fusion on the wide, expansive roads of Orlando. This car could actually be a great practical daily driver - a 2012 Fusion is probably around $15K.
When I was about to turn the car in, I was thinking..hmm…this actually turned out pretty good! Driving a Ford Fusion for $5 per day (plus all the surcharges, taxes etc.) was the cheapest rental I've ever had. Then I realized what I did.
All of you, I'm sure, have experienced this. Before I picked up my car, the guy at the counter asked me to initial at like five different places on the form. I figured - well I denied all the extra charges so I guess that's what I'm signing.
How many times have you heard this before? READ THE FINE PRINT.
Apparently, I had signed on a line that said that I agreed to a $3.99 road-side assistance charge per day. No I didn't - no one ever mentioned anything about RSA! But there were my initials. I had been scammed! It was totally my fault for not reading.
I was so disappointed in myself.
Because of my stupidity, my $5/day rental turned into a $8.99/day rental, which at the end of the day was still a pretty good deal. Would I do this again? No - to me it's just not worth the hassle and being scammed. I would say I got lucky this time, but there are plenty of horror stories of cheap car rentals all over the internet.
But then again, almost every rental experience could turn out to be a horror story even if it's a Porsche.
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